Ever dream of being an entrepreneur but need to know how to get started? The “VC Panel” at the Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals, held in NYC last month, was a practical how-to session on starting a company, and getting funding.
The event connected student teams with investors, entrepreneurs, seasoned start-up founders, and inventors, including:
To Get Funding…Or Not, That is The Question
“Remember: The VCs get to choose to keep you as CEO, or fire you.” Stan Vonog, entrepreneur.
Venture Capital is something many entrepreneurs seek immediately after founding a company, or coming up with an idea. Stan Vonog, an entrepreneur on the panel who is pro VC money, said to approach the funding like a long-term relationship. “Trust your gut…Spend a lot of time with the VCs—you need to trust them. You need to make sure that you do the due diligence and understand their DNA.” Having investors who truly understand the space your company is in, and are similar to you as people, will improve your chances of a good investor-entrepreneur relationship.
Oliver Hurst-Hiller said, “VC is the last place you want to go. If you need money, take it from your account, family friends. Why? Because they will dilute you.” In Oliver’s opinion, getting as far along with the company first—before getting funding—increases your leverage as a CEO and founder when approaching VCs. Dean Kamen seconded this. Oliver said, “A good VC will become fans of your business, fuel your success. This is more important than the capital.”
Dean Kamen, said, “I thought I would be a contrarian but I violently agree with what they have said.” Dean said that people are the most important thing in any startup, and he reminded the audience that part of starting a company means embracing failure, and change. “The product you start with will not be the end product. It is the iterative process. You will fail; you will fail again…until you succeed. After 5-10 years, you will be an instant, overnight success.”
While the audience laughed, the panel nodded their heads in agreement.
Dean Kamen said, “The last person you will want to go to is the VC. This is the last! The more you get done, eliminate failures on your one, the more value, the more control you will get to maintain. They decide if you get the money and get to keep your job. If you want the VC to take the first pain, the VCs deserve to take the bulk of the risk. If you don’t work harder, more of your time and risk then you would have in any other situation, then you are drinking the kool-aid and myths of this world about entrepreneurs.”
What do VCs Look At?
Joy Marcus said the questions she always asks are, “Could it scale? How big can it be? What is the total market size? The next thing we look at is the people. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, and know within 60 seconds if this will move forward based on people.” She said they look at product, pricing and how could it make money.
Joy Marcus said that most VCs are not interested in the “fast buck” or entrepreneurs that clearly are doing this for the money. They want someone who is very passionate about what they are doing and will stick with it during the down times.
Dean Kamen reiterated that creating the value should be the goal in the mind. “Think about a big problem and solve it. Financial reward should be a result of the great project but not the cause of it.” Kamen, who is excited about three non-profits (clean water non-profit for 6B people around the world; electricity to the 2.5B people that do not have electricity; teach children around the world abut science and technology), stressed that being passionate about your subject is what keeps you going.
The Great Myth: Overnight Successes
Correcting the great myth that entrepreneurs have instant success, the panel explained more about the lifecycle of a startup, and the funding process. Joy Marcus said, “Bootstrap, find your money in the beginning; come to a VC when you are ready to scale. Prototypes are rarely funded,” she added, “Before the product is really ready, the VC is a waste of time. Likely you will get bad money.” Meaning that the VC money may come from investors who don’t truly understand your product, and who want a fast return.
Dan’l said, “Evolution is a slow process which is really brutal—constant correction of your product, the prototype. Yet evolution is what entrepreneurs are all about.” He reiterated that VC should be approached when you are ready to scale—not before.
Kamen agreed saying “Revolutionary things happen when you partner with the people that are good at what they do—and for a VC—that is scaling.”
Do You Have What it Takes To Be An Entrepreneur?
Dan’l asked the audience to identify their internal motivation. He said that when you understand what truly drives you, the world is your oyster.
Oliver from DonorsChoose said ultimately he is a manager and his job is to constantly understand how to overcome barriers that keep them from growing, it is an iterative process, and some people don’t have that personality type to sustain that.
Stan Vonog’s opinion on whether to be an entrepreneur was to ask yourself, “Are you having fun or not? If you are not having fun for 6 months, maybe you should do something else.”
Dan’l said that “No well-rounded individuals in the world but there are well rounded teams,” reminding the audience of the importance of your team, and working with others to build from the ground up.
Dean Kamen said, “If you want to run a big company, being an entrepreneur is likely not the way to do it. Organized societies depend on stability. If people tell you that you are nuts, the first thing you know is that you have a good idea.” He talked about how stability is necessary in our society (for example, we wouldn’t be very happy with a plane that keeps their wings on the plane 75% of the time, which would be a good ratio for startups), and people who need stability in their jobs are not going to be happy as entrepreneurs.
Questions from the Audience
A Senegal student wanted to know how to take their idea to the next level, given a lack of infrastructure and partnerships available in their country. The panel suggested developing relationships with partners in the U.S and having a representative from the team in the U.S. Joy Marcus, suggested France, which has a good community and robust innovation, and the benefit of speaking the same language.
A team from Slovakia asked how to find the people to complement your team? Joy Marcus said that you have to be willing to understand what you don’t know, and to “Hire the best person you can find no matter how threatening it seems. Be willing to hire your boss or your future boss.” Dan’l said, “You may be looking for someone who is older, failed a lot, accumulated experience. There is wisdom in stepping outside of where you are.”
Dean Kamen agreed, saying, “You don’t buy a dog and do your own barking. If this person is good enough to hire, then you need to trust them. Otherwise you will never be able to do more than one person can do because you will be looking over their shoulders.”
When the panel ended, the student entrepreneurs were excited to have some time speaking with each of the panelists. The energy in the room was one of innovation and passion. We think the panelists motivated the entrepreneurs, and not one was deterred about whether they have what it takes to succeed.
If you had the chance to change the world, what would YOU Imagine?
Meet David Hayden, a recent graduate of Arizona State University. Legally blind—David was having so much trouble taking notes in his new Math major, that he was close to failing.
Instead, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Watch David’s Journey as He Imagines a World of Blind Ambition:
“In 2007 we were filling up a dozen chalkboards in 30…45 minutes, and I simply couldn’t keep up with note-taking. So in a very real sense I felt like, if I didn’t come up with a solution, then I wasn’t going to be able to finish the math degree and that just wasn’t acceptable to me,” says David.
From Desperate Attempt to Keep Up in School…To a Viable Product
“What started as desperate attempt at trying to allow myself to finish a math degree could generalize to a product to help low sighted people in the United States and even beyond that.”
David Hayden and his team of Shashank Srinivas, Michael Astrauskas, and Qian Yan (Mentor: John Black) created a product called Note-Taker, which not only helped David with his studies, but also has helped Jeremy Poincenot. Now a senior at San Diego State University, Jeremy went from 20/20 vision to legally blind within 2 months when he was 19. Instead of giving up, he has used his willpower, and tools such as Note-Taker, to accomplish his dreams. He can now see the notes on the chalkboard, and he can keep up with fellow students. “I’ve done way more now than I did when I had my vision.”
The Imagine Cup: What Would You Do?
“I believe that technological solutions more than policy solutions are the way to overcome barriers of access and empower individuals with disabilities,” says David Hayden. “We’ve really accomplished something here and I’d like to say…I’m just getting warmed up.”
Note-Taker placed second in this Year’s Software Design category for the Microsoft Imagine Cup—but more than that, Note-Taker has a viable product that the team hopes to get into market in order to help low-vision people take on the world. They had an idea—and imagined a world that they could change, and followed through.
What can you imagine?
What would you change?
How can you help the world?
Sign up for this year’s Imagine Cup and have a chance to do something that truly matters.
At 4pm last night in NYC’s Lincoln Center, a packed auditorium waves flags, cheered, and impatiently waited for Microsoft’s Jon Perera, General Manager of the Education Group, to take the stage and kick off the finals.
The U.S.A. teams, sitting together next to Microsoft executives’ stage left, waved the American flag and had expressions of anticipation, hope, and inspiration.
The stage opened to an actor, who gave an inspiring monologue starting with the fact that seven billion people are in the world today, and it was only 4 billion when Microsoft was founded. The Imagine Cup represents a challenge to the genius students of today who come together to tackle the world’s biggest problems:
“It is up to us—you and me—our challenge, is to think out of the box and use technology and imagination.”
The World Has Won Because of What You Have Done
John Perera said, “This stage has been held by world leaders, top musicians, top artists – tonight it will hold the top technology students in the world. Powerful technology, innovation, and desire to make an impact—special things happen, change happens, people’s lives improve with what the Imagine Cup competitors have done. The world has won because of what you have done."
Team Gina from the Czech Republic came on stage to talk about how their project—which did not even place in the finals last year for Imagine Cup—is now a viable business being used in Haiti, and Japan, and places where natural disasters have occurred. Gina, (geographical Information device) is a mobile Windows 7 and collects info about the current situation, including environmental impact, medicine, and supplies. They realized that after Imagine Cp they could start this company—despite not winning, they did win. Because they built and implemented a product that changes the world.
Mayor Bloomberg then took the stage, making everyone laugh by saying, “How did I know that I was only going to be the one in a suit and tie?” He encouraged students to do two things: help Jon (Perera) get a bit more enthusiasm and promise him that you are going to spend some money in New York. Bloomberg then went on to explain how “40% of the people you see in NYC were born outside of the US; we live as a mixture rather than a mosaic” and how important it was to use technology to work together to preserve our environment and fight poverty. He discussed getting to know Bill and Melinda Gates personally and how much they are an inspiration for changing the world—and how each of these students could do the same. “NYC welcomes dreamers from around the world and doers from anyplace.”
And with that, the announcements began for the competition.
Challenge Award Winners
Windows 7 Touch Challenge:
First Place winner: Team India Rose from France
First Place winners: Team MP Brun, Denmark
Carol Post, the first female CIO for NYC came on stage for the IT Challenge announcements. She said to the students, and particularly the fellow female technologists: dream big.
Windows 7 Phone Competition
Walid Abu-Hadba, who is a corporate vice president and creative director, announced the Windows phone competitions. First he announced that every student in the audience who promised to build three applications, gets the brand new Windows 7.5 phone. He then said that all first place winners would get to go to the Build conference held annually in Anaheim as his personal guest. This year it is held Sept 13-16.
Windows Phone 7 Winners:
Digital Media Competition
For the Digital Media Award: Dr. Fiona Wood (Burn surgeon) says that she has always dreamed big. She wants to see scarless healing; repair by regeneration and wants to know what is wrong with the skin all the way to the cells. She questioned the students to ponder, "Can we think ourselves our whole?"
Digital Media Winners:
Game Design Competition
Game Design Web winners:
Next up, Ken Lobb, the Creative Director Microsoft game studios, who owns more than 10,000 games, spoke about how games today earn more money that Hollywood box office, and how the Kinect is now used to save lives and help people with health—not just entertainment.
Game Design Mobile winners:
For the Game Design (Xbox), Trisha Thompson, the Vice President for Corporate Responsibility at Dell talked about how Dell was founded in Michael Dell’s garage, and all good companies are founded by people with really big dreams who want to democratize technology and unleash human potential
Game Design Xbox Winners:
Embedded Development Competition
For the Embedded Development category, the founder of Priceline, Scott Case, who is now the CEO of talked about how this room is full of the next business leaders of the world.
Embedded Development Winners:
People’s Choice Awards
Next up for the People’s Choice Award, Eva Longoria took the stage to massive applause. She said she was especially thrilled to be here because the Imagine Cup marries philanthropy and technology, her two biggest passions. She was impressed by all the teams, and how students were being activists for change. She spoke about several of the team projects she had walked around earlier, at the showcase. “Thank you for using your energy in taking technology to save problems. There is no limit to what you can create.”
2011 People’s Choice Award Winner:
Team Rapture from Bangladesh.
Software Design Competition
For the Software Design award, Sr. VP of Microsoft Developer Division S. Somasegar said they were impressed when nine years ago, at the first Imagine Cup, 1,000 students entered the competition, and here we are today, with 350,000 teams participating from all over the world. He talked about giving free access to BizSpark to all Imagine Cup finalist teams. He also went on to announce a new grant, $3 million over the next three years, for Imagine Cup teams. “We are here to help you reach your potential.” He told the students to continue to think, dream, dream big, and follow up on your dreams in terms of execution. “You are and you will be the future and that gives me great optimism for the world!”
Software Design Winners
Hal Plotkin, Sr. Policy Advisor for the Obama administration, and a former Silicon Valley journalist covering startups and emerging companies, said that if every corporation gave back to students like Microsoft, the world would be a better place. “Obama would have loved to been with you,” and he repeated that earlier, when Arne Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education, walked around the student showcase, the one word he kept repeating was “amazing”, which is what all of the students are. He made three key points:
And with that, the Microsoft Australia representative and the representing Australian diplomat took the stage and were passed the imagine Cup flag.
Want to win the Imagine Cup next year? NYC was great but Sydney will be amazing.
Sign up now for the 2012 Imagine Cup!
Last night we were privileged to attend the Women Innovators Dinner at the Marriot Times Square Ballroom in NYC.
Allison Watson of Microsoft introduced the panel and gave some background on her career and her group—which is 50% female. Watson is a Corporate Vice President of the U.S. Marketing & Operations Group and leads marketing and strategic business development for Microsoft's largest geographic market.
Watson said that this year, the Microsoft Imagine Cup expanded from 30 women to 65 women student participants, with 4 women-only teams (from Brazil, India, Taiwan and Romania).
The purpose of the panel and dinner was to help get more women involved in technology, and encourage the student women innovators attending to continue on their path, and continue on their technical initiatives. Watson discussed the strong shortage of women in technical fields—a 10% talent shortage worldwide. How do we bring more female students into the field of technology, computer science, biotech, and more?
With that, Watson introduced the panel, which included:
Earl Newsome, of Estee Lauder said that the company believes every woman is beautiful. They transform the world and the way everyone thinks of things, and as a company, they want to help empower women. He talked about knowing, at the mere age of 4 years old, that he was going to be a CIO, and he is focused now on innovation at Estee Lauder, figuring out how to digitize high-touch, and asked the student teams attending the dinner to talk with them if they had ideas.
Dr. Mary Fernandez was mentored by Andries (Andy) van Dam, who is Brown University’s legendary computer science guru, and the founder of the computer science department at Brown. She said she was drawn to the complete newness of the field—and the fact that her mentor talked about people someday being able to have computers in their home (this was when they were the size of minivans). When he said that eventually we will carry computers on our bodies, she changed her major to Computer Science, and ended up getting a PhD in it. “Besides having a good time, I wanted to be able to take care of myself,” she said, and the field allowed her to make a good income while being at the dawn of a whole new world in innovation. Because her mentors in life were so critical to her success, she started MentorNet, which connects women in science and technology with mentors. She gave the student attendees the advice to stick with science and technology, stick with their education, and to become technically deep with what you are working on. She said that women have an enormous advantage with communication and to seek out a career in computing.
Zainab Al-Suwaij, spoke next. Originally from Iraq, she said that her very religious family allowed the women to get an education, but not to work. She was the first one to break this rule and her grandfather told her that since her, all the women in the family broke the rule. Iraq was still under Saddam Hussein dictatorship when she grew up. When she was going to school to get her finals, she was called into the principal’s office and was told that she was the only person that was not part of Saddam’s political party, and that she couldn’t take her final exam without this. When she said she refused to have an affiliation, she had to sign a paper saying that she was not associated with any other political party and that she would be killed if that were the case or if she joined one. She was denied her graduation anyway, even after acing the final exams.
She joined the uprising after the Kuwaiti war, during which she accidentally walked into a torture chamber. She then left Iraq and came to the United States where she went to college, started teaching at Yale, and built a family. After 911 happened she co-founded the American Islamic congress to empower rights and women rights. She has gone back to Iraq to help women in Iraq and started lobbying for 25% representation for women where she was told even Sweden doesn’t have 25% representation—but that simply made her want it more. Thanks to her efforts, Iraq has opened 10 schools across the country and has helped teachers who were cut from the outside world. 36,000 teachers have been taught on how to use technology and advance curriculum for students. They run an essay contest every year on human rights and how to use technology.
Al-Suwaij spoke about how technology makes change at a country level and encouraged the guests to use technology to deliver the best for your own country and for others around the world.
Meryl Frank started speaking at her seat, with the microphone and she asked the room, “Can you hear me now?” Then, she stood up, walked to the center of the stage, and boomed into the microphone, “Can you hear me now?” she explained that women are smaller, and when we stand, and speak from the belly, we are heard. She said that most women when they get excited talk too fast and in their throat. She said, “When women talk like this, men stop listening.” As the deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed by Barack Obama), her job is to empower women. She just came back from working with the women members of parliament of Jordan, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Africa. She said the universally women do not have the ability to speak up, and her role is to give them confidence, and to teach them to promote themselves.
She spoke about how her career has gone down many paths. She had four children and stayed home for 12 years, because, despite having 3 degrees, that is what she wanted to do and felt would be best for her family. She got involved in politics because she got angry and wanted to fix something, and she served as the mayor of Highland Park, New Jersey for 8 years. She got involved in national politics when Obama won and she literally applied online for the ambassador position. She mentioned how her strong network—including her mentors—helped her achieve this goal and help her now in her career. She loves the fact that she can help the world be a better place.
Jane Prey spoke next and started by describing her childhood in a traditional Chinese home where she was told she could be a doctor or PhD of mathematics (her brother only had the choice of being a doctor). Went to graduate school for mathematics and then went into computer science because he parents said it was the newest thing. She spoke about how in her day, they used punch cards since there was no computer on campus. The field was not quite understood yet, nor how important it would be in leading innovation. The IBM 360 mainframe was her first computer.
She became a developer in the corporate world and it was not until she was 40 years old that she went back to finish her PhD. She said this was thanks to a supportive husband who ate a lot of macaroni and cheese as he helped with their 3 children. Prey’s passion, she said, has always been in education and teaching. She worked with the National Science Association and then at MSFT in research. She said that her field allowed her to do all of the things she was passionate about: teaching, policy work, mentoring, and research. She mentioned her mentors and the people who helped her along the way and made her dreams possible. “Play nice in the sandbox, because those are the friends that will help you for life.”
She ended her talk by saying, “You, have the keys to the kingdom.”
After the talks, the speakers sat amongst the students at their tables, while eating a catered dinner. Discussions ranged from details about the Imagine cup projects students were working on, to more stories about the esteemed panels career paths and what there are working on. You could see the mentorship going both ways—something Jane Frey had mentioned as being critical. The generation gap from the women innovators who paved the possibilities, to the students who are taking this foundation and blazing new paths.
An incredible night full of wisdom. Thank you to all the speakers and for all the guests for attending!
This afternoon, U.S.A. team LifeLens presented their project—the goal of which is to stop the more than one million deaths a year due to malaria—with more than 85% of deaths occurring in children under five years of age. LifeLens has created a device that delivers an accurate screening of malaria. Team members Tristan Gibeau, Wilson To, Cy Khomaee, Jason Wakizaka started their presentation by handing out a pamphlet that all room attendees could view, that contained biography information on the team, a summary of the device, the reasons they started the project, and the any universities, programs, and investors they have presented their innovation to.
LifeLens helps reduce child mortality caused by lack of detection to malaria. Early intervention means children can be treated effectively. While rapid diagnostic tests are effective, they are sensitive with certain environments, and have error rates up to 60% of the time—whereas LifeLens has a 94.4% accuracy.
The team uses the Windows Phone 7, because the patient doesn’t need to be in close proximity, and cell-phone based technologies are seen as the new trend for healthcare and diagnostics. The product does not need the cloud or a connection with a server. It will store the analysis locally with areas if no connection then send the data in the future for data mining. The device shows Bing maps and a web portal to see all malaria cases globally, and contains a database that stores all info (GPS, cell imagery, data on cell, case and patient data). The data is also distributable across multiple phones.
As a tool, LifeLens can help diagnosis other conditions, such as anemia, and it’s reach could be larger than the current condition the team is focused on diagnosing. The product detects and analyzes the cells, and for malaria, which is caused by a parasite, it specifically looks for the parasite in the cells. The team demonstrated the use of their product—with a leaf—and we could see the cellular structure of the leaf, and the user interface for how the product detects and analyzes cellular structure, captures it, and how the information about it is stored and shared.
In 2009, 700M was spent to combat malaria, so there is a huge financial incentive for government agencies and others to use the LifeLens technology. Only a handful of technologies that are competitive and all of them require a doctor’s judgment. LifeLens shows very clearly whether you have malaria, or you don’t, and it doesn’t give false positives. LifeLens is also a cost saving solution, at.56 cents per person vs. 3.40. This enormous savings has made the product attractive to many agencies, such as Hope Enterprises and Real Medicine Foundation, which the team is forming partnerships with.
During the Q&A session, the judges asked the team how they work remotely, and the team answered that due to their specializations, (finance, marketing, computer science, biological sciences), they can simply focus on their individual parts and use collaborative online time with live meeting and web cams.
The judges asked how would the product work if there was no Internet access, and the team explained the product will update on database side, and has backwards compatibility. The device reports what version the user has.
The team also explained that they looked at other phones but decided the Windows Phone has a better angle, and that the product mat to used for other diseases and possibly have a consumer version in the future.
Great work today LifeLens, and congratulations on a terrific presentation.