Sunday, December 07, 2014

I went to Class and a Scavenger Hunt broke out!

There's an old joke that goes something like this: "I went to a boxing match, and a hockey game broke out!". Here's how I went to class, and a scavenger hunt broke out.

Recently the founders of Campus Pursuit, Scott and Shachar, came to speak in my entrepreneurship class at Ithaca College. At the beginning of the presentation, they asked everyone to download the app onto their smartphones. My English teacher would call that "foreshadowing".

Get your scavenger shoes ready!

About they time they were wrapping up, everyone's phones started buzzing. It was the Campus Pursuit app alerting us to the fact that the day's prizes had just been hidden, and they showed the clues for where. The students said "Can we take a break and see if we can go find them?". How could I say no?!

One of the teams found a $15 gift card for the Boatyard Grill!

Shachar swears, SWEARs!, that it was not intentional. Here is his blog post on the event. Regardless, it was a slick move. Nice job guys.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winning is in the questions

Ithaca College hosted its Fourth annual Business Idea Competition last week. 12 teams of student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a panel of industry professionals, competing for a chunk of the $7500 in total prize money. Teams had 4 minutes to present their idea, followed by 4 minutes of questions from judges. What you often see in events like this is that they are often won or lost in how well they handle the questions.

The fastest 4 minutes of a startup

Although the ideas presented addressed a variety of problems, many teams were presented with similar questions:

1. Have you talked to potential customers?

This one can be a red flag. If you haven't talked to any potential customers, how do you know you're providing something people will pay for?

2. When you talk to potential customers, how much money do they say they would pay?

This one can be surprisingly difficult to answer. I’ve seen presentations where students price their product/service contrary to what a consumer would actually pay.

3. How will you expand or repeat business?

This is a classic "what's next" question. A business relies on recurring sales. We also want to know that you're thinking of how the business can grow.

4. Any regulatory issues?

Depending on the idea, legal regulations could be a real hurdle to tackle. Prepare to look into the full extent of those regulations, any associated costs, and consider whether or not certain aspects of your initial idea can be changed to alleviate some of the legal red tape you could run into.

5. What is your revenue model?

This one is tougher than it sounds for some companies. A common error I often see for software is "we're going to sell ads". The reason this is a problem for most new companies is that ad rates for online and mobile are so low that you need to have a massive number of users to make money this way. It's great for Facebook, but the other 1MM apps in the Apple app store need something more.

6. Have you talked to industry professionals?

This falls into the "do you know what you don't know" category. If you don't have significant experience in the industry you're going into, then please talk to someone who is in that industry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Venture Capital firms that have invested in startups based in Ithaca New York

A question I get a lot is "What firms have made venture capital investments into startups based in Ithaca New York?" I compiled an informal list for a lecture about fundraising I recently gave in Elmira, and it was the most requested item from the event, so I'd thought I'd also share it here.

New York

Cayuga Venture Fund – Ithaca
Kensa Group – Ithaca
BR Ventures - Ithaca
Seed Capital Fund of Central New York – Syracuse
Onondaga Venture Fund – Syracuse
Excell Partners – Rochester
Rand Capital – Buffalo
Empire State Development Small Business Technology Investment Fund – Albany
High Peaks Venture Partners – Albany
Advantage Capital Partners – Glens Falls
Aisling Capital – NYC
Credit Suisse – NYC
Gefinor Capital – NYC
Gotham Ventures - NYC
Great Oaks Venture Capital - NYC
Enhanced Capital Partners – NYC
21Ventures – NYC
Morgan Stanley – NYC


Ben Franklin Technology Partners – Philadelphia
Polaris Partners – Boston
FA Technology Ventures – Boston
DSM - Cambridge, MA
Flagship Ventures – Cambridge, MA
First Avenue Partners – Nashville, TN
Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures – Houston
Draper Fisher Jurvetson - Menlo Park, CA
Skyline Ventures - Palo Alto, CA
Physic Ventures - San Francisco
ArrowPath Venture Partners - Redwood Shores, CA
OVP Venture Partners – Seattle

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ithaca has an incubator

This week Ithaca opened it's very own startup incubator. It's called Rev: Ithaca Startup Works. It's a place for entrepreneurs to go to do work. In my role as as an Entrepreneur In Residence for the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot, I'm housed at Rev and it's a place I'll be frequenting.

Hi. We're open!

Hi. Thanks for opening!

It's great that the area has a space like this. It's been fun working with the early teams in the space, and the energy at the grand opening was palatable. Many of the active and aspiring entrepreneurs from the area have remarked that this was something they have been wanting for awhile, and that it's going to make a big impact on helping and growing the companies that get started here, and hopefully attract some great ones too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Take you mother to class day

Usually you don't want your mother to come to class, but in my case it was a little different. My mother was in town from Los Angeles and wanted to attend the first day of my class at Ithaca College called "Entrepreneurial Innovation". The class is about how to generate, validate, and communicate a strong business concept. As part of the first day's activities, I asked everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves, and share one interesting thing about themselves. I had my mother go last, and having her talk at all was a potentially risky situation because of the possibility of her telling a tale from my childhood.

Oh, the stories I could tell
Fortunately, she just said "I'm from Michigan, I raised 4 wonderful kids in Charlotte, and now I live in Los Angeles".


It was fun in the following days of her visit to talk about new business ideas she had come up with. From just the first class, she was already on a roll.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Early Entrepreneurship Education

This little guy was recently selling lemonade on my street:

My wife Kristin asked him if he made it himself. He said yes. I was tempted to point out the fact that there as a bottle of store bought lemonade sitting on the cooler, but I figured if a little marketing white lie was good enough P&G, it's good enough for 7-year-old street corner lemonade vendors.

I'm not sure if it's the business lesson I'd want him to learn, but perhaps it will make him a more wary consumer in the future. Enjoy the $1 kid.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Accidental Donation

I recently received an email that really touched me. It was from someone who I have not spoken to in a few years, but had been checking in on my blog from time to time. She recently read my post from February about how Lily came into our lives. This person is not a resident of Ithaca - or even New York - but she was so moved by the story that she made a donation to a local dog shelter in Lily's honor.

Thanks friend!

This friend was not the only one who was curious about Lily. I have received a large handful of inquiries about the little wagger from folks requesting an update. I am happy to report that Lily is happy and healthy. Maybe a little too healthy because we just put her on skinny girl dog food so she could lose a few lb's. Lily and Colby are best of friends, and despite their 50 pound weight difference, they still like to play and rough house all day, and then cuddle at night. The accidental dog is now accidentally part of our family.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Honest Guest Speaker

Recently Steve Gal was the guest speaker in my MBA Capstone course at Ithaca College.

Honestly Engaged

Right after I took this next picture, Steve asked that no one record, film, or photograph his talk. That's because it was about to get really personal.

I am an entrepreneur

Steve's talk was exceptional in it's honesty. I've sat through numerous talks by successful people where they pontificate about all the great things they did, and usually leave out the mistakes they made, and how they felt about the choices they made. Steve didn't leave anything out, and as a result we all learned more.

It's a model that I've tried to follow, and have encouraged others to do so too.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ways to fund a new venture

I was recently a guest lecturer at Cornell in a class for engineers and scientists with entrepreneurial aspirations. One of the topics that I covered was all the ways I've funded my businesses. Funding is consistently the #1 thing aspiring entrepreneurs ask me about. In business school, we learned a lot about venture capital and angel investors, but that's just one of many options.

Fund this idea

Here's the list:
  • Founder Investment
  • Business Plan Competitions
  • New York State Grants for Growth
  • Vendor Equity Compensation
  • Employee Equity Compensation
  • Employee Investment
  • Angel Investors
  • Venture Capital
  • Community Development Evergreen Funds
  • Federal Government SBIR
  • SBIR Matching
  • Employment Tax Credits
  • Empire Zone Tax Credits
  • Community Development Loans
  • Student Intern Programs
  • Credit Cards
  • Revenues

For awhile our investors referred to us as the magically self-funding company. By being creative with both our sources of funds and how we spent it, we were able to do a lot with a little.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Accidental Dog

We now have an accidental dog. Lily came into our lives through fate. And she was terrified of me. Spoiler: She likes me now. But to tell the whole tale, I wanted to share the story from my wife's message to a friend after her shift at the Emergency Room:


As a fellow animal lover, I thought you would enjoy this story. I was finishing up a long triage shift in the ER a few weeks ago. The temp was -13 by the time I was finishing up around 7. My last patient that presented to the desk was a single pregnant mother with a young girl. While I was waiting for the OB doctor to answer my page so I could determine if I was sending the patient to that floor or keeping her, I hear a little bark coming from the waiting room. I saw through the security monitor that they were out there trying to hide a little white dog in their coats. It turns out, they had recently moved here from the south and were unable to find housing that would allow them to have the dog. The dog was staying with an aunt in town but they had just rescued her from the house because they found out she was abusing the dog, and prior to their arrival, she threw the her out into a snowbank!

Security wouldn't let the dog stay in the waiting area. We had to put her out in the freezing car with the promise that we would try to take warm blankets out every few hours. As I escorted them to OB, we began talking, and I couldn't help but bond with the adorable little girl who wanted to tell me endless stories of her best friend Lily (the dog) all the way up the elevator. To make a long story short, I quickly recognized that not only was there a dog in need, but a family that was in crisis, a stressed pregnant single mom with nothing and a 6 year old girl worried about her dog freezing to death. It started with an offer to foster the dog for the weekend so she was safe and warm and they could figure something out, and ended with us being the proud new guardians of Lily, the 3 year old puggle who we never would have chosen but somehow seems to have chosen us.

I gave my husband about 10 minutes notice that I was on my way home and was convinced I was going to be met with divorce papers. But he fell in love after about 5 minutes. He still thinks we are "fostering," but I am pretty sure he is on to me by now and knows she isn't going anywhere.
What's a good thing to do before starting a 12 credit semester and working part time?...... Get a new dog!!
Hope all is well

Talk to you soon


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Supporting a Cause Leads to Reconnecting with Friends

This year I signed up to participate in a fund raiser associated with a fitness challenge. This is the first time I've ever done something like this. The event is Cycle For Courage, where volunteers participate in group indoor cycling to raise money and community awareness for Camp Good Days. I originally committed to do 5 hours on a stationary bike, and if I raised over $600, then I'd bump it up to 6 hours. As of this writing, I've raised $1,454! Thanks everyone!!

I'll be doing my time on the bike at Wright Fitness & Cycling in Ithaca, NY on February 8th from 7am to 1pm if you'd like to come cheer on all the riders!

For More Good Days, and Making Good Days Great

Camp Good Days is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults, and families whose lives have been touched by cancer. They do this by creating summer camping experiences and hosting year-round activities.

Camp Good Days was founded over 30 years ago by Gary Mervis to provide a residential camping program for his daughter, Teddi Mervis, and 62 other children with cancer from Upstate New York. It has now grown to become one of the largest organizations of its kind in the world. Camp Good Days maintains it's own recreational facility, located on the shores of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where the residential camping programs take place.

A Good Days view of Keuka Lake

An unexpected consequence of sending out a ton of emails asking for a contribution is that I was able to reconnect to a dozens of old friends! People who I hadn't spoken to in years not only contributed to the cause, be reached out to find out what's new, and share what's new with them. It also raised awareness for a great organization doing good things.

If you'd like to contribute to the ride, please click here. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the ride! The kids thank you, my legs won't.

------ addendum ------

Between my page and Kristin's, we ended up raising $2,159! Thanks everyone!

Here's the ride stats: 6 hours, 110 km, 4811 calories. I was all set to reach and beat that goal of 100 miles - until the unthinkable happened: I found out the bikes were in kilometers!! I have been using these bikes for 5 years, and the whole time I thought they were calibrated in miles! I made a comment when I passed the 67 mark around 4 hours and said "I'm going to make it to 100 miles", to which the class instructor April remarked, "The bikes are in kilometers". 110 kilometers will have to do!