Archive for March, 2010

New entrepreneurs solving real-world problems at USF Biz Plan Competition

March 28, 2010

I’ve enjoyed participating as a spectator and a judge at this year’s University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition. The competition was this Thursday and Friday up at the Kabuki Hotel in San Francisco and last night was the finals challenge. Twenty semifinalist teams came to San Francisco to try for the first grand prize of $10,000, 2nd prize of $2,000, 3rd prize of $1,000 and an elevator pitch prize of $2,000. This year’s teams were extremely prepared, and presented some excellent new technologies. In general, this was an impressive group of young entrepreneurs!

Teams came from all over the country representing schools such as Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, Rice University, Illinois Institute of Technology just to name a few. Each year the competition brings in bright and talented graduate students from all over the world. Last night I judged the elevator pitch which consisted of the top 8 finalist teams.

The elevator pitch last night included a 90-second uninterrupted pitch after which judges had a total of 3 minutes to comment on the team’s presentation and give verbal feedback. I have to give these teams credit for their bravery and confidence. Delivering your pitch to a room packed (with about 250 people), and a long table of judges, primarily consisting of experienced VCs is no easy feat!

The list of finalists was impressive. Products included a solution to the gas-turbine market, an online competitive marketplace for legal services, an exotendon technology which can reduce muscular effort to help people in wheelchairs walk faster, and a seed stage medical device that detects pre-term labor for high-risk pregnant mothers. These were the finalists, so of course, there were many great technologies that didn’t make it to the finals. Many of these were medical solutions or devices such as a pre-screening diagnostic product to help detect lung cancer faster as well as a tumor gel. Again some of these teams didn’t make it to the finals, but I am pretty confident that some of them will have no trouble finding the funding that they need.

The first place prize went to Cervocheck, a company that is developing a pre-term labor monitoring device. Although the product still needs to go through proper FDA approvals, the product looks promising in helping to detect the onset of pre-term labor. The company hopes this can help to cut down on pre-terms births. According to recent research, pre-term births costs our society about $26 billion a year in costs. 12% of births are pre-term and the number has been rising since the early 80’s. The device will need to be inserted by an OBGYN but the use of this device will help the mother and her physician to identify pre-term labor contractions quickly. I still don’t fully understand the medical details of this product but the team has already received a grant from John Hopkins University and the support of some of the OBGYN community at the university and research level. I have to say that the team presenting was extremely well prepared and very qualified with clinicians that appeared to have a strong understanding of the medical device space.

Overall, the USF Business Plan Competition was a great experience and I really enjoyed being part of seeing the teams compete. It’s great to be involved in helping to support the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. I’m feeling pretty good about our future generations who are placing a high importance on finding medical and business solutions to help people live better lives and save lives. These are our entrepreneurs of the future, and they are focused on making our world a better place and really see the value in solving real-world problems that impact our future generations.

The power of an outside perspective

March 18, 2010

It’s St. Patrick’s Day so Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! As luck would have it, I’ve been asked to help some new entrepreneurs out on their marketing and business plan ventures and I’m really enjoying the process of giving an “outsider’s perspective” on what they are developing with their new technologies.

I have to say, this has been an eye-opening process for me. There really is a lot to be said for having an outsider review your ideas! Being the “outside perspective” also reminds me that many of us (including myself) forget to assume that every customer may know something about your product or what it does. However, many customers and potential customers may know little to nothing about what you do. So, what do you do? Review, refresh, review again. Keep it clear, keep it simple. Refresh, review, review again and enlist people to help make sure you are clear in communicating your ideas. Get someone else’s perspective before moving forward!

It’s easy to keep going and going with everyday work and operations of your business and to forget just how important and valuable that “outside perspective” is. Here’s some suggestions on how you can incorporate an “outside perspective” in your new ventures:

1. Enlist someone who is knowledgeable about your product or service and enlist someone who is not. Then ask both to review your marketing and sales efforts. Is the feedback consistent? What can you learn from both?

2. Find a potential customer who will offer to read through a new idea or a plan. Does it resonate with them? Are you on track with how you think your customers may think/feel?

3. Ask a friend or a former colleague who is not knowledgeable about your product or service to take 5-10 minutes to review your website or marketing materials. Find out if your messaging is clear and concise. Does it make sense to an outsider? If not, maybe go back and refresh, review your messaging again. What other input can your outside perspective person give you that you haven’t thought about before?

Perspectives are great, but only if you can learn from them. Enlist someone today who can give you and your business an “outside perspective.”