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

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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!

Paris Reflections: Entrepreneurship Past, Present and Future

Paris reflectionsI recently had the incredible opportunity to deliver the keynote presentation at the Paris School of Business’ symposium on Entrepreneurial Research: Past, Present and Future. First, I’d like to again thank the school for this experience and my gracious host, Dr. Adnane Maalaoui, for introducing me to his students and giving this first-timer a glimpse of Paris.

I had promised to share what I learned at the symposium, and I will attempt to give you the highlights. I found that there is tremendous research being done by doctoral students who want to make an impact on entrepreneurship education as well as to share the work of the researchers who came before them. (Interestingly, entrepreneurship as a research field has only existed for the past 30 to 50 years.) The students at the Paris School of Business and affiliated universities in Europe provided a look into the future of entrepreneurship education during the symposium, and it is bright:

  • The educational ecosystems is vibrant with dedicated students and educators sharing and building on entrepreneurship research;
  • Students globally continue to be interested in entrepreneurship, but the ecosystem isn’t developed enough to deal with failure and risk in many regions;
  • It is important to remember that although at MIT we focus on innovation-driven entrepreneurship, there are entrepreneurs around the world creating small sustainable business that support families and change the lives of many (but are not necessarily innovation-driven);
  • Current cases taught to students could be updated to better reflect the changing entrepreneurial ecosystem;
  • Financing ventures continues to be a struggle particularly outside the USA;
  • Food and wine can be enhanced by rigorous debate, even in France;
  • The Eiffel Tower is even beautiful in the rain, as I learned from our final night with a dinner cruise on the Seine with students and faculty.

As an entrepreneur in a vibrant MIT ecosystem where we teach students through experience, it was inspirational to meet some of the global educators and Ph.D. students who are continually doing research that helps prepare entrepreneurs to make an impact in the world.

When I decided to pursue my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, I had already been an entrepreneur and business executive, but I joined UPenn’s Chief Learning Officer program and focused on work-based learning and closing the 21st century skills gap – this led me to my current role at MIT which is all about creating a learning environment for entrepreneurs. The Ph.D. students and faculty I met in Paris are developing competencies in new venture development, resource management, micro, social and strategic entrepreneurship using analytics/statistics to evaluate interventions and outcomes based on those responses.  I was able to connect with so much of their research both on an academic and practical level.

Another exciting development for French entrepreneurship was the election of President Emanuel Macron on May 7, just before the start of the symposium.  President Macron ran on a platform to make France globally competitive and is enthusiastic about startups in France. Macron’s pro-technology and pro-entrepreneurship views are discussed in this  article and this TechCrunch interview  conducted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January Las Vegas, attended by 190 French startups (at the time, Macron was France’s Economy Minister). It will be interesting to watch how the French startup ecosystem progresses under this new president.

I’m also sharing some resources that may be of interest:

  • My presentation from the Symposium:

How Paris & Boston can learn from each other’s Entrepreneurship Communities,
by Trish Cotter

  • A presentation by Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship that also shares ideas on:

The Past, Present and Future of Entrepreneurship Education, by Bill Aulet

  • Great accounts to follow on Twitter:
    Paris School of Business @PSBeduParis, Grenoble Ecole de Management @Grenoble_EM, and Ecole de Commerce @EDCofficiel (The first is in in English, the second two are in French – but Twitter has a handy translate button.)

    Also, make sure you are following the Martin Trust Center at MIT … @EshipMIT !

In closing, I’ll share the words of Jean-Baptiste Say the French economist who first coined the word “entrepreneur” around the year 1800:

“The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.”

Bonne chance to all of our entrepreneurs!

 

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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Innovation: 2017 Style

fuse_2Here in Massachusetts, we tend to get somewhat of an inferiority complex. Maybe it’s those Puritan roots. We have it stuck in our heads … “Boston’s not as big as NYC” or “We’re not as innovative as Silicon Valley” …

Wait?! Bloomberg says that Massachusetts is the most innovative state in America … for the second year in a row? That’s pretty cool. Take that inferiority complex!

According to the Bloomberg ranking, Massachusetts scored 95 out of a possible 100 points, followed by California, Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland. The six equally weighted metrics included:

  • R&D intensity;
  • Productivity;
  • High-tech density;
  • Concentration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) employment
  • Science and engineering degree holders; and
  • Patent activity.

Massachusetts earned the ranking by producing more science and engineering jobs and by creating jobs in those industries. Current figures show a 2.9% unemployment rate in Mass, compared to a 4.6% national average. The state’s universities were also noted, included Harvard and MIT.

At MIT’s Martin Trust Center, we have the privilege of seeing that innovation every day.  And, it’s the type of innovation gets spread around the world. CES, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is known for attracting and showcasing the world’s latest and greatest consumer innovations.  This year, atwoboo least eight companies with MIT roots showed off their cutting-edge products at the show. One of those, Woobo, is an alumnus of our MIT student venture accelerator program (now known as delta v). The company is using robotics and artificial intelligence to make a smart “imaginary friend” for young children and plans to launch the product this year.

Another MIT accelerator program alumnus, Accion Systems, was honored recently in BostInno’s 17 Startups to Watch in 2017. Definitely not in the consumer accionrealm, Accion is developing revolutionary propulsion for satellites which will make space more accessible and affordable across industries. The company itself is seeing quite a bit of propulsion here in Massachusetts, with funding from the Department of Defense and a Series A round last year, along with numerous awards.

img_0424And, here’s something pretty cool that’s happening in innovation right now: is MIT fuse program.  MIT fuse is the Trust Center’s entrepreneurial program that takes place every January during Independent Activities Period (IAP), which is January 9 to February 1 this year. The MIT fuse teams essentially take over the Martin Trust Center during these three and a half weeks, receive mentor advice from our Entrepreneurs in Residence, and learn from startup founders who have preceded them.

One intriguing company in the current MIT fuse program is Waypoint Labs.
Waypoint is building a platform for creating and extracting spatial data and insights for augmented reality (AR) applications. One possible applicawaypoint-labstion is using the Microsoft Hololens to enable non-pharmacy hospital staff to fill prescriptions quickly and without errors. The company was invited by AT&T to participate in its inaugural AR/VR Challenge at CES 2017, where it won the $20K grand prize after demoing its prototype to over 250 conference attendees.

At MIT, the students we mentor want to make a positive impact in the world, and our programs give these students the opportunity to do so.  Here’s to an innovative 2017!

We’re on Fire!

mittrustcenter2-bwMIT’s Martin Trust Center: Quietly Educating and Empowering Students to Positively Change the World

Our fantastic team at MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship was recently selected for a BostInno 50 on Fire” award recognizing innovative individuals and organizations in and around Boston!

We were excited to join BostInno’s year-end celebration, held at the Moakley Courthouse on the waterfront, which recognized the city’s inventors, disrupters, luminaries, and newsmakers. Over 800 nominations were submitted for the awards, which were culled down to a list of 150 finalists. From those finalists, 50 were selected by a panel of judges to claim the title of “50 on Fire.” Here’s a list of all the winners, and the finalists in the Education category – our kudos to BUILD, Panorama, and Shorelight Education, the other winners in our category.

When MIT’s Martin Trust Center was announced as a winner, a cheer rose up from our staff. It was a powerful reminder that while we celebrate our students all year round, once in a while we need to celebrate the staff for the time and effort they put into creating and executing innovative and thought-leading programming.  A quick overview for those of you unfamiliar with the Trust Center …

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, as the name implies, fosters entrepreneurship at the Institute. It serves all students across all schools and disciplines.  At the Trust Center, we provide MIT students proven frameworks, a global network of experts and a dynamic home to develop their skills using our curriculum and programs. Our goal is to be entrepreneurial leaders by advancing the field of entrepreneurship at MIT and around the world.

In June, the center unveiled its remodeled and expanded co-working digs, which can better accommodate startups on campus, host larger events centered on entrepreneurship and has a new makerspace called Protoworks. The Trust Center is also home to “delta v,” MIT’s student venture accelerator. The accelerator provides a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs preparing them to hit escape velocity and launch into the real world, culminating in the accelerator’s Demo Day.

Our team at the Trust Center includes: Bill Aulet, Alicia Carelli, Elaine Chen, Eliza Deland, Pat Fuligni, Sorin Grama, Donna Levin, Tommy Long, Leah Lovgren, Erin Martin, Nick Meyer, Laurie Stach, Marvin Wilma, Greg Wymer, and all those that have gone before us…. The center is a rotation of folks who bring fresh perspectives and raise the bar on our thinking.

We believe it is important to view entrepreneurship as a craft, and we provide apprentice-like experiences for our students. These students want to make a positive impact in the world, and we enable that through our innovative, well-executed programming, along with the community support that makes the Trust Center so special.  We don’t shed a spotlight on it too much, but once in a while it is nice to shine a light on a creative team that executes in a world-class manner…that is the Martin Trust Center, and I’m proud to be a part of it!  Entrepreneurship is a craft that can be taught. Want to see more? This video captures all the winners clowning around during the photo shoot. Thanks to BostInno for showcasing the innovative talent we have here in Boston!

P.S. I’d also like to give a shout out to friends of the Trust Center who were at the awards including Drift, Pill Pack, Melissa James, Coach Up, Paul English, and Katie Rae, just to name a few …

Celebrating Sisterhood at “The Stevies”

31136830665_7f234bfc57_o-2There is something empowering about being in a room with 650 women celebrating accomplishments …  I was recently nominated for a Stevie® Award, and attended the awards ceremony in New York City with my sister.  This got me to thinking about sisterhood in the broader sense, and how much we all have to be thankful for.

I was honored to receive a Gold Stevie award for the “Mentor of the Year” category at a non-profit organization. At MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, I work with an amazing team that makes going to work every day a pleasure. As a mentor and lecturer it is a privilege to work with students at MIT from around the world on projects and companies that are making a positive impact in the world.  Given the state of the world today, working with such a bright and talented group of entrepreneurs makes me hopeful for the future, and is something I wish everyone could experience.

Although I have been previously honored in my career as a corporate executive, my role at MIT is still relatively new, so recognition that I am on the right track was significant to me.  One of the comments in the judges’ feedback was especially meaningful, because it seemed to capture why I chose this role:

“Trish Cotter is a testament to the spirit of ‘paying it forward.’ Instead of continuing an impressive career as an entrepreneur, she decided to change course and share her knowledge, passion and drive for entrepreneurship with the blossoming business women and men of today. She takes a hands-on approach to help these young entrepreneurs succeed, and is with them every step of the way. We all got our start by someone giving us a chance, Trish is an exemplary pillar of that message.”

The Stevie Awards are the world’s premier business awards. They were created in 2002 to honor and generate public recognition of the achievements and positive contributions of organizations and working professionals worldwide. More than 1,400 nominations were submitted for this year’s awards from 31 nations and territories. This celebration was streamed across the world, and was also shared in person with family and friends.

At our table, my fellow honorees included Jenny Feing (Coach Training School), Shannon Beurk (Founder Engage2Learn), and Melinda Durkee (Proforma Durkee), and each brought family and friends to share their evening.  I’d also like to send a shout out to Steph Speirs from Solstice (a company from the MIT delta v accelerator), who was a finalist as Female Executive of the Year for her community solar company.

In this season of gratefulness and giving, I’d like to thank all of those who have helped me along the way. As a mentor and coach, I hope I am doing my best to pay it forward and give others a chance.

P.S. What could be better to experience the Stevies, and then see the unveiling of the Christmas windows at Macy’s?!  A true evening of sisterhood, accomplishment, empowerment, and hope for the future!

 

Shining a Light on Female Entrepreneurs in Tech

Last night, MIT’s Martin Trust Center hosted a screening of the award-winning documentary “She Started It” which follows five women in their journeys to launch businesses in the technology industry. We were honored to have the director and co-producer of the film, Nora Poggi , with us to introduce the film and join in our discussion along with our own panel of budding tech entrepreneurs.

The event was inspiring and featured accomplished women who beat the odds. If one message came through “loud and clear” it was that the entrepreneurial journey is all about persistence and networking. Our discussion reinforced that entrepreneurship can be taught, and that practicing entrepreneurial skills will pay off in the end.

The “She Started It” film focuses on five female entrepreneurs and their experiences, along with empowering the next generation of women tech founders. (You can check out the trailer here.) The film cited statistics about being a female entrepreneur in the technology industry that were bleaker than a cross-industry perspective. For example:

  • Women create only 3% of tech startups
  • In Silicon Valley, women earn only 49 cents to a man’s dollar
  • Women receive less than 10% of venture capital funding
  • Only 12% of undergrad computer science degrees are earned by women
  • 96% of venture capitalists are men

Yet, the five women profiled in the film are out to break the mold.

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Following the screening, I moderated a discussion with Poggi and a panel of female founders sharing their own experiences. They included:

  • Elsa Sze of Agora which uses technology to bring more people to the civic conversation
  • Melissa James of The Tech Connection, a premier marketplace for purpose driven, diverse technical talent
  • Alex Wright-Gladstein of Ayar Labs which brings high bandwidths and energy efficiency of fiber optics to silicon chips
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L to R: Alex Wright Goldstein, Nora Poggi, Elsa Sze and Melissa James

 

The panelists discussed challenges and what is most intimidating about starting a tech business. The audience – which included many women in the process of exploring entrepreneurship for themselves was extremely engaged and had many questions. We also talked about how today’s female entrepreneurs can be role models to help other women and girls embrace the entrepreneurial path. Essentially, “you can’t be what you don’t see.”

One of the insightful quotes in the film is from Meghan Smith, Chief Technology Officer for the United States. She says, “There have always been women and minorities in all of the areas of technology for all history. It’s just the stories are less known. And so, we need to embrace our history and tell it to each other.”

Although women are a small minority of tech startup founders, it is also an issue that many women tend to understate their achievements, and not let their own light shine. “She Started It” is a first step to showcase some of these achievements. My thanks to everyone who participated in our event! It was a great success!

P.S. On a personal note, this week I received the exciting news that I’ve been selected as a finalist for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business the category of mentorship. As I worked with the panel for this our film event, I drew parallels to my own submission for the Stevie Awards. Often, as women, we dismiss the things that we do and don’t let our own lights shine (especially when surrounded by all the brilliance here at MIT). For me, this is a reminder to value our successes and share them with other women.