While the recession is taking its toll on jobs, there has been no shortage of good new technology-based business ideas. Simply having a great idea, however, is not enough. Taking an idea from conception to the creation of a successful technology company is no small feat. It takes a strong team and a diverse skill set to be successful. As Director of Entrepreneurial Services, I try to help entrepreneurs become successful. There is no guide book as each company and opportunity is unique. I draw upon my experiences of 25 years commercializing technology and upon a network of professionals. I have a strong allegiance to Akron, the city where I grew up, and a vested interest in seeing Northeast Ohio prosper.
In order to get a glimpse of my typical day, take a look at a few highlights. My first meeting is with a company whose vision is to produce high-value nutraceuticals from algae. I learn that these entrepreneurs know the young industry well, having studied both the organism and the markets their products can serve for over two years – most of it unpaid. They have come to see me not only because of the reputation I have developed for giving sound business advice but also because the price is right. The City of Akron and the State of Ohio combine to make consultants’ services like mine free so that young companies can get the advice they need without further financial obligations.
Today, I have arranged a meeting with an intellectual property attorney who provides free consultations for some of my clients. We spent an hour talking through a strategy for licensing negotiations with a major university. We discussed how to obtain the right to practice an enabling technology quickly without appearing overanxious and driving up the price. Next, I critiqued an executive summary which will be used to state the company’s need for investment to area Angel investors. The document is intended to pique the investor’s interest enough for a personal meeting, the first of a multiple step diligence process to secure seed funding. Typically $250 thousand to one million dollars are needed to get a technology company started. This is not to be confused with the millions still needed in subsequent funding to enable the emerging company to ultimately survive and be profitable.
The next meeting is with a young company that has already passed a validation test with the US Air Force demonstrating that their analytics software saves millions of dollars, and potentially lives, in their fix of a nagging operational problem for a trainer jet. A Pentagon general is now in their corner. Amazingly, this still isn’t enough to commence business. We are meeting today with a consultant who specializes in negotiating the maze of obstacles in the arena of doing business with the Government.
Next, I make a pitch to an area angel fund deal flow committee on which I serve on behalf of both companies I met with this morning via email. Tomorrow, the committee will choose the finalists to speak at their next event, a meeting at which selected companies can present their opportunity to a roomful of investors. I cannot be there to present my clients in person as I will be listening to seven companies make their pitch to a new cleantech fund. I craft my words carefully in an effort to convey the passion of those I represent. I am hopeful that they will be read in a thoughtful manner.
Finally, I learn that another client of mine who designs wireless network software received a “no” from an innovation fund offered through a regional college. This fund has become known as the place to go for entrepreneurs who are not quite ready to pitch to Angel investors. The opportunity to access $100K helping to bridge what is known as the “valley of death” to young technology companies has made this fund quite competitive. Not a great way to end the business day yet I remind myself that tomorrow is new day with fresh opportunities.
The key to success as an entrepreneur is persistence and hope that the victories outweigh the failures in the end. As a champion for these entrepreneurs, I will go to work tomorrow believing that we can achieve another victory.