On Thursday and Friday of this past week, George Washington University held it’s first Summit on Entrepreneurship, bringing together the university's annual Business Plan Competition and the GW Entrepreneurs Roundtable (GWERT) awards ceremony. The two day symposium included a keynote, panels with local business leaders, the business plan presentations and the awards.
Keynote: The Entrepreneurial Landscape
Matt Jacobson from LaunchBox Digital kicked off the day offering a bigger picture of the current landscape and challenges facing entrepreneurs today. Although he began by talking about our entrepreneurial first president and namesake of the university, his assessment of the current situation was a clear view of what entrepreneurs have to consider as they take the plunge in 2010. From knowing your own strengths and weaknesses to understanding your teammates and how they compliment each other, Matt emphasized the importance of the team and having clear roles and responsibilities.
Teams that can learn, adapt and grow together will have much higher likelyhood of success than those who just seem like perfect matches on paper.
Jacobson went on to discuss the current gap in funding options for early stage startups as another consideration. He stressed that while we are seeing more seed or incubator type organizations forming, if companies can figure out how to make money in the short term and not get funding, they should strongly consider it. Despite that concern, Jacobson is clearly passionate about startups having invested in 17 of them so far and reiterated that we need more entrepreneurs in this country –entrepreneurship is not only important to the growth of the American economy, but it’s also a part of our historical foundation.
Precision, Authenticity, Follow-through
I joined the session on entrepreneurship lead by Kathy Korman Frey, founder of Vision Forward and The Hot Mommas Project. The panel consisted of Ed Barrientos, CEO of Brazen Careerist, Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs and Renee Lewis, founder Pensare Group. This lively panel discussed creativity, processes and issues with business plans, the planning process, sales and approach. Rather than give a summary of the entire panel, here are a few key quotes & takeaways.
On business plans…
- Don’t confuse good planning with a business plan. There's no such thing as a complete plan. – Renee Lewis
- A business plan is just there to sell our ideas but it’s too long and boring to do it. In reality people should learn how to sell it in the moment, in a very exciting way. – Peter Corbett
- Document needs are different from big companies to startups and the audiences are different. Investors are different. If someone sends me a full business plan, it tells me they are not living in 2010. Everyone has their own style but angels don’t have the time today and would rather hear directly from you. Dig in – show me how passionate you are. – Ed Barrientos
On trying to sell yourself, land a big meeting or get in the door…
- When talking with big new companies (potential clients) I like to use the hot girl strategy. Always say no first (don't look too eager). Put people in the position of buying vs being sold. Think about the long term strategy always. – Peter Corbett
- Sending a business plan to someone will NOT get you a meeting. Understand your stuff. They will invest in you if they see something in you and vice versa – you want the right VC or angel. It must be a good fit. The money might not be as good as you think – mental alignment is the most important advice that is never given. You don’t want to get the money and then spend all your time arguing about where you are going. – Renee Lewis
On what are the most important qualities in young people for the future…
- People are learning to communicate again. Becoming more precise. You have to have a plan. But how it’s communicated must be more precise. You should be blogging and working on how you get your message across. Networks are more important now than ever. – Ed Barrientos
- I segment the world into talkers and doers. I only want to know the doers. There are so many talkers, but doers are scarce. Find people who cultivate the habit of DOING. – Peter Corbett
- I want to know who you are before I meet you. I have an affinity for people who are genuine now. All of this is changing how sales is actually done. Be who you are. – Renee Lewis
The Business Plan Competition
Eight teams were chosen to present on day one, and four finalists were chosen to compete for the top four spots on day two. The finalists were Karmen, HealthEworks, ScentShots and AEC, Inc.
The grand prize winner of $20,000.00 was the HealthEworks team. A group of savvy doctors, this team's plan is to develop libraries of short, easy to understand instructional videos for educating people on their conditions or treatment. Hospitals will subscribe annually to various libraries and email the corresponding videos to patients as they are discharged from the hospital. This team was a favorite from day one as a member of the audience offered to write a check for $20K on the spot in exchange for 20% of company. The team members include Christina Johns, David Mathison and Moh Saidinjead. Having Dr Christina Johns on the team was a huge advantage given that she makes regular television appearances and her husband, an award winning video producer from The West Wing, is also on their board and working closely to oversee production.
The second place prize of $6,000.00 went to ScentShots. The product is based on aromatherapy, and the founders, James Albus and Raymond Marcovici, have developed special patent-pending packaging that will make the product easily branded by partners, easy to use, travel with and distribute. They are using science and research to show how their first two products, ThinScent (for weight loss) and EnergyScent (for a quick energy boost) are effective and more practical than other competitors in the market.
Karmen won the third place prize of $3,000.00. Ari Menase presented his Angus Cow import operation, demonstrating how Instanbul has a high demand for Angus beef, yet a severe shortage. He, with the support of his family who are already successful leather manufacturers, will import Angus cows into Istanbul and grow a strong business by supplying high end restaurants and hotels across the city.
The AEC, Inc team of personal security experts took fourth place and $1,000.00. Kate Comiskey and Richard Bradford have serious background experience in personal security for the high-risk intelligence community who travels to dangerous regions. Their consulting business expertise is in high demand so they will build up sales and then likely exit by selling the company in 3-5 years.
Last year, the first place winner of the 2009 GW Business Plan Competition was Keen Guides which is also a LaunchBox Digital company and was a featured startup at TECH cocktail DC 6 last summer. Their app, which provides audio tours for the DC area, was recently featured in the iPhone App store.
The competition was sponsored by Annette and Richard Scott.