Why Consistent, Passionate Leadership Makes all the Difference

Netezza4_halo

I had lunch the other day with a friend and former colleague; he had been the CEO of a successful company that we worked together to build. As usual, we caught up and reminisced, but what struck me about our conversation was our discussion around leadership, and how much truly good leadership contributed to the company’s success, culture, and camaraderie.

He shared that as he visits companies that have been built by previous employees – and staffed by a lot of talent from his previous companies – and he is greeted with such warmth. He said folks tell him that being a part of the company he led was one of the best experiences of their lives. I agreed. We had a great team, a great product, and built a company of significant value that positively impacted customers’ businesses.

He chuckled at my recollection, said he kept emails from his staff telling him how badly things were going, how people disagreed with decisions that were being made, and that working with “so and so” was painful. In hindsight, that is true. So, is it the halo effect, where you remember only the positive and time fades the rest? Or, were we really accomplishing something as a team? I believe it is a bit of both.

Certainly, there were some low points – like when we blew a presentation, a product launch, hired the wrong people and took too long to recognize it, failed a customer, or failed to deliver as a team. We scaled fast but not fast enough, we forecasted sales but sold different models, we worked ridiculous hours. But, at the end of the day, we delivered it together. If we didn’t deliver on a customer commitment, it was “all hands on deck” to get that issue corrected, and that was a core value of the company. However, we also did a lot right. We focused on organic growth, so there was an opportunity to grow and learn. We took risks and learned from what worked and what didn’t.

I also talked to a former colleague who was just 21 when she joined the company. She remembers feeling personally responsible for making customers happy and making the company successful … and, everyone felt that way. If we weren’t passionate about the company, we wouldn’t care so much, and we wouldn’t have told the CEO all the things that we thought were wrong.

As a leader, how do you get employees to think like this? Part of it is to be transparent, celebrate successes, and think ahead to what is next. Communication of both successes and failures is essential, as is laying down the challenge to do better. I remember every day, as I left my office, I saw a sign that read, “Did I move the company forward today?” It was simple, yet meaningful. It was personal for me, and it was personal for others.

We had a mantra of: Performance; Simplicity; and to Be easy to do business with. It was a simple, yet consistent message of expectations – the expectations of our customers (who called us on it), and the expectations of our employees who focused on it internally and externally by communicating in an authentic way (rather than with charts or PowerPoint). This shared set of beliefs and living the culture every day became the guide rails we used to make decisions.

Leadership in building an enterprise is fraught with strife. How you show up everyday matters. It matters how you lead by example through good times and bad, the signals you send to the employees, prospective employees, customers, and investors. It matters what you say, and how you say it. People see how you carry yourself, and how you treat others. The CEO job is lonely, and all paths lead there, so it is vital that CEOs have their support network to provide perspective.

Maybe I have been lucky (or wise) in choosing the companies I have worked with, but I have experienced terrific leadership at a variety of companies, including employees that challenge those leaders to be better, and customers who depend on that. So, at the end of the day, I am pleased to hear that my former CEO is treated well – as he should be. There might be a bit halo effect as we reminisce, but in my experience, creating something special for others creates its own halo.

 

Advertisements

The Time is Now for Women to Step Up, Speak Out, and Take Control

On this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to reflect on how we can encourage women to speak up, be heard, and support each other. The #metoo movement has brought to light countless examples of abuse, mistreatment, and harassment, but if there is one positive glimmer out of all that is being shared, it’s a sense of solidarity and empowerment.

I believe that entrepreneurship can be a path to channeling that energy and creating positive outcomes. The time is now to step up and speak out. The time is now to take control of your own destiny. Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “I’m ready to make a difference.”

I believe that sometimes making a difference is being your own boss. In my role as Director of MIT’s educational accelerator program, delta v, I work every day with both female and male student entrepreneurs. Some of these students have ideas that may change the world someday, but even more important is their sense of pride and accomplishment when they can make decisions that shape their own direction and have a positive impact on other people.

Maybe being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. But, if and when you are in a position to define your own path, you have turned the tables and now have control. You can help not only yourself but others.

Female Entrepreneurs make a Difference

This infographic from Entrepreneur on female entrepreneurship shows that women are founding companies at historic rates with more than 9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. today. These businesses will provide over 5 million jobs this year. Interestingly, businesses with a woman on the executive team are also more likely to have significantly higher valuations (64% higher) at Series A. These statistics demonstrate that women are creating new models of leadership, and that is hopefully changing the balance of power.

How to Get Started

Now is the time to be an entrepreneur, yet the hardest thing about entrepreneurship is getting started. Newton’s first law states an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force – and this is true for entrepreneurship as well. So, you need to give yourself a push. For inspiration, here are some stories of female entrepreneurs gaining ground at MIT.

Find the focus that is right for you. Entrepreneurship for small and medium enterprises (i.e. opening your own business in an established industry, such as a florist, hair salon, or consultant) is different from innovation-driven entrepreneurship (i.e. the next “big idea”, inventing something new) but they both let you be your own boss.

What are you curious about? What do you dream of doing? How would you get started? Now is the best time. There are many educational resources (online, classes, workshops etc.), and there are a lot of folks who are willing to be mentors. Plus, check out co-working spaces that are great for startups. In the Boston area, we have the CIC in CambridgeVenture CaféWeWork, etc. that also have speakers and educational resources in all areas of building a business.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

On any given day in Boston, there are events that budding entrepreneurs can attend – many are free, or some charge a small fee. Find the one that fits you. The City of Boston just held a series of events for women, Linda Henry runs HUBweek, there are Mass Challenge programs around the world. These all help expose those interested in entrepreneurship to various options. Here are a number of resources and organizations in the Boston and Cambridge area. Search online to find others in your area. Starting a Business (City of Boston)

The activism among several organizations has opened a lot of eyes, and hopefully recognition. Where women were once dismissed, that there are signs that voices should be heard – from women on boards to women funding enterprises. There is positive momentum, and you can make a difference. The time is now. Give yourself that push!

Originally published here in BostInno.

Reflections on delta v 2017

mit_delta_v

It’s hard to believe I’ve recently finished my third year of guiding MIT startup teams through our delta v student venture accelerator. The 2017 cohort was another fantastic group of entrepreneurs and startups, and I look forward to seeing the places they will go as they develop their businesses and grow as individuals.

One useful exercise that we’ve done each year is to look critically at the delta v program at the end of each session and assess what went well and what could be improved. I believe this has helped us refine and grow our program, and I’d like to share some of our top findings:

Positive changes

We had great feedback from this year’s cohort, and did a comparison between 2016 and 2017. Here are some stats, and our take on what we’re doing well:

  • This was our largest cohort to date. We supported 21 teams and 65 entrepreneurs.
  • The average team size decreased from 5 members in 2016 to 3 members in 2017 – we feel that a smaller team size means more involvement in the process for each student.
  • The percentage of female entrepreneurs increased from 26% in 2016 to 45% in 2017 – we are making good strides toward gender parity and neutralizing gender bias, both important goals.
  • For the first time we expanded the delta v program with a Startup Studio in New York City supporting seven additional teams
  • The students were especially pleased with the founders’ dinner speakers and the interaction and support from our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).
  • They also generally liked the amount of programming included this year.
  • We implemented longer and more structured board meetings in response to requests made after the 2016 program; this was well received.
  • The teams closed more business during delta v than ever before, reaching more than $100K in revenue over the summer months.
  • Based on a survey of the students, the average net promoter score for the 2017 cohort was 93.6.
  • 100% of students surveyed are willing to be a reference for the program going forward.

We also reached out to our delta v board members for their feedback. Here’s what two of our board members had to say:

“Serving on a delta v board reminds me of the interdependency of the roles of ‘change agents’ and ‘game changers,’ irrespective of age or accomplishment. Board and delta v members, alike, seamlessly assume these roles while educating and constructively guiding each other to the launch milestone.”

  • Kristine Van Amsterdam, delta v board member

“As board members, we have the thrill and privilege of helping young entrepreneurs take those critical first steps to turn their ideas into real-life and life changing entities. Many of the ideas born here will become companies that impact the world.”

  • Janet Wu, delta v board member

 We’re thrilled that 100% of the 2017 board members are interested in participating in the program again next year.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. Here’s what we’re working on:

  • Our (new!) physical space is getting cramped with 21 teams.
  • Next year, we want to work more with the students to prepare them for meetings with the investment community.
  • The students gave us specific requests for new programming in areas from budgeting to negotiation to team development.
  • There was also a request for even more structure with the board, in terms of setting the agenda to focus on upcoming milestones.

We take feedback from our students and board members seriously and will be evolving the program for 2018. We wish our 2017 cohort much success! If you are interested in more detail on delta v, including seeing what some of our past alumni are doing, check out this year’s Martin Trust Center Annual Report.

Wow! That’s Such a Cool Job!

Cool jobI have recently been catching up with colleagues from companies past, and when I let them know what I am doing now, I often get the reaction, “Wow! That’s such a cool job.” And it is … I’m fortunate to be the director of delta v, MIT’s student venture accelerator. Each year, we guide a new group of startups through “entrepreneurship boot camp” and help them to launch their startup ventures into the real world. This past summer, I worked with 21 startup teams as they were striving to either gain traction or make the tough decision to regroup. It was an amazing group of students with ideas that address real world problems.

But, I also thought I had a cool job at age 12 when I cleaned up after dogs at a kennel. I had a sense of purpose, got to fulfill a passion of mine by working with animals, and met some great people as well.

trish-cotter_real-estate-innovation_croppedThe organization I worked at most recently, prior to MIT, was IBM – a company that is trying to bring data analytics insights to companies, so they can address real world problems. The complexity of what both our MIT startups and IBM are doing, albeit in different ways, struck me. Are they so different? I have deep respect for IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, who is moving a company the size of a small nation. However, the leaders of the MIT three-person startups are also scaling difficult challenges and placing bets with tremendous odds of failure.

The Three Constants of a Cool Job

I started my career at Honeywell – a big company for sure, where many people (mostly men) took me under their wing as an apprentice in engineering. This laid the foundation for my career, and I learned skills that I call on to this day. Why did I work from 4 am to 4 pm shifts to test chemical baths? —because I loved the people I worked with, we were doing interesting work, and I had mentors who were willing to share their time with me. As my career went on, and I worked with smaller companies, I saw the same trend… great people, interesting work, and mentorship. This is when I started to spend time mentoring others.

New Challenges Every Day

demo day 2Is MIT any different than a corporation? The complexities of a university rival corporations, but the opportunity to be immersed in new technology brings me back to my days at Honeywell. Working with our startup teams, I feel like a first year engineer every day. The teams in delta v are addressing new science for medicine, solutions for water scarcity, addressing the lack of open spaces, and use of AI to improve workers skills to name a few. These students range from undergraduates through post-docs, from all engineering disciplines to business. It is the team that matters most in start-ups. After reminiscing with my colleagues from Honeywell, Computervision, Sun Microsystems, Stratus, Visual Networks, Netezza, and IBM it is also the teams and the challenges they overcame that they most fondly remember. We took on challenges together and broke down those challenges into manageable parts, then worked together to achieve a goal. The other key item was leadership. Great vision and a lot of latitude to solve the problem for customers (clients, suppliers, internal organizations) reflected on inspired leaders.

Comparing this to our student ventures, they are all focused on solving a customer problem or addressing a new market – the same thing all successful companies focus on. You solve those problems with a team approach—you don’t have all the answers, but you learn, assess the new information, and address the issues.

The Greatest Success comes from People

Are huge corporations and startups all that different?  Sure, they both have their challenges in infrastructure – which is sometimes a help and sometimes a hindrance. But, at the end of the day whether you are a 300,000-person company or a three-person company, the people in a company need each other. (Maybe you can hide in a corporation, but if you want to do satisfying work is that really working?)

At this point in my career I have seen big, medium, small, and now micro-small companies. All of them have their own struggles but the greatest success comes from people. My realization is that any job can be a really cool job, as long as you are working with people who will challenge you, lift you up, and inspire you to do your best.

This post was originally published on the MIT Sloan Experts blog at:  http://mitsloanexperts.mit.edu/wow-thats-such-a-cool-job-trish-cotter/

This video will give you a glimpse of what we do at the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT.

MIT delta v 2017: Ready to Change the World!

demo day pic 2017Are you ready to be inspired? MIT’s student venture accelerator, delta v, revealed itself to the world at our 2017 Demo Day on September 9. It was a fantastic culmination to this year’s program and our students are ready change the world with their startup companies.

I want to thank the students, our speaker Shireen Yates from Nima, the staff at the Martin Trust Center, and our live and online audiences at Demo Day. I invite you to watch the video and view the entire program to see our entrepreneurs pitch their startups.

This year, delta v hosted the largest cohort to date with 21 teams.  In addition to bringing a wide range of skill sets to the program, our 2017 cohort was the most diverse in gender and ethnic background, and had a worldwide perspective with representation from many different countries. This had a tremendous benefit in terms of networking and the teams helping each other solve challenges, supporting the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. The teams took their skills in science, technology, design, management, and entrepreneurship to tackle everything from fresh water scarcity, climate change, and different ways of producing energy to the opioid crisis, soaring healthcare costs and gender inequality in healthcare to global financial transparency – all big problems in need of innovative solutions.

At delta v, our goal isn’t to tell the students how to do things, our goal is to lead them to their own conclusions. We are looking for students with the “heart of an entrepreneur” who are looking to solve the world’s really hard problems. We give them the opportunity to fail and get feedback in a safe environment. Plus, they learn from each other. Our value add is to help guide students who are ready to positively impact the world.

demo day 2Here’s a brief overview of each startup that presented at Demo Day (in alphabetical order). Remember them. It’s likely you’ll be able to point back and say, “I saw them when they were just a startup at MIT…”

 

 

Alba

Focused on empowering women to achieve their goals, Alba is a care giving marketplace for parents in Latin America.

Biobot Analytics

Biobot’s mission is to equip cities with data to build healthier and safer communities. Biobot Analytics’ first application is generating a new type of data on the opioid epidemic. (See recent coverage of the team in Boston Magazine.)

Blockparty

Blockparty tackles food insecurity through fun, engaging cooking classes where young professionals can learn a new recipe while also providing meals to our neighbors in need.

Bloomer Health Tech

Bloomer Health Tech is transforming heart health and quality of life for women suffering from, or at risk of, heart disease. Bloomer delivers effortless and comfortable medical-grade sensors embedded in a woman’s bra to monitor multiple biomarkers using patent-pending advanced fabrics and algorithms.

Divaqua

Divaqua is committed to making water scarcity yesterday’s problem. They are developing and commercializing higher performing, safer, and more cost-effective technology to treat wastewater.

InfiniteCooling

Power plants, the US’ largest water consumer, use 139 billion gallons of fresh water every day, which amounts to 50% of total US freshwater withdrawals. Infinite Cooling captures water in evaporative cooling tanks and reintroduces it into a powerplant’s cooling cycle.

Klarity

Klarity’s vision is to provide widespread access to concise and trustworthy legal advice through intelligent technology using machine learning to reduce the time spent on contract review.

Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues enables customers to create one-of-a-kind weddings and events while helping preserve unique open spaces across New England.

Mesodyne

Mesodyne is bringing portable power to those who need it most. Its breakthrough technology enables ultra-portable, reliable, and affordable energy generation for the military and beyond.

Octant

Octant’s data curation platform uses deep learning to accelerate autonomous vehicle (AV) development. Equipped with Octant’s solution, innovators can spend less time collecting and managing data, and more time improving the future of mobility.

Pine Health

Pine Health helps patients follow through on doctor’s orders by using patient data to trigger conversations with an AI-augmented health coach.

ReviveMed

ReviveMed is a precision medicine platform that aims to improve people’s health by unlocking the value of metabolomics data, allowing the right therapeutics to be delivered to the right patients.

Roots Studio

Roots Studio is a for-profit social enterprise that curates, digitizes, and markets culturally iconic artwork from indigenous and isolated artists to a global marketplace.

Sigma Ratings

Sigma Ratings is the world’s first non-credit risk rating agency and helps companies more effectively and efficiently navigate increasing regulatory challenges.

Sophia

Sophia connects patients with the right therapists for them using a data-driven matching process, creating stronger therapeutic relationships.

TradeTrack

TradeTrack aims to improve personalized customer services in the fashion industry. Their solution increases brand loyalty and helps to improve customer retention.

W8X

W8X helps athletes to become their best and strongest selves with strength training equipment that adapts to their specific needs. Inspired by robotics, W8X has developed a weight lifting system that creates resistance electrically.
Waypoint

Waypoint uses augmented reality (AR) to help frontline workers rapidly capture, access, and scale expert knowledge.

The delta v teams also present to alumni and investors in New York City and San Francisco – quite the exciting month!

See more coverage of Demo Day in the MIT News and MIT Sloan Management newsroom.

demo day 1

How Educational Accelerators are Aiming to Neutralize Gender Bias for Entrepreneurs

Overcoming-Gender-BiasGender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.

We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.

This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.

Gender Bias in the Tech Industry

First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”

Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:

  • being frequently interrupted or talked over;
  • having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
  • working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
  • having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
  • worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
  • frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
  • not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.

Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.

So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?

Experience of Women Entrepreneurs at MIT

Steph Speirs

Steph Speirs, co-founder of Solstice presents at MIT delta v Demo Day, 2016

At MIT, we embrace the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. By bringing together people with different backgrounds and experiences – people who don’t necessarily think the same way or agree with you – you will spark innovation from these diverse perspectives, even though it may be more difficult working together at first.

We also believe that hiring more women is part of the solution. We’re proud that 45% of our 2017 delta v cohort are women, and 75% of our teams have at least one female co-founder. I reached out to several of these female entrepreneurs and asked one fundamental question:

What is your perspective on what is being done at MIT and elsewhere to help women entrepreneurs?

Overall, I heard that:

  • Women are looking for role models and opportunities;
  • It is less about the classes at MIT and more about experiencing – programs that allow students to challenge themselves; or the attraction of going out of their comfort zone was appealing to them;
  • Many women have spent time with a non-profit, being motivated by a strong connection to the mission but it was often limiting as well;
  • There was a strong feeling of wanting to do things or make things happen as a reason to become an entrepreneur;
  • Several women had family members who were entrepreneurs, giving them a built-in role model;
  • In general, role models were significant – and seeing a female role model or working with a team with a woman founder was a clear reason for their interest in entrepreneurship.

Three of the entrepreneurs in particular summed up the feelings that many have – a hesitancy and second-guessing that sometimes held them back. Yet, the power of role models and mentorship helped propel them forward.

“Even when I started GETRID I didn’t really think I could be an entrepreneur, and kept telling everyone for a while that this is just a school project. Only when we had external validation (customers) and official external support (FUSE) is when I started believing in our ability.”

Get Rid

“One of the most meaningful moments was in the FUSE accelerator when [Entrepreneur-in-Residence] Nick asked the cohort on the first day ‘Who made money today?’ When I was the only one who raised my hand, and everybody clapped, it helped me realized that we accomplished something and it might indicate that we have the ability to succeed.”

 

-Bar Pereg, Founder of GETRID

Bloomers“As an engineer, I started asking questions about how things work. I wondered ‘Who is going to fix these big problems in the world?’ Then, it dawned on me … I can help fix these problems.”

-Alicia Chong Rodriguez, Founder of Bloomer HealthTech (P.S. To learn more about this female engineer founder and CEO from Costa Rica, read here.)

“Having other women on my team was one of the defining highlights of my first experience in entrepreneurship. These women were visionary, incisive, and caring. They made the team more thoughtful and our work more rigorous. They showed me what I could accomplish with team members that trust one another, are secure in their own contributions, yet are eager to get to the next level.”

-Joanne WongOctant

Here at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, we can see some of these gender differences in action. As we practice for our big Demo Day company presentations, some of the entrepreneurs don’t want to “sell” their companies too strongly, because not everything is proven yet.  We see this much more frequently with the female entrepreneurs than the male entrepreneurs. We let them know that investors want you to explain your vision and the milestones you’ll achieve to get there – and you need to be confident in your presentation and your abilities. This type of mentorship and hands-on experience is one of the ways we believe we can help female entrepreneurs effectively express their ideas and be considered equally alongside their male peers.

Here’s What Other Educational Institutions are Doing?

I also reached out to my personal and professional network and asked colleagues at other universities how they are tackling this issue. I believe their input is valuable and we can learn a lot from each other.

Wharton

“The business case for diversity has already been made. VCs can play an important role. This article from Knowledge@Wharton captures different approaches to Gender Lens Investing. This includes seed funding in targeted sectors (e.g. improving women’s health care or financial inclusion), helping startups sharpen how they think about their market, influencing startups to include women on the board or on the leadership team, or looking closer at policies and practices within the company.”

-Dr. Candice Reimers, SPHR

Stanford

At Stanford, Fern Mandelbaum will run three different entrepreneurship courses focused on diversity this coming year — one focused on Entrepreneurship from Diverse Perspectives, one focused on Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations, and one about Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital from the Perspective of Women. They are popular courses (she’s increased from two last year) that address these topics, bringing in a wide range of diverse role models with entrepreneurial and/or investing experience

-Deb Whitman, Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Our hope is that by examining, and hopefully eliminating, these biases at the beginning – when a company is first formed – it will lead to more equality, parity, and diverse viewpoints as the company grows. What better place to start than at the university level?

Come see how we’ve tackled this issue head on at the MIT delta v Demo Day on September 9 – Join us at Kresge Auditorium, and we’ll also live-stream the presentations.

Originally published on the MIT Sloan Experts blog, here.

A Key Milestone for MIT delta v Entrepreneur Teams: The Board of Directors Meeting

BOD pres_2

We’re about two-thirds through this summer’s MIT delta v educational accelerator, where student entrepreneurs participate in a rigorous “entrepreneurship boot camp” from June to early September. The students work on their ventures full time, and I am reminded of how much progress can be made when this is their sole focus.

Our 21 delta v teams have been preparing their companies for escape velocity and launching into the real world. To do this, they must discover who their customers are, understand their customers better than their competitors, and uncover which attributes of their value proposition really resonate. This is a key time to figure out if they really have a viable business or not.

One of the major milestones for the group is presenting to a mock board of directors. The board is made up of heavy hitters – business executives, entrepreneurs, faculty, and domain experts – and it’s always a tough hurdle for the teams to communicate their vision and business plan clearly and succinctly. The students have been living and breathing the intricacies of their businesses every day, and now they need to convince others to grasp and embrace their vision.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication before, during, and follow-up after the board meetings is key to successfully working with a board.  This can be difficult, because teams enter these meetings assuming that they can communicate a lot of detailed information about this idea they have been working on for some time. However, a board can only understand so much without getting “slide fatigue” or overload.

It is especially difficult if the business is very technical or requires deep expertise in a field such as healthcare. Students need to communicate their company’s value proposition in a way that people outside their field will understand. Their board of directors can include very smart people with great insight, but they may not be scientists, engineers, or doctors, and may not be as technical as the company founders.

There is a huge opportunity to learn from people on the board – particularly those in the investment community or those who don’t work in your field. These board members want the student companies to succeed. They know a great deal about business fundamentals and have tremendous networks that can help an entrepreneur. If students can’t successfully communicate with them, they will not succeed when out in the real world when they try to raise money.

It is worth learning how to manage interactions in board meetings. Although it is not always easy, entrepreneurs should try to get the best out of each person on the board.

The Feedback Process

After each mock board meeting, board members give feedback to the entrepreneurial teams. Often, the students will get feedback they didn’t anticipate or don’t agree with. This is where it is critical for teams to put their egos aside and really listen. This is their own personal “Shark Tank” – don’t argue, and strive to understand what each board member is trying to teach you. Even if an entrepreneur doesn’t agree with a piece of feedback, these folks have different and varied perspectives that can bring new insight and raise issues the students may not have considered.

Some students feel that a rating system based upon others’ perceptions can be unfair. In class, they are rewarded for completing certain activities; but at delta v, “business is business” and the board is concerned about return on their investment. When teams receive a mark of 75%, some students take that as a “C” and are upset about it, but the board is actually communicating that the team is about three-fourths of the way there with the business – that is positive feedback that the team is showing progress and now needs to finalize a few things.

There are no medals or performance trophies here. It is a harsh reality when a team gets feedback that they may not be communicating effectively, or when they are penalized for failing to meet a commitment. However, this feedback is designed to help the startups ultimately succeed.

Honest Conversations with Your Board Members

Our delta v teams learn that the feedback from the board is essential and the board members can also introduce them to lots of helpful people in their networks. When questions arise such as: “Is my team working collaboratively?’, “Do I have sales traction or a path to sales?”, “Do I need to pivot?” etc., the board members are there to help.

At this point in the accelerator program, you can see many of the student teams transitioning from a research project to building an actual business. The focus on testing hypotheses and assumptions quickly gets teams out of the “analysis paralysis” mode that often dominates an educational environment. The students now narrow their direction, which takes them from theory to a reality-based experience that they are living each day.

Although the students can earn venture money based on meeting a set of milestones, money is not the motivator at delta v. It is learning, working with a team, and ability to execute that are emphasized. The mock board meeting provides teams with enough structure so they don’t get lost in the superficial discussions; they provide a sounding board at this critical point in the business’ development.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of August where the students test their business readiness and audition for Demo Day on September 9th.  We hope you’ll join us!