Tag Archives: Young entrepreneurs

THIS AIN’T NO LEMONADE STAND

20160402_143634-JAJ TLoop Lonagan—Verbatim

What if y’could combat starvation by producin’ yer own meat ‘n potatoes—and do it right at da local food bank? Hey, I’m lookin’ at a real working prototype here. What about a solution to student debt? Or, maybe fer yer next birthday party, ever’body plays laser tag with drones? Or learns music real fast? Or gets a little help rememberin’ stuff. I can use summa that.

This ain’t no lemonade stand—I’m talkin’ serious business ventures here. One of ‘em launched her company this year and raised $250K in revenue already. Yeah, you heard right—a quarter million bucks. IMG_6636And she’s a high school sophomore! They’s ALL high school students! This is POWER PITCH, ‘n’ we’re at IMSA—the Illinois Math ‘n’ Science Academy. Real smart kids go here. I never seen nothin’ like it—all I remember about high school is gettin’ in trouble all da time.

I sure hope John’s cleanin’ up my language before he prints this stuff.

Editor’s Note—This is a verbatim transcript. It is the policy of this journal to do each writer justice. I might point out that Lonagan doesn’t give himself enough credit. He graduated the University of Chicago with a Masters in Finance.

20160402_143634-JAJ

We got almost 40 teams pitchin’ here, and they’s all real professional-like. One o’ da mentors flew in all the way from Silicon Valley ‘n’ spent days ‘n’ days coachin-up deeze kids. They musta worked their little tails off. DSC_0055Another thing I notice—seems like nowadays, kids wanna do somethin’ good fer da world, insteada da usual greed ‘n’ avarice.

They’s buildin’ a whole wing o’ da school—exclusive fer startups. And today’s winners get thousands in prize money.

Jonelis invited a couple o’ the judges ‘n’ I don’t know why he picked me but I’m glad he did. I mean, c’mon—how can a guy pass up somethin’ like this?

DSC_0052Sixteen of us is tryin’ t’ pick da best o’ da best. Alotta these judges is big-time professional investors I know personal-like, ‘n’ I hear ‘em sayin’ stuff like, “Deeze pitches here is better den downtown.” Sheesh, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I mean, yer lookin’ at da hope o’ tomorrow! And it happens every year!

Just take a glimpse at summa deeze startups. I put ‘em in alphabetic’ order I think. And lemme say thanks t’ Carl Heine who runs dis thing. And Jim Gerry who’s retired but can’t stay away. And Britta McKenna who’s da Chief Innovation Officer. Naturally they’s all PhDs.

20160402_142354-JAJ

Tech Ventures

  • Drone Wars—Having fun with flying laser robots—Max Orr
  • FlashFun—The Personalized Concierge in the palm of your hand—Palak Agarwal
  • Flock—A free and efficient social media platform for easily getting together with your friends—Ben Maher, Timur Javid, Michael Dow, Shrey Patel
  • HeadsUp—A projectable HUD purposed to prevent distracted driving-based accidents by keeping drivers’ eyes up and on the road—Sneha Pathuri, Ian Anderson, Andriy Sheptunov, Xinyu Guan
  • Icosadeck—Icosadeck reinvents the flashcard, making it multi-sided and adding other features to let students note more information, with more organization, and more efficiency—Gunwati Agrawal
  • NoteHub—A Website where students can buy and sell their school notes—Katreena Subramanian, Devan Grover
  • Peanut Butter—Peanut Butter motivates Millennial employees by offering a unique benefit that reduces their student debt—Aneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler StockIMG_6631
  • RemindMe—You shouldn’t have to remind yourself to remember – RemindMe is a smart phone app that uses proven techniques in memory research to help you retain information longer and retrieve it faster—Ahana Narayanan
  • Right Glow—Right Glow is a silicone bathmat that when stepped on glows red, providing the user with a light source that does not cause the temporary blinding sensation associated with turning on a light late at night—Luke Morrical
  • Snowflake—An Automatic, not manual, fridge inventory keeper and recipe recommender—Xinyu Guan, Andriy Sheptunov
  • Vestal—Social platform where you interact with other in Virtual Reality using just a smart phone and a viewer—Isabel Lee
  • XYZone—Improve your pitching accuracy with the only 3D Strike Zone—Hector Correa

Social Ventures

  • AquaFood—A permaculture company proposing aquaponics as a biotechnological solution to combat starvation and environmental problems in your own neighborhood and in the world—Erol IkizIMG_6659
  • Blabl—A mobile application that engages speech impaired children in conversation with a virtual pen-pal—Ayan Agarwal
  • HydroHero—Generate water for the people—George Moe
  • Pass Your Plate—Pass Your Plate helps businesses by taking their waste food and donating it to shelters in the area—Aneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler Stock, Shana Farhang
  • SelfHealth—SelfHealth is a system that puts you in control of your own medical information—Alex Orlov
  • SirenAlert—SirenAlert, is developing a Bluetooth app and signal monitoring hardware to help emergency vehicles avoid traffic collisions and improve response time by alerting even the most distracted drivers, saving lives—John Valin
  • SocialGood—SocialGood translates social media activity into charitable donations utilizing social media activity—Vainius NormantasIMG_6637
  • Thinkubator—Thinkubator is a co-curricular program that challenges students to think & solve pressing community issues, for graduation-required service hours—Sivam Bhatt and Nabeel Rashee
  • The Muzic Academy—It will only take a minuet to learn, but what you learn will last a lifetime—Abinaya Ramakrishnan

Other Ventures

  • AlertIsabella Ginnett, Ashritha Karuturi, Priya Kumar
  • Ask Me 101Rishi Modi, AJ Federici
  • CirclesJulian Litvak
  • FunkyPlantsAkshay Verma
  • InspireEsther Mathew, Amahlia SuDSC_0036
  • LinguLucy Liu and Rebecca Xun
  • LoopNicholas Rodriguez, Isaac Adorno
  • LynxAllAnkit Agarwal, Sweta Kotha
  • MusiWebMaya Wlodarczyk
  • OmNoteClaudia Zhu
  • PoweritForwardShriya Chennuru, Harshita Degala
  • SlipTieSushil Upadhyayula, Pranav Upadhyayula
  • Spatio StationMarc Peczka
  • SugarSmart!Aimee van den Berg, Kate Rabideau, Pranav Narayanan, Abhay Gupta
  • The CommunityMadison Mack

Also read – RAW TALENT

Contact IMSA’s Britta McKenna at bmckenna@imsa.edu

Photo credits – IMSA & 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 © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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THE TWO LAWS

IMSA Kids at MIT Enterprise Forum

From a special correspondent – Mark T. Wayne,

as told to John Jonelis

Mark T Wayne Frankly sir, I am flabbergasted! This is something beyond my experience! Think of it. High school students turned serious entrepreneurs. These are children in suit and tie—teams of them politely waiting to speak in turn without interrupting the others. Not so much as a spit wad—do you hear me? Not one! That in itself is cause for more than casual interest. And no fluff here, sir!  These kids seek equity funding without so much as a blush. And they do it with such aplomb.

One by one they each give a compelling presentation before a swarm of serious investors and businessmen. Each offers a new venture—a real venture with a plausible business plan. Yes, I witnessed it myself. Something astounding is taking place among those students and I want to put my finger on just what it is.

Let’s look at one example. Jason Lin is on stage to confront the audience at the MIT Enterprise Forum, Chicago—

Jason Lin

Jason Lin – WikiRoster

This is a crowd of competitive peers, cynical investors, critical business people, and a panel of jaded judges. Young Jason stands before this daunting mob, tricked out in his tailored suit, relaxed, poised, and glib. He calmly and professionally convinces us that his company is number one. His is not a pipe dream.  NO – IT’S A FULLY OPERATING BUSINESS, SIR!  And remember, this is high school.

I talked to Kendrick Lau from his team while waiting for the judge’s decision. We traded letters after that. Every encounter tells me of sincerity, intelligence, and good breeding.

Judge Bob Geras

Judge Bob Geras

Does this surprise you? Everyone knows that our public schools are the laughing stock of the world. Today, a faithful teacher invests all her hopes and struggles to graduate just a few students that can read, write, and comprehend the rudiments of the English language.

And this has been the way of it for at least 150 years. Take the well-known example of a boy named Tom who I know from my own youth. Not a model student but not unusual, either. He hates school with his whole heart. In class he starts a quarrel with the first boy that comes handy. Then he pulls a boy’s hair in the next bench. Next he sticks a pin in another boy, in order to hear him say “Ouch!”

And Tom is not unique. No sir! His whole class is of a pattern—restless, noisy, and troublesome. Fidgetings and whisperings extend far and wide. Soon the classroom air is thick with paper wads.

Can you conceive of building a serious business venture in such chaos?

David Park

David Park – tunesketch

IMSA – the Illinois Math and Science Academy has teamed with other high schools in the region.  As a result, these children might very well be the best-of-the-best.  But can that explain this wonderful performance? Rubbage! That does not answer. Kids are kids wherever you go. There must be some fundamental law at work.

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Two Laws

As I cogitate on that a while, I actually come up with two fundamental laws:

  • Law #1—Misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. It does not matter if the enterprise is puckering the lips and successfully whistling for the first time or a more complex pursuit such as playing a tuba or starting a business. When the thing is achieved, exultation takes over.
  • Law #2—Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do. Play consists of whatever a body is NOT OBLIGED to do. Entrepreneurship—at the fundamental level—is pure play. Folks will work harder at play than at any other activity under the sun.

Mark T Wayne

I recall these same two laws driving a boy to engage in private enterprise about 150 years ago. Everybody here is familiar with Tom’s brush with whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s fence. The story has been around long enough to suggest universality.

For a boy, painting a fence is a daunting task and one sure to bring the scorn of other boys who are setting off on interesting Saturday expeditions. Permit me to dwell for a few moments upon the manner in which Tom turns a hated task into a profitable venture.

Kendrick Lau

Kendrick Lau – WikiRoster

With his bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush, he surveys the fence in genuine anguish. A quick accounting of the resources in his pockets makes it clear that he cannot hire boys to do the work—he must find other means. So he brushes on the whitewash and stands back critically, then dabs at the fence and again surveys his work. When his friend Ben comes by, Tom convinces him he’s having the time of his life (Law #2). After eager negotiation, Ben gives up a juicy apple for the honor of painting that fence and he sets to it with enthusiasm (Law #1).

Boys happen along to jeer but remain to whitewash. Tom trades the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite in good repair.

Ethan Gordon

Ethan Gordon – Bend

Then Johnny Miller buys in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with. When the middle of the afternoon comes, Tom is literally rolling in wealth. He has twelve marbles, a piece of blue bottle glass, a spool cannon, a key that won’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, the glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar, the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.

His enterprising spirit does not stop there.  The next day at Sunday School, he trades these treasures for yellow and blue tickets earned by diligent students that meticulously memorized Scripture. He turns in those tickets in one big pile and wins the honor of the faculty and a girl’s heart – at least until he is questioned more closely.  It seems the most boastful are the first to get found out.  We will draw the curtain on that scene.

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The Winners

Winners of the MITEF / IMSA Power Pitch with IMSA Faculty

The Winners

So what have these young folk at MITEF to offer? Here are the winners:

  • WikiRoster – Jason Lin, Jung Oh and Kendrick Lau operate a website that answers the question, “Who is in my class?” This is the first question a student asks. It’s already changing the way high schools interact and the way marketers do business. It facilitates collaboration on homework, notes, tutoring, sale of textbooks. There is almost no competition in the high school market. And it’s a going venture!
  • Bend – Ethan Gordon has developed a way to generate electricity from undersea currents. This is in the far depths and does not interfere with commerce or recreation. And it’s clean!
  • Tunesketch – David Park offers software that lets you write beautiful music by the simple act of making a rough sketch. I can think of many folks who will buy that!
Judges

Judges

And these are high school age children! All of them give us a peek at their business plans and answer the important questions: Why will folks buy it? How does the company make money? How does the investor make money? In my imagination, Tom and Billy Fisher and Johnny Miller and all the other fence painters want to buy in. And well they should. I do too!

powerpitch logoAllow me to bestow credit to Jim Gerry of IMSA and Moises Goldman of MITEF for bringing inspiration to us in in the midst of all the chaos we call education.  Tonight we have seen it as it never appeared in our fondest dreams.

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ContactsT MITEF

Moises Goldman PhD – MITEF – M&J Acquisitions –  Moises6@comcast.net

Jim Gerry – Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director at IMSA – jgerry@imsa.edu

IMSA – Illinois Math and Science Academy – www.imsa.eduT IMSA

MITEF Chicagowww.mitefchicago.org

WikiRosterWikiRoster.com

tunesketchtunesketch.com

Photographs courtesy IMSA Student Productions  www.imsastudentproductions.com/view.php?id=128

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GO TO PART 2 – SIX KIDS PUT TECH COMMUNITY TO SHAME

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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 © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, big money, Biography, Characters, chicago, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Internet, Internet Marketing, Invention, investor, Mark T Wayne, MIT Enterprise Forum, MITEF, Mobile App, Mobile Marketing, Software

SIX REASONS WHY TECH BELONGS TO THE YOUNG

entrepreneur@nuWhy are young entrepreneurs taking over the tech world? Who gets these kids charged with the kind of passion that induces investors to open their tightly held wallets?  They lick their chops like old men lusting after eager young virgins. We’re going to take a closer look at this phenonemon.

I’m at Northwestern’s all-day conference put on by “entrepreneur@nu,” their in-house accelerator for student startups.  This session is called “Tech for Non-Techies.” I asked Bill Blaire to cover the keynote address. I want to be here, at this session. I want to hear Mert Iseri who’s on the panel. I’ve seen him present at the Levi mastermind group with his parner Yuri Malina and I already visited their skunkworks on the Northwestern campus for a closer look. These guys are recent grads, young and untested. But I’d be pleased to work with them no matter what the venture. (Well, almost.) Right now, they have something exciting by the tail. But if it morphs in an entirely new direction, it’s a good bet they’ll succeed just as well at whatever that is.  Consultants are gathering like wolves but Mert and Yuri don’t need them–not yet, as you will see.

So here I am to hear Mert but I’m in for a surprise. I see what looks like an entire panel of Merts. Yes, every one of them is as electric as my favorite young entrepreneur. They each come from a different background, a different expertise, a different culture. But the reckless abandon is there in all five of them—and it’s addictive. I love it. Truly I do. So do the investors.

THE JOCKEY OR THE HORSE?

My belief in two young entrepreneurs begs a familiar question. Which is more important—the jockey or the horse? I’m backing the jockey this time. Am I right?

I mention this to David Culver of Extraordinary Success – www.extraordinary-success.com. He responds with an interesting comment: “Last time I checked,” he says, “nobody won the Triple Crown, finishing without a horse.” He goes on to say he’s seen plenty of enthusiastic entrepreneurs flame out. But I’m rooting for these two jockeys anyway.

Mert

I believe the entrepreneur is more important than the product or service at the very early stages. I believe this to be true especially if the leader is young.  There’s no doubt these young entrepreneurs are smart–scary smart.  But more than that, they’re having a whale of a good time.  They think business is a blast–a rush.  They’ve found a new drug.  Instead of greed, they’re driven by joy.  Look into their eyes and tell me you want to compete with them.  I believe that the young have earned a number of advantages over those who call themselves “seasoned.” I can cite a few good reasons for these beliefs:

1—An early stage product and an early-stage business model will go through multiple iterations during the maturation process.  I’m talking huge changes happening fast. Seasoning doesn’t prepare you to handle that kind of rapid change—quite the reverse. But the young seem wired for it—especially students who have no responsibility outside of their class work, their venture.

2—These kids bootstrap on the shoulders of a university-provided ecosystem. Free labs. Free PhD-level advisors. Free prototypes. Plenty of collaboration. We’re talking about a new kind of accelerator. As lean startups and with modern technology they can get up and going quickly. It no longer takes 20 years and millions of dollars to get a company on track. Old folks are financially responsible. These kids have little to lose.

3—They live in a Bohemian community of highly intelligent and creative people, wild new ideas, and a spirit of shared innovation. They feed on each other’s ideas and enthusiasm. They multiply each other’s output. Avaricious old men don’t do that. We chain ourselves to our desks. If we ever come up with a new idea, we immediately build fences. And how many of us want to go back to our college-day living standards? University students don’t live under such burdens. Hey, they finally got out of Mom and Dad’s clutches—that’s enough for the time being, right?

4—The university now teaches them an important lesson: Permit yourself to fail. Failure merely affords the opportunity to change direction. It’s called “pivot.” Under circumstances like those, the process isn’t that scary. Philosophically, it’s a paradigm shift. I was never told to fail anywhere between kindergarten and grad school. Were you ever told such a thing?

5—These kids are untamed and impulsive. They learn a lot and learn it fast. But it’s what they don’t know that makes them fearless.   Old farts know better. Knowledge breeds risk-aversion.  That’s why we don’t start companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft.

6—Do any of you recall the malaise of the ‘70s? No gas–no jobs? Cottage industries sprang up all over. It was a practical way to earn the money to buy peanut butter. That phenomenon is happening again. Unlike computer games and other labor-intensive projects, mobile apps and web-based services are a kind of cottage industry. So this isn’t really new—it’s just different. And it’s a whole lot more exciting than selling macramé at an art fair.

A NEW CLASS OF ENTREPRENEURS

These kids are wildly enthused—their creativity is launched by the fuel of an adrenaline rush. Sparks fly around them. Fireworks. One commented that he’ll probably live only another 15 years because he never sleeps. Is this sounding like a recipe for a new class of successful entrepreneurs? I think so. I’ll ask again:  Do you expect to compete with them? Think again.

NorthwesternHas Northwestern found a way to teach the joy of creative drive? Sure looks that way. And why shouldn’t these kids be enthusiastic? They don’t know any better. They’re fresh. Untried. No tire tracks across their backs. For the most part, they have yet to get knocked around by the world. And here they are—at one of the most prestigious schools on the planet, and they’re learning the entrepreneur game from professionals with every possible resource at their fingertips.

When I attended this school they taught venture capitalism. I remember the day they brought in a couple VCs. Those guys had a peculiar message. It was their job to steer us away from venture capital and point us in safer directions. The LBO was the big thing back then. Debt was cheap and easy. Times change. It’s not so simple to borrow any more. I’m convinced that the lousy economy is stirring up the recent explosion of new ventures. And it’s plenty lousy right here in Chicago. Adversity breeds creativity. Northwestern is nurturing it.

If youth is winning out over age and experience in this one arena, I cheer them on. What they’re doing was unthinkable when I was their age. And you have to admire them—they’re doing it so well. This is a highly creative response to tragic circumstances. Jobs are scarce. For many, entrepreneurship is the only career path open after graduation.

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

I’ll give you the takeaways from what was a wildly dynamic session:

1 – BUILD A GOOD TEAM—You don’t have to be a tech wizard to work for a tech startup. The purpose of being technical is to build a scalable product that works. A good initial team is made up of three elements: a developer, a designer, and a “Husla” (the business end). These are complimentary skill sets. Each personality type is actively seeking the others. A world of opportunity opens up when you view the future this way. For example, a pure developer focuses on building a solid product but may not be sensitive to other issues. A startup also needs a designer to translate that code into a good customer experience. It also needs a businessman that can sell product and run the operation. Fill out your team with all three elements. One panelist admitted that he hadn’t taken math since HS. He stayed up all weekend and got help from students and a prof for a math test. He failed utterly. Then he visited a huge conglomerate and found his talent in the marketing process. Where do you fit? You need to discover what value you bring—your CORE competency. Work on that element. Translate it into language that customers and decision makers understand. Find somebody smarter than you are in the other areas you need—people that are passionate about your idea. Friends if possible because co-founding a new company is a close relationship. If you don’t know who to bring onboard, get a team of advisors to help you vet people. The university is a great resource for that.

2 – LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN—One panelist developed a mobile app. But when he started out, he didn’t know anything about coding. So he learned all he could. Lots of listening. Lots of reading. Lots of playing with other apps. Another had to learn about payment processing to be able to empathize with customers. Another needed to learn about the medical industry and spent a lot of time searching on Google. If you know a little about disciplines outside your expertise, you make a good team leader. Don’t despair. Just knowing Java is awesome. Yes, top developers know lots of languages, but new languages come along all the time. Keep learning so you’re ready for the next opportunity. How technical do you really want to be? Learn the foundation. That understanding helps you find the tech people you need.

3 – GET A TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER—You don’t need to be the company tech guru. Find a technical co-founder. Outsourcing all the development just doesn’t work. You need a CORE capability to do itty-bitty things and reduce the need to hire outsiders. Outsourcing everything uses up seed money too fast and isn’t the most efficient way to make small changes. It’s especially not a practical way to create a winning unified design. In-house technical competency allows you to put out fires on the spot. You can orchestrate your outsource money more intelligently. You stand a fighting chance of building an end product that isn’t a hodgepodge of aimless code.  Also, a co-founder can hear ALL of your ideas–every one of them.

4 – DON’T KEEP SECRETS—Inventors are typically afraid to tell anybody their idea. These kids believe that’s the wrong way to think. They say, there are ten people already working on your idea and they’re smarter than you. If your idea is so simple that it’s easily stolen, then it’s already been invented. These kids believe you should tell everybody your idea and get as much help and feedback as you can. In their world, entrepreneurs love helping each other. Any one of them may have 63 ideas here and 64 ideas there. Impossible to work on them all. They actually need to filter their ideas. What kind of company do YOU want? Are you passionate about solving THAT problem? Get yourself involved in the crazy growth of the Chicago tech community. If you have an idea, go for it. Here’s how far they’ve carried this philosophy: They say, “It’s better to grow the pie as a whole than to fight over individual slices. Instead of taking a fighting stance, gather a community and be the hub. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Make your competitors your friends.”

5 – HAVE A LARGER PURPOSE—Out of all the insights, this one startles me the most. It goes like this: It’s easier to get people excited about saving 100,000 lives than to get them to believe in a device. Be committed to the PURPOSE not the SOLUTION. Otherwise, when you fail you’ll give up. I’m talking about a cause—something you believe in passionately—a larger purpose that keeps you trying when others fail. It’s crucial to hold strong beliefs, loosely held. Go to the customer. Show what you have. If the response is, “I won’t pay for that.” go back and find another solution that serves the PURPOSE. Before working on an idea, ask: “Am I solving an important problem?” The problems that you have in your own life are probably the same ones other people experience. Learn from your personal pain and passion. If you’re working on a larger PURPOSE, other people have the right to work on it too. You will actually welcome it.

6 – TELL A GOOD STORY—Somebody at Northwestern is teaching these kids to tell to do that. They’re poised. They’re concise. They’re on message. I will add to that, “WRITE a good story.” In consulting, I use a complex mindmap that asks one embarrassing question after another. If a client can answer all the questions, I know it’s a real business. One question in particularly seems extraordinarily difficult for entrepreneurs and nobody had ever answered it to my satisfaction. Then Mert did, and got it right—an immediate and strong response—just as if he’d rehearsed it. Amazing.

CLOSING QUOTES

“My entire life, I wanted to solve problems.” – “A lot of people don’t want to be consultants—do what you love.” – “When you’re a student you can take big risks and try new things without knowing what you’re doing.” – “Are you scared? JUST BUILD IT. You’ll be depressed for a little while because you’ll fail, but when you finally succeed, there’s no feeling like it.”

My thanks to Northwestern’s entrepreneur@nu entrepreneur.northwestern.edu for a brilliantly organized event, all the way from advance parking to orange-vested staff that pointed me in the right direction to a conference sparkling with excellent planning and execution.

And special thanks to the young panelists of this session—a group of people who can teach us all:

Elizabeth McCarthy, Moderator

Jeremiah Serapine of GrooveBuggroovebug.com

Stella Fayman of Entrepreneurs Unpluggd and Fee Fightersentrepreneursunpluggd.com and feefighters.com

Zach Johnson of Syndio Socialwww.syndiosocial.com

Mike McGee of Codeacadamywww.codecademy.com

Mert Iseri of SwipeSenseswipesense.com

Check out their sites carefully. They’re just as polished as big money but kids on a shoestring built these.

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GO TO – THE GROUPON EFFECT – “Throw yourself into the fire.”

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Chicago Ventures, Events, Kellogg, Northwestern

SIX KIDS PUT TECH COMMUNITY TO SHAME

Rong Mayhem is screaming. “This kid puts the whole tech community to shame! His presentation is better than 90% of the professionals!” Bill Blaire mutters a response as if talking to himself. “Why don’t them guys make that loudmouth pipe down?” Thinking back, I recall Rong Mayhem getting silenced—even banned, but his harsh voice sometimes broadcasts the raw truth and I find that valuable.

In a roomful of investors and professionals, I sit between Bill and a six-foot-six giant of a man, Dr. Alexander Harbinger, three-time Ph.D. Alex looks around me to address Bill in his faintly German accent. “It is my heartfelt belief that the man is correct in his assertion,” he says. Bill responds with a scowl and crosses his arms. I nod and give a thumbs-up—I agree with every word Ron just blurted out.

The next speaker begins his pitch and Alex lets out a whispered, “Yes.” I feel the enthusiasm in the room. He leans close to my ear. “Think of it, John: These are high school children. One is only an 8th grader. And at a time that the public schools struggle to teach reading and simple arithmetic. We are seeing hope for the future of our country.”

I meet his eyes. I see the passion there. I’m getting treated to the six best startup pitches of the year. We’re at POWER PITCH, the capstone event of a partnership between IMSA and the MIT Enterprise Forum right here in Chicago. It’s the 25th anniversary of IMSA—the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy—the high school with some of the smartest kids in the world. They’re proving it tonight—showcasing their new entrepreneurial program called TALENT.

“Nice digs.” It’s Bill Blaire, patching things up with Harbinger. I lean back in my leather chair and take in the enormous room, the multiple screens—the IBM Innovation Center is a beautiful facility. “TALENT,” Bill says, “Acronym, anagram–whatever. Must stand for somthin’ but I duno what. Teens Always Learn…Ten Advanced Lunatics… That can’t be it.” Then he taps the back of my head. “One thing’s sure—these kids know their stuff—anybody can see that.”

Alex responds for me: “These young people are more than just poised. They are professional and their fledgling ventures deserve serious attention.”

So, Bill challenges him. “You ready to plunk down a quarter mil in a company started by a 17-year old kid?” As the next speaker steps to the front, Alex surprises me. “Yes,” he says.

“What about that 12-year old?”

“Of course.”

Alex is right. These kids are for real. They aren’t geeks and they aren’t loners. Each of them comes with a team. Tonight we’re only seeing technology ventures. In the back of the room sit a group of students with non-tech companies. Smiling. Polite. Quiet. What kind of ideas did they cook up? I wish there was time to hear them all.

At break, a guy I don’t know pulls me aside, bursting with the need to let off some steam. He praises the kids up and down then finishes with, “Don’t you realize these entrepreneurs aren’t even legal age?”

I return to the room and Harbinger is asking Blaire what he thinks about one of the contestants. Alex sees real potential. And sure enough, at the end of the evening that one takes first place and the lion’s share of a fat cash prize.

Back at my seat, Alex points out an older gent in front. “That is Dr. Moises Goldman. He created this partnership between the MIT Enterprise Forum of Chicago and IMSA.” I know Moises. I like him—everybody does. We’re all glad he’s still making an impact on the entrepreneurial spirit of this city. Moises introduces Carl Heine, lead innovation architect of TALENT and I become conscious of an unusual number of Ph.D. level academics in the room.

I think back to the icebreaker before the session. We grab some food and after Bill complains about the lack of beer, he says, “Lookit all these kids in the crowd. Notice something strange?”

It takes me a moment to process that. Finally, “They’re all dressed like business people. Real clean cut. Unusual for high school kids.”

Bill glares at me as if I’m dead from the neck up. “Naw, it’s way bigger than that. Look—none of ‘em is usin’ a smart phone. The only guy doin’ that is the old man over there in the corner.”

I have to smile. Can you beat that?

The judges make up quite a group—not the usual panel of pitch coaches and angels investors:

  • Bob Geras—CEO of LaSalle
  • Kevin Willer—CEO of CEC
  • Nik Rokop—Executive Director of Knaap Entrepreneurial Center
  • Dr. Lance Pressl—President of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Jose deFrancisco—Director of Marketing for Cloud Computing at Lucent.

At the end, they present the winners with checks—great big checks.

“Hey, lookit the size of that thing.” Bill laughs but Alex is clearly annoyed with him. “Are you referring to its physical dimensions or the dollar denomination, Mr. Blaire?”

“Both. Big as a tabletop. Numbers ain’t shabby neither. A kid can do a lot with that kinda dough.”

I need to catch a train and quickly look over my notes on the six ventures.

ATONA 

Lydia Auch and Kenso Esquivel – IMSA – 1st Place Winners.

These kids give a peek at the future of music-reading technology and put on a good show too. Kenso tries to turn pages of sheet music while playing a violin. Impossible. His music falls in a heap on the floor. That gets a big reaction from the crowd. Lydia takes over the presentation with this quote, “There has been almost no innovation in music technology since the 15th century.”

Good start.

Their offering is an electronic music reader with double touch screens, each large enough to see an entire sheet of music with e-ink technology—much like an oversized Kindle, not those tiny backlit tablet screens. You can see your music in any light and the device consumes almost no juice. A musician can store an entire library of music in one location and carry it everywhere—and it turns pages automatically with the music. Other features include a tuner, a sound recorder, a metronome, and a USB interface. A musician can scan hard-copy sheet music or download it on the cheap. Hey, I want one of these things.

They acquitted themselves like professional speakers with super-cool visuals, a clever marketing plan, and well-justified numbers. I won’t go into those details—all six contestants did a fine job. The technical side of their presentations wowed us as much as the smooth delivery and slick graphics.

TOSIgram

Andrew Chen – Nequa Valley High School – 2nd Place Winner.

This kid proved that TALENT is open to students outside IMSA. He started with a clear statement. “The way we deal with privacy is broken.” He went on to point out that everybody needs to decide on privacy boundaries. But who wants to read a 9-page document? Who wants to draft one? TOSI stands for “Terms of Service Made Easy.”

A Carnegie-Mellon study shows that reading privacy policies use up an average of 25 days a year per person and soon they’ll be required for the thousands of mobile apps. Every storefront needs one and the list is growing. TOSIgram has created an online step-by-step process to create these documents. It bypasses the lawyers. It provides a summary-driven interface that lets the user quickly drill down to the clauses that matter.

The Living TEG

Shivansh Padhy – Granger Middle School – 3rd Place Winner.

That’s right—he’s in 8th grade, maybe 13 or 14 years old. He poses this idea: “Imagine a world where YOU are the source of power for all your energy needs.” He’s discovered a practical way to use excess human body heat to re-charge electronic devices. This is both extreme green and extremely useful. No more batteries or electrical outlets.

Turns out the human body produces 116 watts of heat every hour. A smart phone only needs five. Body heat can run a cell phone continuously and energy can be stored for higher output devices. His first target is cell phones, then medical electronics, then radios and flashlights. He has a working prototype. If he’s in 8th grade now, what will he do when he gets to IMSA? When he gets to MIT?

TiqFolio

Kevin WangIMSA

This one wins my prize for the best speaker. He’s the super-glib one that caused Ron May to blurt out his praise at the start of the meeting. TiqFolio is a unique online storefront concept for selling digital products—a gap in the market. He’s applying a proven business model to a new segment.

Sofi

Shawn JainIMSA

“Put your portfolio online.” People love to talk about their stocks on the Internet. They love to socialize on the Internet. Why not combine those two? The result is an investor community. People helping each other succeed.

QuickLine

Jennifer Ren, Mitch Bieniek, and Konrad WrobelIMSA

Imagine creating your own bus route—one that fits your needs. These kids have a network to dynamically optimize bus routes and make them more efficient. They gather input from the end user then use a computer algorithm to re-route and size the transportation. A working prototype is already in place in the form of an Android app.

What’s next?

This summer, TALENT is putting on a 2-week micro incubator to bring in partners and make student’s ideas a reality. I’d like to see them find the right consultants and the right investors—the kind that’ll really help these kids.

For Information on the summer TALENT incubator, contact Dr. Carl Heine at heine@imsa.edu

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GO BACK TO PART 1 – THE TWO LAWS

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Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

© 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.

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