From patent award winners, inventors and entrepreneurs to scientists, venture funders and (really bright) students Invention to Venture(I2V), held at the Davis Center on the University of Vermont campus, was filled with inspiring conversations that satisfied the creative, and sometimes quirky, side that lurks in many of us. Having launched a small company and an Innovation Lab during the past year, the Lessons Learned Panel was of particular interest to me.
Lessons Learned Panelists included three seasoned entrepreneurs and scientist Dr. Richard Fishel, who was first to identify genetic composition of predisposition of hereditary colorectal cancer. Yes, it was an incredible line up! Each panelist openly shared challenges and successes they’d navigated throughout their careers and we walked away more enlightened from their wisdom.
One entrepreneur on the panel, Robert Cooper, current CEO of iQuest Analytics, Inc described his first attempts at entrepreneurship as an adolescent when he and a friend decided to buy FireBall candies in bulk and resell them to friends in varying quantities and prices. Their initial enterprise was quite successful and he continued to work with startups throughout his professional career. Below are a few lessons he’s learned through the years which are applicable to almost every start up.
Lesson #1 – Test the marketplace.
How? Do your research to find out if people are willing to pay for your product or service. And is what they’re willing to pay going to support your business model.
Lesson #2 – Gain market clarity to create your best opportunities.
How? Understanding the needs and goals of your customers is critical. Then identify how your product or service helps your target market achieve their goals.
Lesson #3 – There are many ways to waste time! Find ways to avoid wasting time.
How? Engage people or vendors who are really good at what they do, and delegate to them the things you prefer not to handle. Accounting, bookkeeping and even staffing are often outsourced by small businesses. Decide what makes sense for you to keep and what to outsource. By doing this, you’ll procrastinate less and be able to focus more on growing your enterprise.
Lesson #4 – The most important thing to focus on is how you are going to grow the money in your bank account (return on capital).
How? You’ll achieve this through customer acquisition. Customer feedback is critical but don’t get stuck seeking perfection. Although this can vary by product and industry, remember that ‘perfect is the enemy of good enough.’
Lesson #5 – You’ll need twice the money and twice the amount of time to launch your start up.
How? Use the two times rule. Create a business plan, look at the funds required and then double it. You’ll probably need it.
Lesson #6 – Investors are critical to your Start-up.
How? You should constantly be looking at ‘multiple pipelines’ for funding. Look to: core customers, Angel Investors, Venture Capitalist, High Net-worth Investors, federal and state grants, university venture funds, etc. And you never know how or where you may land your next funding deal. Cooper’s most intriguing was riding a ski lift to the top of the slope.
Overall, my day at I2V exceeded my expectations. It was well organized, well attended, full of networking opportunities and identified resources I had yet to discover. It opened up my thinking about opportunities for the MCGS Innovation Lab. And most importantly, I walked away with these six golden lessons that every entrepreneur can learn from.