Category Archives: Invention

INVESTORS LOSING PATIENCE WITH PIVOTS

by Howard Tullman

There’s no polite or easy way to say this, but winter is on its way in the venture world. It’s getting tougher and tougher for startups caught in the lukewarm limbo between ideas and invoices to get their early backers to up their bets especially when it’s not clear that they’ve found a viable business model and/or a way to stop the bleeding sooner rather than later. Too many pivots with too little to show for the dollars down the drain and pretty soon no one wants to hear your, “someday soon,” story or your next grand plan.

dice

And if you’re not breaking even, no bank will look twice at your business or your balance sheet. This change isn’t restricted to the unicorpses in the Valley; it’s going on in every village where waves of wishful thinkers are starting to wonder what hit them.

My sense is that the smart investor conversations taking place today aren’t very often about the company going big for the gold or about the current investors doubling down so some startup can shoot for the stars. These increasingly cranky chats are less about excitement and enthusiasm and much more about ennui and possible exits. Because the two things that some early investors and every VC understands are sunk costs and opportunity costs.

While the entrepreneur is sweating survival, the investors are trying to decide whether their incremental dollars would be better spent on a new deal elsewhere. These are the days when easy money gets hard.

Those great gluten free sugar cookies (from the hip new bakery down the block that just shut its doors) are tasting more like ashes in their mouths and they’re asking themselves how they ended up sitting in a room with no doors feeling like some sucker after the circus left town.

The unhappy folks who are still sitting at the table (more likely associates now than the partners who got the ball rolling) aren’t talking about how much more money they can put to work; they’re trying to figure out how little additional cash they can put up to preserve what’s left of their position.

cash

Everyone is telling you that they’re really not inclined to do much of anything at all if you can’t drag some new money from outside players to the table to help set the price and get the next round started. Flat valuations in times like this are the new “up” rounds and there are down rounds galore.

This is a Plan B world at best and the down and dirty talk on the limo ride to LaGuardia almost always includes whether to also shoot the CEO while they’re in the process of trying to clean things up and save a little face. So if you’re the one on the bubble, forget Plan B, and get started on what I call Plan C. You need to get a head start on talking about the tough choices and critical changes that need to be made.

It’s about figuring out what immediate actions you can take that will make a difference before they turn the lights out. You can have results or excuses, not both. Focus on facts rather than futures if you want to be there when things turn around.

And forget about playing the blame game – no one cares.

Plan C is all about choices: contraction, consolidation, combination, conversion, and concessions. The last C is closing the doors and that’s not a sight that anyone wants to see. So find out which of the C’s makes the most sense for your startup.

contraction

Contraction

Just suck it up and admit it. You can’t be all things to all people and no one ever has been. Focus on what sets you apart and what represents the best prospect of a long term sustainable competitive advantage for your business and forget everything else. Don’t apologize, don’t try to explain, just buckle down and get the job done. The recent launch of UberEats in Chicago (as an “instant” meal delivery service) and its almost immediate abandonment of that commitment is a good example of knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s pretty stupid to open the umpteenth home meal delivery service in Grub Hub’s hometown.

Businesses that scale too soon and which are a mile wide and an inch deep are doomed for many reasons, but the clearest and most telling is that they can’t cost-effectively engage with, support, or connect to their customers because the customers are simply too few and too far between. It’s critical to nail it before you scale it and, if you’re grossly overextended, your business is going nowhere.

consolidation

Consolidation

Shut down the stupid San Francisco office sooner rather than later. You had no business being there in the first place and the fact that you doing no business there ought to speak for itself. San Francisco may be the most overheated and least representative market in America. Everyone there drinks the KoolAid for about 10 minutes and then moves on. Building a new business there is as slippery and unstable as trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

New York should be next on the list. NYC isn’t a city – it’s 5 or 6 different marketplaces all mashed together – with a million people just waiting to eat your lunch. Your business expansion needs to be driven by actual demand, feasibility and real opportunities – not by some investor’s fantasies and/or fables about life in the Big Apple foisted on the public by the media and by people barely making it in Brooklyn.

combination

Combination

Take a careful look around and see who else in your space (or adjacent to it) is doing things right and see what the prospects of some kind of combination may be especially if your market itself continues to be more cluttered and competitive. We hear constantly that the shared/surplus economy or the “Now” economy continues to grow fueled by millions of millennials holding multiple jobs. But tracking the gig economy isn’t quite that easy. While the number of multiple job holders has in fact grown dramatically, the percentage of the number of people so employed as compared to the total number employed has been flat or down over the last decade.

We had a great example of a timely and smart combination recently in Chicago where Shiftgig and BookedOut got together and decided that there were all kinds of economies and opportunities in a merger as well as the sheer relief in knowing that they could stop trying to beat each other’s brains out in the market. They are both players in the increasingly crowded space which the Commerce Department is trying to define as “digital matching firms.

Shiftgig was bigger and better established, but BookedOut had a lot of momentum and was gaining important traction in the experiential marketing sector. Now instead of spending time building duplicative back ends and other redundant systems and offerings, they can bring a single story to the market in a cleaner, more efficient and less costly way. This is exactly the kind of story that all of their investors wanted to hear.

It’s not easy in any market to attract the technical talent, the motivated sales people, and the operations folks that you need to grow quickly and a well-planned and thoughtfully executed combination can demonstrably accelerate the process. You need to be careful to make sure that the companies’ visions are aligned and that the problems they’re addressing are similar and that the cultures of the businesses (and the leaders in particular) aren’t in conflict.

These things aren’t made or broken in the board room when the papers are signed, they rise or fail in the implementation and the execution. But in today’s world, it’s often a lot better and smarter han trying to go it alone.

conversion

Conversion

Sell some of your stuff to someone else. You may be great at lead generation and lousy at closing the sale once those prospects show up at your door. Or you may be a great sales organization that sucks at fulfillment and customer service. When you look at your skill sets and your customers, users, clients, etc. through a different lens—looking at them as potential assets to be converted or sold to some other enterprise, it helps you see more clearly exactly what kind of business you’re building. It may make the most sense to look at your company as a conduit or an intermediary and not as a one-stop shop trying to meet all the needs of the marketplace. You’ve got to play to your strengths and build on those if you’re planning to stick around.

concessions

Concessions

Maybe your pricing made sense in some early fever dream where you were the best and only player in the space, but now there are fast followers and clones everywhere you look and their offerings (at least on the surface) look a lot like yours. Once your customers start talking about price, you’re on a very slippery slope.

 

Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line. In the long run, you can’t save your way to success and it’s no fun to fire your friends or postpone your pet projects. But if you don’t survive during the difficult times, you and your business won’t be around to savor any success down the road. Do what needs to get done and do it now.

 

Big Gulp from Howard Tullman

About the Author

Howard Tullman is the father of 1871 and Matter—the huge Chicago incubators.

This article appeared previously in News From Heartland

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References

Shiftgig

BookedOut .

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Economics, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Heartland Angels, Innovation, Invention, investor, Startup, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

CHICAGO TECH’S NEXT CHAPTER

At Tempus, Ocient and Catalytic, Chicago’s most prominent entrepreneurs are moving on to their next big thing.

by Jim Dallky

Chicago tech is growing up.

One sign of a maturing tech ecosystem is the success of a city’s serial entrepreneurs, and recently we’ve seen some of Chicago’s most high profile founders and technologists move on to their next companies, and tackle big industries like the Internet of Things, cancer research, and artificial intelligence.

Uptake - ChicagoInno

Look no further than Groupon founders Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky. Keywell brought Uptake1 out of stealth in 2015, and the fastgrowing IoT startup has already raised $45 million at a $1.1 billion valuation. Lefkofsky left his CEO role at Groupon last November and, as we first reported in July2, has since been working on Tempus3, a healthtech startup that’s “building the infrastructure to modernize cancer treatment.”

 

Ocient - homepage

Also in July, Cleversafe founder Chris Gladwin, who sold his data storage company to IBM in 2015 for $1.3 billion, unveiled4 his next startup Ocient5. Gladwin has yet to make Ocient’s product plans public, but the software company expects to “ultimately hire hundreds of local employees.”

 

pushbot - website

Sean Chou, the former CTO and employee No. 2 at Fieldglass—which sold to SAP for more than $1 billion—recently, launched Catalytic6, a startup building chatbots for businesses. The company’s platform, Pushbot, helps enterprises “build, run, and improve your processes.”

 

bright - website

You can also look at Jeff Judge, the founder of Signal (acquired by BrightTag in 2014) who’s now building business metrics platform, Bright.7

Kickstarter cofounder Charles Adler is giving entrepreneurs, creatives and makers a better place to work with the Center for Lost Arts8; Motorola veterans are spinning out to create new hardware startups like John Renaldi’s “invisible wearable” company Jio9; along with many, many other founders who are on to their next project and have committed to building in Chicago.

“Certainly, as a community, I think we are maturing,” said Illinois Technology Association CEO Fred Hoch. “It’s being driven a lot by those serial entrepreneurs that are coming back and doing their next thing.”

Hoch described how the city experienced an “excitement period” 3-4 years ago where a lot of startup activity was taking place but, “a lot of bullshit was being developed…things that don’t have a long-term revenue stream.” Chicago’s strength as a tech city is in B2B, Hoch said, and Chicago tech has started to get back who it is as a community. “What’s happened over the last 18 months is that we’ve come back to realize who we are,” he said. “[Entrepreneurs] are not thinking about dog-walking apps. They’re thinking about big things that affect businesses nationally and globally.”

1871 CEO Howard Tullman added that Chicago also has a handful of who he calls “benchers,” successful entrepreneurs who are taking some time off but will likely “be back in the action in a reasonably short time.” This list includes Fieldglass founder Jai Shekhawat, AKTA founder John Roa, and Roger Liew, the former CTO of Orbitz. Tullman also said that 1871 isn’t just full of first-time founders. There are dozens of serial entrepreneurs working out of the Chicago tech hub.

“People don’t understand that the 1871 members aren’t remotely all first timers,” Tullman said. “We have several dozen serial entrepreneurs working here and building their next businesses who are smart enough to avoid making sizeable infrastructure and other capital commitments until they determine whether the dogs will be eating their new dog food…we are definitely seeing a wave of more seasoned, more talented and more aggressive serial entrepreneurs—all working in Chicagoand, largely using their own resources to start the next group of great tech businesses right here.”

Of course, as Chicago’s tech community matures, it doesn’t come without growing pains. Some of the city’s most prominent startups have gone through layoffs in recent months, with Avant firing 60 employees and Raise trimming 15% by cutting 45 people. And the city is still well behind other markets like New York and Boston when it comes to total venture funding.

tempus - website

Tempus

 

But Chicago is proving to be a city where entrepreneurs are willing to double down after successful exits, and that’s good news for the future of Chicago tech.

“We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years,” Hoch said. “[Entrepreneurs] are choosing to stay and be a part of this community because it’s a strong community now.”

 

About the Author

Jim Dallke is the Associate Editor of ChicagoInno of Streetwise Media, where this article previously appeared.

This article appeared in News From Heartland

 

 

Links cited:

Graphics and logos from company websites and ChicagoInno

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, Big Corporations, big money, chicago, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Howard Tullman, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, new companies, Startup, startup company, vc, Venture, venture capital

THE BIG LITTLE TRAP

by Scott M. Anderson

An investor, Sally, recently heard two pitches. The first was from A-Dot-Co, which will produce polka-dot jellybeans using a new patented process. The second was from BetterBean, will produce purple jellybeans using a trade secret method which improves existing manufacturing processes.

Having spent several years owning a candy company, Sally was interested in both opportunities.

Jellybean T

Sally knows that the jellybean market is large and well established. With a few regional exceptions, she knows the annual market growth has been 3% for many years.

sales projection MS Office

Accordingly, she was a bit surprised to see strong growth projections in the presentations from both A-Dot-Co and BetterBean. More diligence would be required.

Sally asked both companies to submit detailed materials in support of the projections they presented. She was particularly focused on the factors responsible for revenue growth. Since the market is large and established, Sally knew that growth for a new entrant must come from either expansion of the overall market or from switching behavior (customers switching from established providers to new providers). She was hopeful that the detailed support material for each revenue projection, would reflect management’s understanding of these market dynamics.

 

A-Dot-Co

A-Dot-Co

Sally received the following support detail from A-Dot-Co:

A-Dot-Co Revenue

She knew from prior experience that the total candy market was very large and she was glad to see the jelly bean sub-market in excess of $2 billion. There would be plenty of upside for A-Dot-Co. She was also glad to see that in year 5, the founder did not expect to exceed 1.0% of the market. Any larger share percentage would require major resources and additional funding rounds.

However, before investing, Sally still needed more information on the detail behind the market share projections. She scheduled a follow-up call.

On the call, A-Dot-Co was very enthusiastic. It went like this:

Sally: “Thank you for your revenue detail. I have some follow up questions. How do you expect to land nearly $2 million in revenue in the first 2 years?”

Founder: “A-Dot-Co is well positioned to achieve our revenue goals. We have a seasoned team who formed many candy company startups in the past.”

Sally: “That’s great. But how do you intend to land $600K of sales in year 1?”

Founder: “My team has deep knowledge about the jelly bean market. We only need a mere 0.03% of the market to land the projected $600K! Surely there are enough polka-dot jelly bean eaters out there to achieve this projection!”

A-Dot-Co’s founder fell into The Big Little Trap.

trap MS Office

 

The Trap

The Big Little Trap occurs when a founder believes his future projections are achievable because the market is so big and the market share percentage is so little. Specifically, that the sales goal will be very easy to accomplish because the market goal is such a small percentage, such as 0.03% with A-Dot-Co. (“It’s so small that anyone can reach it…as easy as falling off a log!”) In fact, the Trap victim might further say that the percentage is so tiny, that it may take only a few customers to reach it, and “…clearly the market has more than just a few customers!”

The response to an enthusiastic Trap victim: “I’m glad you’re excited. Name the customers!”

 

BetterBean

BetterBean

BetterBean submitted the following detail to Sally:

BetterBean Revenue

 

As before, Sally was glad to see confirmation of the jelly bean market. (They must have used the same market study). But she was even happier to see customer detail behind the revenue projection.

target market MS Office

The detail reveals several important items:

  1. BetterBean knows his target customers and may already have relationships established with them.
  2. Knowing BetterBean’s target customers should lead to a more efficient operation by helping the company prioritize the company’s limited time with its important customers over less strategic prospects.
  3. BetterBean has applied the 80/20 rule—at least 80% of the revenue is derived from specific, identified customers. The remaining revenue will come from other customers, currently unknown. Forecasting is an inexact science and to communicate over-precision in the detail implies the founder may be taking his projections too seriously. BetterBean has not been overly precise.
  4. When—not if—BetterBean misses its projections, the detail will provide insight as to why the projections were missed. The “why” is more important for fixing future revenue projections.
  5. BetterBean is more transparent than A-Dot-Co. Specifically, BetterBean’s founder has shared his target customer list, perhaps with the hope that Sally may have contacts to be leveraged at those customer accounts. Conversely, A-Dot-Co has shared no customer detail, suggesting that its founder may not know who his customers will be. This is concerning if true.

 

Decision Time

Sally rejected the opportunity with A-Dot-Co. It fell into The Big Little Trap—and didn’t even realize it. The lack of transparency did not generate confidence in the company’s management team.

Sally proceeded with further diligence on BetterBean.

The Big Little Trap grabs victims all the time. Like Sally, an investor should consider the market size, but only in the context of the startup’s upside potential. As she observed, there’s, “…plenty of upside for A-Dot-Co.” However, market share is not the justification of year-to-year or month-to-month revenue goals. Market share is best seen as a byproduct of sales efforts.

The jellybean example is fictitious, but the Trap is very real. Watch for The Big Little Trap at your next pitch session. See if the founder falls into it!

 

About the Author

Scott M. Anderson is a principal at Anderson Financial Services, LLC and has been performing cash projections for decades as an investment banker, a workout specialist, and recently, as an advisor to investors and startups. He can be reached at scott@andersonfsllc.com

Graphics from MS Office

 

This article appeared in NEWS FROM HEARTLAND

NEWS FROM HEARTLAND – The Journal of the Heartland Angels is published tri-annually for its members. We encourage reproduction and quotation of articles, if done with with attribution. Copyright © 2017 Heartland Angels. John Jonelis, Editor – John@HeartlandAngels.com

FOR MEMBERSHIP IN THE HEARTLAND ANGELS, contact Ron Kirschner Ron@HeartlandAngels.com

FOR FUNDING, apply online. Go to www.HeartlandAngels.com

NEWSLETTER SITE – View past and present editions at News.HeartlandAngels.com

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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INQUIRY AND INNOVATION

by John Jonelis

What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?

Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.

[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]

Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?

IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture

It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.

“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.

“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”

[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]

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Innovation

“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.

“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.

Business Mentor

[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]

“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies.  We have three working in the space as a pilot.  Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow.  Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow. 

“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.

“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.

“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”

Student Entrepreneur

Inquiry

“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”

Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong

[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]

Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.

Carl Heine

“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”

Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”

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[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]

Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade.  We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.” 

Betty Hart

Betty – “We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”

Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”

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Bring Back Socrates

[I pose a thorny question:  Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]

Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.

“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?

“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”

[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]

Student Entrepreneur

Possibilities

Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”

“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”

  • “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
  • “And have FAST FAILS.”
  • “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”

“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”

Entrepreneur with a solution

The 17%

Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”

Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.

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This is the final article in this series.

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH

 

References

  1. BOWLING ALONE – Robert Putnam
  2. IN2 Launches LINKubator for Fox Valley Startups
  3. IMSA FUSION

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IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Impact Investing, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, Mobile App, new companies, Public Schools, Social Entrepreneur, Social Media, Software, Startup, startup company, Venture

POWER PITCH

by John Jonelis

What happens when you give kids—kids gifted in math and science—a real chance to bust out with their God given talents and excel?

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  • What if you trust them to lay their greasy little hands on equipment normally available only at elite universities?
  • What if you allow them to direct their own time?
  • What if you challenge them to construct their own goals and learn by themselves how to accomplish them?
  • What if you dare them to build real startup businesses at such a tender age?
  • And what if you throw them into a competition against a panel of critical judges from the real private equity world?

What happens? Good things! Good things happen! They happen here at IMSA – the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. I’ll give you an intimate peek at the inner works of this educational powerhouse so you can see for yourself what makes this one of the biggest success stories in the country.

Showcase – Chandra Gangavarapu

This is a high school with a serious entrepreneurship program. Many of the ideas, business models, and pitches produced here outshine what we’re accustomed to in the business world. Mere students, you say? Some of their companies have gained funding and gone to market. And many of these same students intern at real-world startups throughout Chicago.

According to Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer at IN2, “Kids love to have real-world problems to actually work at. This space provides that opportunity.”

Today’s event is the grueling POWER PITCH. Each team presents its company twice before separate panels of judges—the finalists pitch three times.

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What Do the Judges Say?

The judges are all smiles as they feed at the idea bar after the first round. Competitors get whittled down by secret ballot. I corner John Lump. He’s a colleague at Heartland Angels and a professor at DePaul where I’ve lectured at his invitation on risk profiles in private equity. See IN YOUR FACE RISK.

This a practical guy who’s knee-deep in the real world of business as VP of Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. I can count on him for an honest opinion. Here it is verbatim:

John Lump — Judge

“I love being a judge here. Second year I’ve been doing it. And it’s exciting and a lot of fun. The enthusiasm and energy of the kids is just fantastic.”

Swelly – Tyler Stock

“I saw several interesting businesses.

  • Swelly is a temporary insurance company.
  • Blabl is a company to help students with speech disabilities.
  • Rethink Numeracy is one that helps students with Downs Syndrome learn math—a more visual approach.

Some really cool ideas here.”

Blabl – Ayan Agarwal

“Obviously these entrepreneurs are quite young. There are some still in Jr. High. You’re talking kids that are 10, 12, 13 years old and already starting businesses! At Heartland Angels, we see entrepreneurs in their 20s up to their 50s and 60s. So these kids need much more mentoring. But I think you’re going to see some business opportunities here.”

Rethink Numeracy – Akshaya Raghavan

I touch base with Moises Goldman. As I’ve said before, he’s an old hand at private equity in Chicago and a VIP here at IMSA. I’ve known him a long time, and trust what he says. He’s a guy that projects humility, but receives deference and respect.

Moises Goldman – Judge

Today Moises is bursting with exuberance and he speaks with more passion than I’ve ever seen. What he says is as intuitive and emotional as it is insightful.

“Two of these kids blew me away. The company is called Fast Exit. One brother is 12 and the other is 15. Twelve and fifteen! I looked at the father and just jokingly said to him, what is it that you do? These kids are very, bright. Very, very bright—both of them.

[Moises is talking about the Orr brothers, Joshua and Maxwell. The older brother is in 8th grade at Avery Coonley. They are each pitching their own companies today.]

“What blew me away was that they’re two brothers, so I look at the father and I just wonder, what are his challenges as a dad with these two amazing kids? Because the social environment that they have—it must be an alternative universe to the one that I’m used to—that I grew up in.”

Jim Gerry with Joshua Orr of Fast Exit

[I suggest to Moises that their home life must be very nurturing.]

“Yes, somehow. But I’m amazed. That really blew me away—that blew me away. Last year, the older boy had a drone project that was a game you could adapt to Dave and Busters in that kind of environment.”

[I recall that drone project and ask if they’re both planning to attend IMSA.]

“The 12-year old—I don’t know. The 15-year old is applying for the coming year.”

OneNote Quiz – Maxwell Orr

Today there are 17 judges at Power Pitch – Patrick Bresnahan, Dane Christianson, Moises Goldman, Joe Jordan, Sanza Kazadi, Christine Krause, Maria Kuhn, John Lump, Josh Metnick, Nancy Munro, Kelly Page, Jacob Plumber, Lance Pressl, Julia Sanberger, Chris Stiegal, Tom Voigt, Joe Zlotniki. I agreed to be an alternate and fortunately don’t get that tap on the shoulder. I want to see the whole event.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds, Julian Kroschke

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Entrepreneurship

IMSA’s entrepreneurship program is called TALENT—Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurship—led by Dr. Carl Heine, Britta McKenna, and Jim Gerry. Jim is technically retired from the program but still volunteers his time. This is too much fun to stay away.

Heat2Heal – Sushil and Pranav Upadhyayula

At this place, students get real-life experience and opportunities to solve real-world problems and bring ideas to market. The goal is to instill the thinking patterns and mindset of an entrepreneur:

  • Develop a product
  • Form a team
  • Communicate ideas
  • Formulate a business plan
  • Protect intellectual property
  • Work your network
  • Raise funding
  • Start the business

Really? These are high school kids—some even younger. In a world of schools dominated by gangs, drugs, and fear, who would think them capable of such positive desires and accomplishments? Then I come across one of the quotes on the wall:

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IMSA Fast Facts

  • Teaching philosophy – The Socratic approach. Self-directed learning and problem-based learning.
  • 99.8% of IMSA students attend college.
  • 70.1% pursue majors in science or math.
  • 47% of faculty is PhD.
  • Alumni hail from every district in Illinois.
  • This is the school’s 30th year.

The IN2 Entrepreneurship Center at IMSA

I snag Dr Carl Heine, as he moves between presentations. He’s director of IMSA TALENT, their entrepreneurship program. I ask him if IMSA still has a presence at 1871, the huge incubator in downtown Chicago, or if all the activity is at the new IN2 facility.

Dr. Carl Heine, Director of IMSA TALENT

“IMSA is still a member of 1871. We take our students on Wednesdays to intern at companies. They’re embedded in startup teams. We can’t teach a class that’s better than that.”

“We do it every Wednesday. 1871 is just one location. We have students at the James Jordan Foundation downtown. Three of them are interning there right now, working on summer curriculum. There are students at a variety of other spots, too.”

[“This year’s Power Pitch is better than I’ve ever seen.”]

“POWER PITCH is an event that makes people feel good about the future. I hope you feel that way as a result of your involvement.

“The top three high school teams are advancing to the Next Launch regional competition in Indianapolis on May 17. If you would like to continue to work with your favorite team as a thought partner, a mentor or more, the purpose of IN2 and TALENT is to make that happen.”

Yoda

[I decide that Carl is the Yoda of IN2. I ask him, “What other events are coming up?”]

“This has been an academy for 30 years now, so we’d like to have a celebration. We’ve put it on March 30th this year, so there’s a 30 and a 30. As part of that, we’re doing the ribbon cutting for the IN2 space, and the new science labs that are part of a capital campaign that just wrapped up as well. And we’re celebrating the accomplishments of the institution over the last 30 years.”

This is just brilliant!

IMSA trains students not to fear any subject. I noticed THEORY OF ANALYSIS on the course syllabus. Normally, that’s offered only at the university level and it’s a course that’s hated and avoided by math majors nationwide. Never be intimidated by difficult subjects.

Award Ceremony

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17 Student Teams

IMSA’s President, Jose׳ M Torres, and the Stephanie Pace Marshall Endowment present the awards.

The top three high school teams—Blabl, Heat2Heal and Flameless—advance to the Next Launch Regional Competition in Indianapolis on May 17. The two winning middle school teams are Fast Exit and Shop Cheetah.

Blabl– Ayan Agarwal

 

Social Good Category Finalists & Winners

  • BlablAyan Agarwal – A mobile application that engages speech impaired children in conversation with an avatar – $1000 prize, Top 3 HS team
  • Heat2HealSushil Upadhyayula, Pranav Upadhyayula – A hands-free, self-powered Arthritis Wrap that converts body heat into electricity to provide targeted massaging & heat therapy for stiff joints – $500, Top 3 HS team
  • Rethink NumeracyAkshaya Raghavan – Teaching numeracy to children with Down Syndrome, leveraging their learning strengths.
  • Double-CheckRishi Modi – A protective biometric alternative to prevent ID theft.

Heat2Heal– Sushil Upadhyayula & Pranav Upadhyayula

Social entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses that promote social good. The STEM category is for-profit tech companies.

Fast Exit – Joshua Orr

STEM Category Finalists & Winners

  • FastExitJoshua Orr – A life-saving solution for managing exit signs – $1,000 prize, middle school team.
  • Shop CheetahCatelyn Rounds, Julian KroschkeA groundbreaking store navigation system that saves times and routes customers through the store$500 prize, middle school team.
  • FlamelessSivam Bhatt, Nikhil Madugula – Extinguishing cooking fires automatically with sound waves – Top 3 HS team.
  • SwellyAneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler Stock – A mobile app that allows users to get flexible insurance on personal items in an instant.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke

 

Other Competing Teams

  • AlertAshritha Karuturi, Priya Kumar – An app that efficiently connects homeowners to rescue workers, saving time and lives.
  • Be BettahZoe Mitchell – The food search engine and cookbook series that allows for bettah nutrition without changing your lifestyle.
  • Electrofood Alex Orlov – A microbial fuel cell that converts food waste to electricity.
  • OneNote QuizMax Orr – The personalized quiz generator.

Flameless – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula

  • SafeSeatElliott Cleven – An app to alert parents if their child is left in a car unattended.
  • ShowcaseChandra Gangavarapu – A web app for musicians and dancers to gain recognition for their art.
  • Social BreadVainius Normantas – Using social media advertisements to raise funding and awareness for communities in need.
  • StrobeJayant Kumar, Zaid Kazmi – LED light strip supplements for fire and carbon monoxide alarms to assist the hearing impaired.
  • Verifact!Shreya Pattisapu – An effective and efficient way to couter fake news.

 

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Hope you enjoyed Part 2 – POWER PITCH

Read Part 3 – INQUIRY & INNOVATION

 

 

IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

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Photography by John Jonelis

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel investor, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Events, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, MIT, MIT Enterprise Forum, MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago, MITEF, MITEF Chicago, Social Entrepreneur, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital

THE NAME IS IN2

by John Jonelis

What happens when you give kids—highly gifted in math and science—a state-of-the-art facility entirely dedicated to entrepreneurship? This could be the best-designed business incubator on the planet and the students are going to create real businesses here. Hey—this is too much fun! It sure doesn’t look like high school to me! Where did they put the usual long halls walled by the usual rows of lockers? Where are the standardized rigid rectangular classrooms?

This is IN2, the new entrepreneurship center at IMSA—the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy—the Statewide high school for the best and the brightest. It’s located near Chicago and students live on campus, as if attending a university four years too soon.

IMSA will host a big party and ribbon cutting for the new IN2 innovation space on the 30th of the month—that’s the 30th anniversary of the school’s founding. I had the unique opportunity to preview this amazing facility. Here’s a sneak peek:

IN2 at IMSA (Note the unique tables and ping pong net)

Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer here, and led the team that put this together. As I fumble to get my recorder going, I ask her how they pulled it off. Without any hesitation, she pours out an amazing story—so here it is, verbatim:

[First of all, I asked about the name—IN2. What does it mean?]

“Innovation and Inquiry. When people were in focus groups and asked about IMSA, those were the two words that came up over and over. So the company we worked with used Inquiry & Innovation as IN-IN. That’s why it’s called IN2. So you can say, ‘What are you IN2?’ It can be playful.”

Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer

“The story actually goes back 10 years. It was decided an innovation hub would be built—a physical space and a virtual space.

“Three and a half years ago, we got a gift of one million dollars from Steve Chen to build the innovation center, so then the work really began.”

[Chen is an IMSA alum and co-founder of YouTube and AVOS. I asked Britta how they came up with such a wonderful design]

“I got tapped, as chief innovation officer, to figure out what this would be, what it would look like, how it would operate, how it would be funded. It would have to be a private revenue stream to support this.”

[ALERT—All you budget hawks. She’s talking private funding—and she’s got the corporate connections and alumni to do it.]

Maker Space

“So I brought along students to Silicon Valley—15 of them. We went through Chicago to spaces like Northwestern, IIT, University of Chicago, Fermilab, Argon, 1871, Private Industry Chicago, Next Door, and we also went out to Boston to visit MIT Media Lab, and other spaces out there, including artist colonies to be inspired to by what people were doing coast-to-coast in innovation spaces.”

Multi-use conference rooms

“That was a 2-year research project and included the students all the way. They worked in three teams—Developing Technology, Programming, and Facilities. They helped co-design the space, because they are the users, and too many times, we design things in a box outside of the users. So we implemented a user-designed thinking approach.”

Lab space

“We went to Facebook, Google, Dropbox, AVOS, which is Steve Chen’s newest startup, WeWork, which is a co-working space, and Stanford’s StartX, so we literally have done our due diligence.

“And I asked, ‘What space gets used the most? What’s your favorite thing? And what did you do wrong?’

“It doesn’t mean that those things will all work here, but it’s likely that we might have success if somebody else already has. So we synthesized all of that and I became what is known as the ‘hashtag’ Super-User. And the Super-User is the one that funnels all of this information to the architects, because now it actually has to be designed.”

Idea space

“We went to the community. We came together—58 of us—anyone from a Chicago Public School teacher to a city administrator with City of St. Charles. We got public, private, parents, past parents, teachers—everybody came together and literally built models of this space. We went through the design process with architects, we used Cordogan Clark in Aurora, and we built this—it took about a year to build from the time we broke ground and now we’re opening up.”

Sharing space

“So all the spaces here are influenced either by student ideas or places coast-to-coast that we visited. And so we’d probably say that we’re the first secondary school innovation center in Illinois, and dare we say the United States because we haven’t been able to find something like this. First-to-market is great for Illinois, great for Aurora, and puts IMSA on the map. We invite people to come in and see what we’ve built here.”

Collaboration space

“This is really meant as a convening space. Innovation doesn’t happen unless there are people here. We learned from going coast-to-coast that you can have the coolest space ever, but if there’s nobody there, there’s no innovation happening. There’s nothing happening. It’s all about connecting people.”

Coffee Bar

“One of the biggest places we found is around food. So we have a built-in cafe around the corner because you want to meet somebody for a cup of coffee. You just want to have a casual conversation. You want to have a back-of-the-napkin sketch, that can happen there or it can happen in our idea bar.

“We have Idea Baristas that we’re training. They actually wear aprons, and will help people advance their ideas here. They’re all volunteers.”

Idea Baristas.

We’ve got a mentoring office like 1871. We hope by the fall to have regular office hours. So I am a non-profit mentor. On Tuesdays from 4-6:00, I volunteer my time to mentor non-profits in the community. I can go to them. They can come to us.”

Mentoring Office

“Mike McCool, who’s an alum and a software engineer, wanted to donate and I said, ‘How ‘bout we get the McCool View?’ So he funded the beautiful windows that we have.”

The McCool View

“Our reach—about advancing the human condition—can, I think, really be actualized through this space. Not that we weren’t doing it—it just gives us that new front door. The space is just literally right by the front door.”

A huge competition between student startup companies— POWER PITCH—is going on here today. I’ll give you an inside look at that in the second article in this series.

Moises Goldman – Judge at POWER PITCH

I run into an old friend, Moises Goldman—angel investor, a big driver at MIT, and an important contributor at IMSA. Today he’s one of 17 judges at POWER PITCH. I ask him what he thinks of the new facility. Moises responds in his gentle, deliberate, and old-world manner, condensing his thoughts into a few words:

“I think it’s always been the desire to be in a type of space that recognized talented students. This is our recognition of these students. That makes a difference to me.”

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Notable IMSA Alums

The school’s alumni reflect its excellence. Browse through a few:

Steve Chen – Co-founder/Chief Technology Officer of YouTube and AVOS. Early engineer at PayPal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Chen

Steve Crutchfield – Chicago Trading Company. CBOE Advisory Board, Head of Options, ETPs, Bonds at NYSE Euronext.  2012 Crain’s Forty Under 40.

http://marketswiki.com/wiki/Steven_Crutchfield

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Dr. Julia Comerford – Astronomer. Discovered several supermassive black hole pairs—occurring in the merger of galaxies.

http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/pair-black-holes-distant-galaxy-03546.html

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Dr. Scott Gaudi – Astronomer, discovered over a dozen new planets and a new solar system.

https://www.imsa.edu/news/releases/2012/08/06/president-obama-honors-dr-b-scott-gaudi-91-highest-honor-early-career-scien

http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~gaudi/

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Nathan Gettings – Co-founder of Palantir. Founder of robotics company Robotex.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palantir_Technologies

Also – http://www.robotex.com/

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Ramez Naam – Software developer and international bestselling author. Developer at Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer projects.

https://www.amazon.com/Ramez-Naam/e/B001IOH84S/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1489516515&sr=8-2-ent

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Mike McCool – Software Engineer at Google, Robot Invader, Aechelon Technology, Netscape, and many others.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.robotinvader.fooding&hl=en

Rob McCool – Software developer and author. Developed the original NCSA Web server, later known as the Apache HTTP Server. Part of original NCSA Mosaic team with his twin brother Mike.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McCool

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Tim Meyer, PhD – Chief Operating Officer, Fermilab

http://www.fnal.gov/pub/about/timothy-meyer.html

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Yu Pan – Co-creator of PayPal and the first employee at You Tube. Co-founder of kid’s kraft company Kiwi Crate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yu_Pan

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Dwan Prude – Financial Analyst, Boeing Company. Motivational speaker.

https://www.imsa.edu/news/releases/2012/08/20/dwan-prude-97-gives-passionate-and-motivational-2012-convocation-address

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Russel Simmons – Co-founder of Yelp. Early developer at PayPal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russel_Simmons

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Clara Shih – Bestselling author, THE FACEBOOK ERA. Founder of Hearsay systems. In 2010, she was named one of most influential women in tech.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Shih

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Kevin Wang – Founder of TL;DR Legal. Theil Foundation fellowship recipient.

https://www.imsa.edu/academics/talent/kevin-wang-new-thiel-fellow

Also – http://www.geekwire.com/2012/kevin-wang/

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Sam Yagan – American internet entrepreneur. Co-founder of SparkNotes and OkCupid. CEO Match.com. Named in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Yagan

 

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Hope you enjoyed Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Read Part 2 – POWER PITCH

Go to Part 3 – INQUIRY & INNOVATION

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.

IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

3 Comments

Filed under Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, new companies, Public Schools, Social Entrepreneur, Startup, startup company

ENGINEERING YOUR PITCH

jockey-and-horse-t-ms-officeInsights from the Cornerstone Angel Meeting

by Stephanie Wiegel

Angel investment deals aren’t made on the spot as the TV show Shark Tank suggests. Instead, entrepreneurs are excused from the meeting after delivering their pitches. If you’re vying for early investment money, what’s said behind these closed doors can make or break a deal. Continue reading

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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Chicago Ventures, Cornerstone Angels, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Invention, investor, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern, pitch, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital