Celebrate Invention at A2 Draws Big Crowd

Last night the University of Michigan’s Tech Transfer Office held their annual Celebrate Invention event.  This event is held each fall to celebrate and honor inventors that are working on exciting new commercial opportunities using U-M IP.

It was a cold and rainy evening so I didn’t hold much hope for a large crowd but was excited to see a large percentage of our A2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem out networking.

Great event, lot’s of entrepreneurs connecting and lot’s of side bar conversations about this or that next big thing that people are working on… it was infectious and hard to leave.

Go Blue!

 

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Why Neo is an Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, you look at life through a different lens.  Instead of seeing the world as it is, you tend to start seeing the world as it “should be” or “could be”.

Instead of taking things on face value you tend to stop and question how they came into being and why and who did all the work and what might have gone wrong before getting to this point.

Red pill and blue pill from the movie the MatrixThis aspect of entrepreneurship reminds me of the scene from the movie the Matrix and when Morpheus presented Neo with two choices.

The “blue pill” is what most people might choose if they are comfortable in being part of an existing organization and not interested in changing the world or starting new ventures.

The “red pill” enables you to see behind the scenes and enter the mode of always searching for business models and understanding and always questioning how things are and what else they can be.

After taking the red pill Neo experiences an awakening about how the world truly is and what is wrong with it.  His passion, tenacity and creativity in solving the problems and pursuing his vision reminds me of entrepreneurs struggling to find solutions to their own problems in their startups.

As an entrepreneur, give up all hope… you have just taken the “red pill”… let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes! :)

 

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Chicago’s Entrepreneurial Spirit is Burning Bright

Today ends a 3-day fast paced visit to Chicago for myself and many UM entrepreneurial students who came here to engage the Chicago entrepreneurial network.

On Sunday, I was thrilled to see so many wolverines participating in Chicago’s Startup Weekend event.  This 50+ hour event is a great way to build energy in a community and teams.  Ideas that come out of these events are usually only half-baked but that is expected.  Its impressive to see how polished the idea (and even the product development) can be after such a short time.  Great job Chicago!

Yesterday our 5 student startup venture teams arrived via Amtrak along with several UM faculty and staff and participated in a pitch competition in front of UM alumni and Chicago luminaries.  We choose “pitching” as a great way to kick off a trip like this as it allows for multiple opportunities to build the network.  I particularly enjoyed watching how much excitement the teams had in seeing what their peers were working on and the flurry of ideas that exchanged at the networking session afterwards.

Today, our final day we will tour multiple entrepreneurial success story locations (The Elysian hotel, LightBank and Groupon) before returning to the hotel for a final networking opportunity with 50 Michigan Alumni!

Back on the train and back to A2 after that.  Great time, great experience for the teams and thanks again Chicago for keeping the midwest entepreneurial spirit burning bright!

 

 

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Disruptive Ideas Require Identifying Core Value

Consider this question:  ”Describe the value of a gas station”.

I like to ask entrepreneurs this question as a thought experiment of how hard it is sometimes to isolate value from something we are used to experiencing every day.

A typical response is “a place where I gas my car”.  That is incorrect, that is a definition of what you do when you visit a gas station.

Another is “a location that provides fuel to automobiles”.  Again, incorrect, that is what a gas station does.  That is not its value.

This is an important exercise that entrepreneurs should practice and then apply to their own startup they are working on.  Isolating the core value of an idea or product allows disruptive ideas to flow more easily since we have now removed existing constraints.

Alternatively, if we focus on what a product does or how people use a product we miss identifying what is possible or, even more excitingly, identifying what is impossible to many but uniquely possible to a few.

The correct answer to the gas station question  ”Describe the value of a gas station” is “gas stations provide range extension to vehicles”.

They are at their simplest, vehicle range extenders.

If entrepreneurial gas station owners recognize they are actually in the vehicle range extension business and not the gas pumping business then embracing alternative methods for “extending range” become suddenly a natural extension to what they already do.

Perhaps one day in the near future you will pull into your local gas station and get to choose from Regular, Leaded, Unleaded or 240V!

 

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225+ A2 Entrepreneurs at TechArb last night

Last night was the UM Student Startup Showcase at the new TechArb location where 225 Ann Arbor entrepreneurs gathered to see not only the 8 most recent student startups to complete the TechArb program but also to meet the 20 new UM Student Startups entering TechArb for session #7 (Nov-2011 through April-2012).

Many thanks to the Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup crowd that attended the event and helped turn this into one of the largest UM/A2 Entrepreneurial Community startup networking opportunities ever.  Too often these entrepreneurial events are either student-heavy or community-heavy… last night was a great balance of both and you could feel the energy in the air!

As I mentioned last night, we are tremendously proud of the fact that in the last three years we have had 50 student startups go through the TechArb process.  The really exciting news is that we will see the next 50 student startups go through TechArb in the next 12 months!

Congratulations to all the graduating TechArb companies and welcome to the next 20 that are about to start session #7 (Nov 3rd)!

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Creating Disruption

We have made great strides in developing and teaching skills and processes that help entrepreneurs figure out how to take their ideas, reduce risks and more efficiently test and validate (or invalidate) they’re assumptions.

As you probably know I’m a huge fan of the lean startup model and customer development.  I’m also really happy to see so many young entrepreneurs embracing these concepts and moving forward quickly (testing, pivoting, testing, failing, testing, trying and succeeding).

That said, there is one thing that is worrying me.  If you combine these new skills and processes with the extremely low barriers that exist today in terms of launching and building companies from an infrastructure perspective we tend to see fast launching of lot’s and lot’s of somewhat mediocre ideas.

The challenge I see is that we need to find a way to stimulate and increase the creation of truly disruptive ideas.

Don’t confuse this concern, btw, with a potential support for nay sayers of customer development.  Periodically people will mention to me “you shouldn’t talk to customers, customers don’t know what they want… if you do that you’ll not get truly visionary concepts”.  This is a false argument.

Customer development theory does not imply that you get your vision or ideas only from customer engagements.  It is a process that will help you take an existing idea and identify ways to significantly reduce risk and increase efficiency in bringing it to a market (e.g. customers).

My focus lately is how do we go up stream from customer development and start developing processes and techniques that will create truly disruptive ideas.  Ideas that will ignite the imagination and change the world.

More on this later.

 

 

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Record Applications for TechArb (session #7)

A record number of University of Michigan student startup teams have applied for access to TechArb for the upcoming session (#7 – November 2011 through April, 2012).

Tomorrow (Monday) we have interviews with each of the startup teams that are finalists for the remaining slots for most of the day.

I really enjoy meeting entrepreneurs and hearing their pitch.  You never know what your going to hear and sometimes the ideas and energy are just amazing.

Tomorrow I get to hear 8 hours of these pitches straight… Exciting day ahead for sure!

 

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(2030) Order edited or modified

“(2030) Order edited or modified” is the latest status on my Chevy Volt order when I checked today… and I’m thrilled!

It’s been two weeks since the last change to my Volt order (originally placed on 8/25/2011) and I was craving some update as to the status of my future car… incidentally, the update on 9/14/2011 was also the 2030 text.

Could this mean they are about to allocate my dealer a set of orders?  Is my volt about to start heading down the assembly line?  Will I have my car by November as the dealer predicted?

Honestly?  I don’t have a clue.  But that isn’t the point.

The point is that despite all the negative articles about GM and the confusion over whether the volt is truly a hybrid or some marketing hype machine to save a failing company there is a growing number of people that are completely geeked over their future volts…. Its reminiscent of stories from a couple years ago when people stood in line all night to buy their first  iPhone or iPad (yes I know, the volt is slightly more expensive).

These articles are all predicting doom and gloom and are the equivalent of being told as an entrepreneur that your “idea won’t work!”.

Nothing (and I mean nothing) motivates an entrepreneur more than telling them “it can’t be done!”

As entrepreneurs, over time we develop a sense as to spotting trends and opportunities from chaos.   For  a while, I thought I was the only one checking their daily volt order status… then I found this article and I realize I’m not alone.  There are a bunch of us checking the status of our cars on a daily basis and all of us are thrilled to get just one more “2030″ update telling us we are just a step closer to the car that will change our lives!

Chevy, you better be picking up on this data… the entrepreneurs are sensing a huge opportunity here in front of you!

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Is Ann Arbor Ready?

Trying to get a fire lit when you are camping is sometimes a struggle.

Sure, everyone has their 2 cents on how to stack the wood, prime the fire and light a match but ultimately we never know if the fire is going to stay lit, blow out or burn out too fast.

Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is like a recently lit campire… its starting to catch in a couple places and we’ve all done our best to arrange the wood, fuel and ignition in the right place but will it really catch fire and rage?

There are a lot of reasons for optimism…  Over the last two years we’ve seen a lot more startups get funded and move into the “company building” stage.  That’s good.  We’re also seeing entrepreneurs who have had some success (and failures) return to A2 and contemplate their next steps (you know who you are).

Four startups that have been in our UM Startup Accelerator (TechArb) are really starting to catch fire:  Are You A Human, Shepherd Intelligent Systems, Mobiata and most recently, Own!

Own recently announced they are moving to Silicon Valley to grow their company.  Are some people disappointed by that, yes.  I would much rather see them stay in Ann Arbor as well.

Regardless, its important that we continue to support Verdi, Erol, Rajeev and the rest of the team.  What they are trying to do is really really hard.

We’ll continue to do our best to keep the fire growing and I know the Own team and the rest of the A2 startups will keep fanning the fire.

Is Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial ecosystem ready?  Is the critical mass of energy and heat there to sustain a raging ecosystem?  What do you think?

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Acumen Fund Presents at 407 Today

The CFE is hosting today @ 2pm at Stamps Wei Wei Hsing from the Acumen Fund.

These guys are amazing!  If you don’t know much about what they do you should watch this TED video by one of their founders, Sasha Dichter titled “The Generosity Experiment”.

What I like about this video is that you not only learn about the Acumen Fund and Social Entrepreneurship but you learn about the mindset of a great impact-drive entrepreneur like Sash Dichter as he tells his very personal story of giving.

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