A Discussion on French Entrepreneurship with John Chambers

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I recently had the unique opportunity to join selected MIT faculty, students, and staff to discuss the current business climate with John Chambers, the Executive Chairman of the Board and former CEO of Cisco Systems. He was the guest of honor at a recent MIT Leadership Center luncheon and it was pure luck that I ended up sitting next to him as our meal was served.

My question to John was: what he thinks we should be doing to educate entrepreneurs today (that is currently lacking). Although he didn’t answer that question directly, he did talk about the differences in East Coast and West Coast philosophies. The West vs. East innovation discussion is always a good one (see my blog on Massachusetts being ranked the most innovative state in America) and it was clear that John felt that in Silicon Valley, it is more important to be a founder/key engineer than is to be the CEO of a Fortune 100 company.

Paris conferenceWe then started discussing innovation in other countries, particularly France, in light of my upcoming keynote speech in Paris at the symposium on Entrepreneurial Research: Past, Present and Future. John remarked that the French entrepreneurial ecosystem is actually as large as Boston’s. I was a bit surprised, but also intrigued as I’ve been researching how the French approach entrepreneurship to prepare for my presentation.

Here are some of the highlights of my research I thought I’d share:

  • The French business environment has undergone radical change in recent years. Investment activity in French startups has been on a steady rise. Moreover, it is coming from all sides of French society – the government, the corporations, and the new wave of entrepreneurs. In addition, France has over 100 venture capitalists who invested more than $2 billion in 2016.
  • This activity has changed the general attitude among the younger generation towards entrepreneurship. Up until 2012, France’s best talent was driven to big firms. However, now more than 50% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 want to start a business, and 1 in 3 of France’s 70,000 Ph.D. students also want to create their own business. At this moment, France has more than 50 startup accelerators, and more than 100 co-working spaces have opened their doors recently.
  • President Hollande’s socialist government has made fostering startups an economic priority with a cohesive policy that has included:
    • Tax incentives for new businesses
    • Government and public sector funding
    • Creation of Special Tech Programs on national and regional levels
    • New crowd-funding legislation
  • The weak point of French VCs is lack of sufficient capital for later-stage funding rounds, forcing many promising French startups to look abroad for their financing needs or get acquired by global multinationals.
  • According to French government, more than 550,000 startups are created each year. More than $2 billion was invested in French startups in 2016. Three startups raised more than $100M:
    • Sigfox (IoT ecosystem)
    • Deezer (Music streaming)
    • Devialet (Sound technology)
  • According to European Digital City Index (EDCI), Paris is the 5th best city for startups in Europe. According to the Compass 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking, Paris is the 11th best ecosystem for startups globally.
  • Brexit creates excellent opportunity for France to lure best tech startups from UK and transform itself into the #1 European and one of the leading global startup hubs.
  • The presidential elections that will be held in April and May 2017 should be carefully watched. The possible win of Mr. Macron could be a big boost for the French entrepreneurial ecosystem since his tenure as a Minister of Economy was huge boon for the French startup ecosystem.

As Americans we tend to critique French capitalism due to issues such as a high level of government intervention, inflexible labor laws, a fear of failure among entrepreneurs, and the lack of innovation.  However, all this is changing.

I look forward to my visit to Paris in the springtime and will share what I learn at the symposium.

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Chasing Unicorns or Planting Trees?

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unicorn12967178What does Entrepreneurial Success Look Like?  

In the business world, privately held companies valued at $1 billion or more are known as unicorns. Like unicorns, the billion-dollar startup was once only a myth. Now, all that has changed.

Fortune now publishes “The Unicorn List” that includes 174 unicorns. Uber tops the list, with Airbnb, Snapchat, and Pinterest also in the top 10. The Wall Street Journal also publishes a dynamic “Billion Dollar Startup Club” graphic that shows unicorns with their current value and region of origin – Uber’s current $68 billion valuation is by far the highest of the group.

Some rankings use just one criterion, such as venture capital funding to measure success. Although not necessarily the best measurement, it is an easy, publicly available figure, and there have certainly been unicorns that have failed. But, should valuation or the ability to raise money be the only measure of success?

What about the important success factors such as profitability, revenue, job creation, and even intangibles such as social good – giving back to the community or the world. The combination of these metrics provide a more holistic view to measure success.

MIT has been measuring entrepreneurial success for years, and our figures take into account job creation and revenues. According to our last update, companies founded by living MIT alumni have created 4.6 million jobs and generated nearly $2 trillion in annual revenues – that’s about the same as the GDP of the world’s 10th largest economy.

While the trajectory of the unicorns is impressive, a great number of unicorns aren’t profitable. Many startups and entrepreneurs have focused on “growth at all costs,” often operating at a loss to grab market share.  It’s not a surprise to learn that some unicorns are terrified when they have to think about profits for the first time.  (For more in-depth analysis, check out this blog post by well-known venture investor Bill Gurley.)

All of these issues are things that we think about deeply here at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. We certainly want the startups that we help launch to be successful, not just in venture capital raised or achieving unicorn status. More importantly, we want that success to be sustainable and we want the entrepreneurial skills that we impart to be deeply rooted.

Think about trees for a second. Yes, much less magical than unicorns, but a tree has deep roots, a solid foundation, and branches that grow over time. We believe that with the tools that we provide to our students: from the proven framework of courses; to state-of-the art facilities; to advisory services; to our own delta v student venture accelerator, we are planting the seeds to help that tree grow. Obviously, drive and passion are important characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, but we know that entrepreneurship can be taught with a systematic, disciplined approach.

In fact, learning solid entrepreneurial skills might be even more important than launching a successful first startup on your first shot.

How does MIT produce so many successful entrepreneurs? We believe it’s all about planting a tree, rather than chasing a unicorn.

 

It’s a Wrap: MIT’s Educational Accelerator Demo Day 2016!

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Congratulations to all of the teams that presented at our Educational Accelerator Demo Day! We kicked off MIT’s campus-wide t=0 celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation, which will continue through September 18.

If you couldn’t join us, this post gives a quick recap; and you can catch all of the presentations on video as well. For an overview of the companies presented, check out this BostonInno article – “These are the 17 Startups MIT Kept Hush-Hush this Summer.”

First of all, in my last post I had let you know that our Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) would be changing its name. We are now MIT’s delta v accelerator.  Why the name change? The derivative of velocity is acceleration!  Hence, the MIT Acceleration Program delta v.

delta v literally means a change in velocity, and we believe this truly captures what happens to these students when they join us for MIT’s accelerator program.

The delta v Demo Day is focused on MIT students, and students filled the auditorium and were even sitting in the aisles. Our Managing Director Bill Aulet kicked of the program and explained how these startups have reached “escape velocity” and have been “kicked out of the house” so to speak.

Bill was followed by keynote speaker Dharmesh Shah, the CTO of HubSpot and an MIT grad. He talked about increasing the success for these student startups – how to get started, why you should avoid stealth mode, why speed matters, how to find a co-founder, attract amazing people, and give yourself crazy ambitious goals. He tells students to take advantage of all your classes to hone your skills… and he says he has never heard of a single entrepreneur who regrets taking a shot at a startup (even if it failed).

Governor Charlie Baker also joined us at Demo Day, and spoke about the amount of wizardry that comes out of MIT and the staggering contribution that MIT has made to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the country and the world.

It was then on to the student presentations. Fourteen startups made it through to Demo Day, and their company ideas covered topics from mental health to virtual reality.  We saw compelling videos from farmers whose lives have been changed because of MIT students, transportation in Rwanda and Mexico that will reduce costs for carriers, a way to make freight transportation more efficient and increase the income of truck drivers, and several ways to improve the environment.  We learned about innovations could change the lives of families dealing with cancer treatment and students in Africa.

Interested in learning more? Check out the companies that presented. They are listed below, in alphabetical order, along with links to their websites.  And, if you have a bit more time, check out the teams presenting in our Demo Day video recording.

Alfie
Armoire
Deepstream
dot Learn
Emerald
Factory Shop
FleteYa
Hive Maritime
kiron
Kumwe Logistics
Lean on Me
Leuko Labs
perch
Rendever
ricult
Solstice Initiative

I think everyone who attended Demo Day was inspired and impressed by the power of entrepreneurship at MIT. Now, we’re onward and upward, with t=0 this week with a full schedule of activities every day. Later this month, the delta v teams will be heading to New York City and San Francisco to meet with alumni and investors.

We hope you are inspired too!

Join us September 9th for MIT’s Educational Accelerator Demo Day!

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I’m wrapping up “boot camp” with this year’s MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) cohort this week, and wanted to let you know about our Educational Accelerator Demo Day on September 9th! As Associate Director of the Martin Trust Center and the Director of the GFSA program, it’s been an amazing summer for me, helping to shape our teams of entrepreneurs and guiding them as they prepare to present their companies.

Sign up Now

On Demo Day, each of the groups that have been working in the accelerator will reveal their company to a live audience. This event is free and open to the public – just register here and then join us at MIT Kresge Auditorium; the program runs from 4 – 7 pm, and Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of HubSpot will be our keynote speaker.

Demo Day is the culmination of three months of intensive work and focus by our student teams in the educational accelerator. It’s the first chance to present their world-changing products and services to an audience of MIT students, mentors, friends, investors, and potential customers.

Who are this year’s Entrepreneurs?

Our 2016 cohort is bigger than last year with 86 entrepreneurs on 17 teams. We can’t reveal the companies or their concepts until September 9th, but innovative ideas will be presented by the fantastic teams – in vertical industries from healthcare to energy to logistics. To give you an idea of what Demo Day involves, here’s a round-up of inspiring startups from Demo Day in prior years.

As the premier university student accelerator in the world, the MIT GFSA provides a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs and prepares them to hit “escape velocity” and launch their companies into the real world. We hope you can join us for this amazing event.

We’re Live Streaming too!

Can’t be there live? You can still watch the live stream. (Visit now and mark your calendar.)

After the Boston event, we’re on to New York on September 15 and San Francisco on September 22 to present Demo Day in those cities as well.

 

P.S. We’ll also be announcing a name change for the GFSA program at Demo Day … stay tuned.

Exploring China Accelerators

china startup imageIn my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT and Program Director for MIT’s Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator (GFSA), I’ve been researching accelerator programs worldwide, and I thought I’d share some of that research in a series of blog posts. This is the fifth post in the series; you can read the other posts starting here.

While startups are emerging in thousands all over China, the local startups should realize that an accelerator program does not guarantee success—it simply provides the means to success. As most accelerator programs end after a few months, the knowledge and business wisdom that participating startups carry from the program are believed to last for a long time. For understanding how an accelerator program works in China, new startups can review the following article: Where are the startup incubators and accelerators in Asia? Here’s 100 of ‘em. This exhaustive list comprises accelerator programs in the entire Asia Pacific region, so readers are advised to selectively review the ones located in China.

The major accelerator activity has developed in the Chinese capital of Beijing—in a localized environment known as the “Silicon Valley in China.” The Zhongguancun Science Park showcases all the elements needed to boost a hungry startup business. This science park offers countless accelerator programs as well as venture capital funds. The startups in China have quickly taken advantage of vertical accelerators that offer highly specialized mentorship and support based on deep domain knowledge.

American Giants Offering Accelerators for the Asian Region

US accelerators are also seeing the global potential for their services. The basic elements of innovation, like as capital, information, technology and talent, are increasingly integrated across national territories. The Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Beijing serves as a strategic partner for Chinese startups to broaden their global reach and develop these startups into world-class enterprises. In spite of having only been established recently, the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator has already been recognized by local governments, enterprises, and the investor community.

This unique program partners with visionary entrepreneurs to help startups flourish in China and Asia-Pacific at large. Since its inception in China in July 2012, this accelerator has provided participating startups with modern workspace, free cloud services, and direct market contact. The core elements of this accelerator program are leading technology, teambuilding, development of business skills. Through its access to the capital market, marketing and HR compliance services, the program develops the entrepreneurial capabilities of all participating startups. To date, the participants of this program have each received an average of RMB1-1.5 million worth of resources (approximately $230,000 USD) Visit Microsoft Ventures for more information.

Accelerators for Specialized Markets

According to Edtech Accelerators in Asia Gain Popularity, the growing popularity of entrepreneurship has propelled the rise of specialized accelerators for industry verticals such as health, finance, energy, or education. The greater diversity of verticals in accelerator programs has also motivated accelerator facilitators to include enterprises that use specialized accelerators services like outsourced R&D.

If you want to read my next post in this series check back here on my blog or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Exploring India Accelerators

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In my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT and Program Director for MIT’s Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator (GFSA), I’ve been researching accelerator programs worldwide, and I thought I’d share some of that research in a series of blog posts. This is the fourth post in the series; read the other posts starting here.

Most startups in India, irrespective of the apparent strength of their products, realized that they needed external support in the form of incubators and accelerators to grow and mature. At the early stages of incubation, most of these ambitious startups simply received funding, but as business complications began to surface, the need for mentorship, expert guidance, training, even technology-enabled office space became necessary components of accelerator programs. Though differing in operational models, the accelerators and incubators share one common goal—to provide an impetus to a brilliant business idea so that the idea succeeds and sustains as a commercial venture in this competitive world.

The accelerators provide mentors, guides, and a platform to raise issues ranging from venture capitals, legal problems, to technology enablement. Most accelerators in India expect equity in a startup in return for the valuable support system they provide. The accelerator program in some cases can charge a fixed fee and no equity for all the rendered services, and considers the startup success to be their biggest reward.

Here are some future predictions for the Indian accelerator program market as outlined in the Indian media platform YourStory:

  • To expand their global reach, accelerators will launch both online and offline programs.
  • The funding will shift from early-stage companies to late-stage companies. In 2014, and 300+ Indian startups have received over $5 billion.
  • As more corporate like Microsoft, Coca Cola, or PayPal continue to set up their own accelerator programs, the corporate giants will increasingly focus on funding startups.
  • Some accelerators will experiment with venture building models.
  • More vertical accelerators will surface in the advertising, medical, and food industries.
  • Investor networks and non-profit networks will collaborate to provide support and resources to startups.
  • Under-funded or direction-less accelerators will shut down.

A recent byproduct of this growing trend of “boosted entrepreneurship” is the growth of specialized accelerators for vertical markets, such as education, finance, or health. More and more, industry-specific accelerators are filling up the Indian accelerators landscape.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Indian accelerator programs in the last few years. The best part is that this growth has come pretty much equally in all spheres. The rising wave has left its undercurrents in all spheres of Indian business, beginning with colleges with their own incubator cells, and global accelerators like Kyron Global Accelerators have turned to the Indian market for expansions. This particular accelerator aims to fund 300 Indian startups by 2020.

This article on the Top 50 Incubators & Accelerators in India, by Truelancer, lists the top India-based incubator and accelerator programs by region, and is a great resource.

If you want to read my next post in this series check back here on my blog or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Learning from the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Community

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The MIT Sloan Fellows recently traveled to Silicon Valley to “live and breathe” the culture of the leading innovation center in the world. It was a fascinating few days focused on innovation in the startup ecosystem that accounts for one-third of all the venture capital investment in the U.S. Coming from another renowned area of innovation, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other and to think about ways in which the culture of innovation can be spread throughout the world.   I joined the trip as a faculty member, and wanted to share my experiences.

The MIT Sloan Fellows Program is a one year full-time MBA or MS program for executives with exceptional promise.  The program focuses on three pillars – Leadership, Innovation and Global perspective. This year we have 121 MIT Sloan Fellows from 38 countries with an average of 14 years of work experience.

Our four days in Silicon Valley were jam-packed with learning experiences – visiting startups and established companies, venture capitalists and research facilities – all playing a role in the innovation ecosystem.

Throughout our trip the theme of innovation was a constant, and we learned from accomplished leaders. Their outstanding leadership skills enable them to embrace innovation while building for the future, taking risks, creating and fostering experimentation, and attracting, retaining and motivating talent. Each and every day they work toward their innovative missions while still tackling the day-to-day.

If our trip could be summed up in an equation, it would be:

Innovation = Invention x Commercialization

Here’s a recap of who we visited, and how their invention and commercialization is driving innovation:

Coupa Software

Coupa is the leader eProcurement which improves visibility and control of indirect costs. The company focuses on Savings as a Service. CEO & President Rob Bernshteyn focused on the importance of people and aligning the core values of the company to employees, suppliers and customers as they all learn from each other.

His take was innovation is not just for the sake of innovation it is focused on results and a differentiated approach creating a unifying platform. Customers only stay if you provide value.

GE

CTO Dave Bartlett discussed Predix which provides the technical foundation to power industrial applications that drive outcomes ranging from the reduction of unplanned down time to improved asset output and operational efficiency. He also discussed Ecomagination which is a focus on developing solutions to enable economic growth while avoiding emissions and reducing water consumption, committing to reduce environmental impact. The essence of his briefing was that GE is an analytics company and is partnering with companies to solve some of the toughest environmental challenges.

Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical is the global technology leader in minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery. The company has a surgical system called da Vinci. The system features a magnified 3D HD vision systems and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand resulting in surgeon enhanced vision, precision and control.

stem, Inc.

stem is a company that creates innovative solutions of energy distribution and consumption through learning software and advanced energy storage. Chief Commercial Officer Karen Butterfield shared her experiences in building an energy company that focuses on software, control, analytics and is technology agnostic.

Karen shared her experiences as it relates to attracting, retaining and motivating talent. Her belief that transparency is key, alignment with mission and inspired R&D is how she was able to manage growth from 40 people to 110 in 8 months.

AnswerLab

We met CEO and Founder Amy Buckner Chowdhry who bootstrapped her company which creates more engaging digital experiences based on user experience research and recommendations for Fortune 1000 clients. She recruits PhDs in cognitive science, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, and computer science that have done a lot of work in their academic field.  Amy, co-founder Dan Clifford and their teams were able to provide the right research methodology to bring an objective view so organizations could focus on the voice of the customers.

Beepi

We met Alejandro Resnik a graduate of MIT Sloan (2013) that started a company after purchasing a car that was a lemon.  Resnik and his co-founder, Owen Savir, have raised close to $150M to create a transparent and easy way to buy and sell cars online and via your mobile phone. The car is fully detailed and wrapped in a big bow for delivery with a 10 day money back guarantee. The customer stories are posted as “Love Stories” on the website. Alejandro stated that innovation belongs to the disciplined, tough minded, relentless, optimistic entrepreneur.

Highland Capital

Partner Peter Bell, who was an early employee at EMC, is focused on companies in the information security, e-commerce, cloud infrastructure, mobile, enterprise software, and communication industries. He talked to the students about what they should look for in an investor. The investor needs to be relevant to them, an expert in the sector, have a good network, access to customers in the segment, and someone who can systematically help build your team.  The investors are looking for relevant, hungry and compelling teams.  Innovation is the life blood of growth and change.

eBay

We met eBay’s Chief Product Officer RJ Pittman who is responsible for design, product, and engineering for eBay’s worldwide commerce experience. RJ is working on platform experiences for connecting customers to make the business more competitive and personalized service globally. The growth will be through mobile so the look and feel of the end to end user experience aligned with eBay’s brand. RJ is bringing the customer into the narrative and creating the eBay commerce experience through simple, engaging personalize and multi-screen. He pointed out that fast movers need to have grit. It is your job to swing the bat as many times as you can.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

We met with Richard Rankin, Director of Industrial Partnerships Office and Economic Development Office. This was a different spin for the Fellows as they saw a broader focus on pure research versus commercialization. The mission of LLNL is to strengthen the United States security by developing and applying world class science, technology and engineering. The labs have history of developing, deploying and delivering innovative technology.

We concluded the week speaking with innovator Una Ryan. Una talked about her experience looking through an electron microscope, and how that set her path for science. She is a British-American biologist who was awarded the Albert Einstein prize for her development of new vaccines to combat global infectious diseases. She has worked on clean water solutions and inexpensive diagnostics test for developing countries.  She has is now an angel investor as well as an artist.  Una takes electron micrographs of living cells, including mitochondria, nuclei and vesicles and composes each image with colors of the earth viewed from space, bodies of water or land masses. This was fascinating to take the micro and match with the macro to create a connection and see the majesty yet fragile fundamentals of life.  Una also spent considerable time taking questions from Sloan Fellows on how she negotiated her career, family, science and investment community.

We thank all of the innovators we visited! We are sure that this year’s MIT Sloan Fellows learned a lot that they will incorporate into their own future as innovators!