Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Walking Advice

Britnell Ventures CEO Sean Neville came to speak to my entrepreneurship class at Ithaca College. Usually that's a situation where the guest stands in front of the room and talks.

The Standard Stance

This time we decided to mix it up a little by making is a walking session. Though it was a cold day, it was sunny and clear.

Walking Clears the Head

We toured the new Athletics and Events Center and other buildings on campus. While we walked around campus, student entrepreneurs took turns sharing their business pitches with Sean, and discussing his thoughts on next steps.

Walking with our Feet, Talking with our Hands

We visited the Handwerker Art Gallery. Students talked about the inspiration for their business ideas. And the canvas they use is the Business Model Canvas.

Other Canvases

Finally, we strolled by the frozen water fountain. With cheeks rosy but energy refreshed, they also talked to one another and shared the feedback. Much of the learning comes from their peers as much as guest speakers.

The Smooth Ice is Like a Blank (Business Model) Canvas

Thanks Sean!. The students remarked that it was one of the most memorable guest speaker experiences they had been a part of.

Monday, January 19, 2015

I snuck into a college faculty meeting; Here's what I learned goes on there

I have been moonlighting as college faculty on and and off for the past 7 years. I've mainly focused on teaching my classes and working with my students, without getting involved in the inner workings of the school. This year my role at Ithaca College expanded and I decided it was appropriate for me to get more involved. I was surprised and impressed with what I learned goes on at these (seemingly) super secret meeting. The student version of myself thought that these meetings were completely different.

When do we talk about making tests impossible and failing all the students?

Here are the topics that were not covered:

  • That kid with the hair.  What's his deal?  Let's conspire to flunk him.
  • Synchronicity: How can we make all homework and exams due at the same time?
  • Let's compare lists of students to flunk.
  • The worldwide shortage of A's.  What can we do to award fewer of them.
  • Can we make classes start any earlier? How about dawn?
  • How to speak in the most monotone way possible to induce sleep.
  • That kid with the weird clothes.  What's up with him?  Let's definitely flunk him.
  • How to make that screechy chalkboard sound.

Instead they talked about things that were actually useful to students. Including:

  • College is expensive. What can we do to make it cheaper?
  • Helping students find the right degree to fit their interests and strengths.
  • Staying current with the needs of students.
  • iPhones: How to better use the technology that students already love to teach better.
  • Writing better letters of recommendations
  • Improving the MBA program
  • Recruiting the best students from High School and Freshman who are still classified "Undecided"
  • Working with other schools across campus

Huh. Who knew?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

I went to Class and a Scavenger Hunt broke out!

There's an old joke that goes something like this: "I went to a boxing match, and a hockey game broke out!". Here's how I went to class, and a scavenger hunt broke out.

Recently the founders of Campus Pursuit, Scott and Shachar, came to speak in my entrepreneurship class at Ithaca College. At the beginning of the presentation, they asked everyone to download the app onto their smartphones. My English teacher would call that "foreshadowing".

Get your scavenger shoes ready!

About they time they were wrapping up, everyone's phones started buzzing. It was the Campus Pursuit app alerting us to the fact that the day's prizes had just been hidden, and they showed the clues for where. The students said "Can we take a break and see if we can go find them?". How could I say no?!

One of the teams found a $15 gift card for the Boatyard Grill!

Shachar swears, SWEARs!, that it was not intentional. Here is his blog post on the event. Regardless, it was a slick move. Nice job guys.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winning is in the questions

Ithaca College hosted its Fourth annual Business Idea Competition last week. 12 teams of student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a panel of industry professionals, competing for a chunk of the $7500 in total prize money. Teams had 4 minutes to present their idea, followed by 4 minutes of questions from judges. What you often see in events like this is that they are often won or lost in how well they handle the questions.

The fastest 4 minutes of a startup

Although the ideas presented addressed a variety of problems, many teams were presented with similar questions:

1. Have you talked to potential customers?

This one can be a red flag. If you haven't talked to any potential customers, how do you know you're providing something people will pay for?

2. When you talk to potential customers, how much money do they say they would pay?

This one can be surprisingly difficult to answer. I’ve seen presentations where students price their product/service contrary to what a consumer would actually pay.

3. How will you expand or repeat business?

This is a classic "what's next" question. A business relies on recurring sales. We also want to know that you're thinking of how the business can grow.

4. Any regulatory issues?

Depending on the idea, legal regulations could be a real hurdle to tackle. Prepare to look into the full extent of those regulations, any associated costs, and consider whether or not certain aspects of your initial idea can be changed to alleviate some of the legal red tape you could run into.

5. What is your revenue model?

This one is tougher than it sounds for some companies. A common error I often see for software is "we're going to sell ads". The reason this is a problem for most new companies is that ad rates for online and mobile are so low that you need to have a massive number of users to make money this way. It's great for Facebook, but the other 1MM apps in the Apple app store need something more.

6. Have you talked to industry professionals?

This falls into the "do you know what you don't know" category. If you don't have significant experience in the industry you're going into, then please talk to someone who is in that industry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Venture Capital firms that have invested in startups based in Ithaca New York

A question I get a lot is "What firms have made venture capital investments into startups based in Ithaca New York?" I compiled an informal list for a lecture about fundraising I recently gave in Elmira, and it was the most requested item from the event, so I'd thought I'd also share it here.

New York

Cayuga Venture Fund – Ithaca
Kensa Group – Ithaca
BR Ventures - Ithaca
Seed Capital Fund of Central New York – Syracuse
Onondaga Venture Fund – Syracuse
Excell Partners – Rochester
Rand Capital – Buffalo
Empire State Development Small Business Technology Investment Fund – Albany
High Peaks Venture Partners – Albany
Advantage Capital Partners – Glens Falls
Aisling Capital – NYC
Credit Suisse – NYC
Gefinor Capital – NYC
Gotham Ventures - NYC
Great Oaks Venture Capital - NYC
Enhanced Capital Partners – NYC
21Ventures – NYC
Morgan Stanley – NYC


Ben Franklin Technology Partners – Philadelphia
Polaris Partners – Boston
FA Technology Ventures – Boston
DSM - Cambridge, MA
Flagship Ventures – Cambridge, MA
First Avenue Partners – Nashville, TN
Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures – Houston
Draper Fisher Jurvetson - Menlo Park, CA
Skyline Ventures - Palo Alto, CA
Physic Ventures - San Francisco
ArrowPath Venture Partners - Redwood Shores, CA
OVP Venture Partners – Seattle

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ithaca has an incubator

This week Ithaca opened it's very own startup incubator. It's called Rev: Ithaca Startup Works. It's a place for entrepreneurs to go to do work. In my role as as an Entrepreneur In Residence for the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot, I'm housed at Rev and it's a place I'll be frequenting.

Hi. We're open!

Hi. Thanks for opening!

It's great that the area has a space like this. It's been fun working with the early teams in the space, and the energy at the grand opening was palatable. Many of the active and aspiring entrepreneurs from the area have remarked that this was something they have been wanting for awhile, and that it's going to make a big impact on helping and growing the companies that get started here, and hopefully attract some great ones too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Take you mother to class day

Usually you don't want your mother to come to class, but in my case it was a little different. My mother was in town from Los Angeles and wanted to attend the first day of my class at Ithaca College called "Entrepreneurial Innovation". The class is about how to generate, validate, and communicate a strong business concept. As part of the first day's activities, I asked everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves, and share one interesting thing about themselves. I had my mother go last, and having her talk at all was a potentially risky situation because of the possibility of her telling a tale from my childhood.

Oh, the stories I could tell
Fortunately, she just said "I'm from Michigan, I raised 4 wonderful kids in Charlotte, and now I live in Los Angeles".


It was fun in the following days of her visit to talk about new business ideas she had come up with. From just the first class, she was already on a roll.