Entrepreneurship Talent + Opportunity : The Unmet Promise

The TiE Boston Software SIG had a unique networking event last night at a restaurant, with ‘family-style’ appetizers. No hot chai, though.

One engaging topic of conversation (amongst a few of us) was about making the startup market more efficient and effective …  more so around matching talent and opportunity. The Boston region has over 140 organizations catering to startup needs and interests. Yes, that is over 140! I did a market and product analysis involving 14 organizations, and found that most of them tend to overlap in terms of services and promised value-add.

There barely seems to be a month when there is not another startup-facilitation organization brewing.

Yet, you have what essentially is a market with a finite number of players that in the startup ecosystem at any given time. There is bound to be a point in time when we hit the problem of plenty.

So, instead of starting yet another startup oriented group or networking event … how about these 3 ‘obvious ideas’? (everything is obvious … after the fact) …

1) Find a way to identify Top 3 current pain-points and needs within existing funded ventures … and publish those ‘open source’ to invite other ventures / entrepreneurs / people that might have an interest and ability to address those needs. A healthy partnership and alliance strategy can go a longer way in creating synergies than more networking meets and events.

2) Find a way to socialize Top 3 goals and gaps within existing growth companies with over $10M revenue … and offer early stage ventures an opportunity to bid for real business with the potential to generate real revenue. A real customer with a real need met leading to revenue is more valuable than more idea-meets and products being developed without market validation.

3) Make a promise to ourselves that we wont just “talk the endless entrepreneurship talk” with a hue of ideas and promises, hoping to randomly find someone in networking events that could somehow, somewhere, someday add value. Believe me, I believe in the power of networking and mutual value add … yet, there is bound to be a point where you hit the problem of plenty.

This is really about finding focus … what do you think?




Is this my Billion $ idea? Desh Deshpande @ TiE Launchpad

TiE Boston, part of TiE, the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to entrepreneurship hosted Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande last week as part of TiE Launchpad.

TiE Launchpad is a program that I co-chair, dedicated to helping first time entrepreneurs make the journey from an idea to a venture. Through a series of 7 – 10 workshops, TiE Launchpad will help leaders transform promising business ideas and technologies into commercial ventures.

Check out the Billion $ Idea Top 50 Takeaways DESH DESHPANDE file … for a crowd-sourced collection of take-aways collated within 24 hours of the event.

What do you think? How have you transformed an idea into a business venture? What lessons learned are you willing to share? Go ahead, join the conversation …




100 days without (b)logging

Today is the end of a 100 day experiment. An experiment to blog through Twitter-powered micr0-bursts rather than full length tomes through WordPress. Tell you what. Twitter is great to bring focus to your message. When you have only 140 characters, you cut out the fluff and focus on what really matters. Our next-gen workers and leaders are more likely going to be comfortable with such instant transfer of insights, ideas, and information.

However, I did miss the artistic canvas to fully explore the treasures of ideation and express it in a form that did merit to the journey. As a poet, I admit, I missed the ability to pen sentences and see them come alive in the form of a new surprise.

I even tried a Twitter experiment to crowd-source leadership insights to put together an e-book. Had more people writing in seeking clarification, than engaging. One even debated that Twitter was so over-rated and he missed the good old telephone as a medium of communication. I’ll let you judge that one.

So, as I end this 100 day experiment, I begin the next phase of inspiration and expression. Where I will focus on the intersection of strategy and technology, my area of expertise and passion.


When Strategy and Technology Collide, Markets Happen!

As I begin wrapping up my Kellogg Executive MBA program (where I focused on strategy and marketing), I find myself passionate about this intersection. Whether you are a startup or a Fortune 100 organization, technology has an ability to

– Create new business models and opportunities, whilst

– Continuing to optimize and accelerate business outcomes.

So, join me as I continue to un-Twitter on this intersection … with a key eye on strategy, organization and execution.



Kellogg EMBA … more than a marketing program

What an energetic Kellogg EMBA reception at the Radius. It was nice to meet with prospects interested in the program. What amazes me is the energy you get when you get even a small group of Kellogg alums, students and prospects together in a room. Suzanne Whaller did a great job introducing the program and my colleagues from the alumni and current cohort added rich grist for the mill.

Someone asked a great question. “Kellogg is known for marketing, what are your strengths in other areas?”.

I think it is an ironic / intriguing / interesting question that Kellogg itself has been ‘branded’ the marketing school. As a student, I find the program to be focused on strategy with a clear C-Suite focus, with marketing being one of the functions that informs our body of study. While the school’s rich heritage and history might well be steeped in marketing, the coverage across other disciplines such as strategy, organizations and finance is truly excellent. The one area though that Kellogg does not focus on very strongly is technology and information systems, at least at the Executive MBA level.

I believe that the program prepares you to be a well-rounded ‘general manager’. Now dont get that to mean ‘a plain old generalist with no specialization’. Reality is that todays business needs and challenges dont come in neatly defined boxes. In order to lead in the complex ever-changing world we live in, one needs br0ad-based well developed intuition supported by strong skills across functions / disciplines. Kellogg provides just that.

Also, given that it has diversity in program-delivery, you are able to go beyond the case method to truly experience and imbibe the body of knowledge / practice through a wide variety of ways. Isn’t that how the real world works?

So, coming back to the question of the evening … yes, Kellogg has strong roots in marketing. But what do you say when I end up with 28 core courses and 4 electives?

Here’s my mix from Kellogg:

Core: Analytical Approach to Uncertainty, Operating Strategies for the General Manager, Teambuilding, Financial Reporting Systems, Leadership & Organizations, Marketing Management, Managerial Economics, Statistical Decision Analysis, Managerial Finance I, Managerial Finance II, Foundations of Strategy, Marketing Strategies, Accounting for Management Planning & Control, Consumer Insight & Marketing Strategy, Strategic Financial Management, Operations Management, Negotiation Strategies, Strategic Crisis Management, Macroeconomics, Economics of Competition, Creating and Managing Strategic Alliances, Management of Organizational Change, Law and the Corporate Manager, Corporate Governance, Ethics and Leadership.

Electives: Entrepreneurial Finance, Analytical Decision Modeling, Business Strategies in Asia Pacific (in Hong Kong!), Understanding Consumers (in Hong Kong).

Audits: Game Theory, Securities Analysis, Innovation Strategy & Management, Wall Street Hedge Funds & Private Equity.

How’s that mix? Oh, by the way, the program leads to a Masters in Business Administration, not an ‘Executive Masters’. Why not, with such a rich mix of coursework and an unbelievable cohort with rich experience/expertise. More on the cohort another day?




Startups … not bailouts

You can count on Thomas Friedman to write a punchy piece. In today’s New York Times article, he advocates that startups create more high quality jobs than bailouts of big car companies or road construction projects. Makes total sense. Of course, one could get into a Keynesian argument supporting higher government spending in toto. However, fact remains, that startups are the engines that create economic growth, prosperity and net new jobs. Think Google or Sun Friedman says.

Immigrant founders + free markets = Innovation.

I spend quite a bit of time in the Boston area startup community. Whether its a 15 year old in a TYE Startup competition from TiE-Boston or a first time entrepreneur, or a serial entrepreneuer, the optimism, energy and vision seems boundless. Everyone wants to change the world. One startup or venture at a time. There is no sense of self-pity or entitlement.

Yet, the single biggest roadblock is source of quality funds. I am not talking big numbers. I am talking $50K to $500K to take a shot at starting the next innovative venture. I am talking solid business models with working technology and passionate teams.  Yet they are caught in a bind … unable to access capital at costs and dilution-levels that can continue fueling their passion.

So, here are my …

3 obvious ideas:

a. First-time venture fund: If we can have a first-time homebuyer tax credit, why not a first-time entrepreneur fund? where the government sets aside $50000 per year for 2 years for each first-time founder of a startup. not as a bailout. but as investible angel capital from the government of the usa. why not? If Techstars or Y-Combinator can do it, why not the tax-funded entity called the GOTUS? $50K is enough to feed a family in most cities, while keeping the entrepreneur hungry enough to want to start a company.

b. Tax-cut for entrepreneurs: Why not? In addition to ‘increasing G’ why not ‘cut T’? Mix the left and right here. For the same 2 years, give the entrepreneurs a deep tax cut so that there is incentive and ability to reinvest for growth. Growth that can create real jobs that in turn pay taxes. Neat, eh?

c. Startup-competition: If the GOTUS can fund primary research in leading universities, why not have a true startup competition where funding can be allocated as advocated above? Mix funding with classical financing stage gates, to ensure that even this $50K is allocated based on real outcomes. No vanilla bailouts.

Why not? If innovation means truly socially disruptive practices, and these ideas are disruptive, then so be the spirit of innovation … thoughts? Comments?




Kellogg EMBA … Meaning and Mechanics

I am often asked … how can you complete a Masters in Business Administration in two years while you are working? Is this is a part-time MBA? What gives, considering that typical MBA programs are two years of full time commitment?

Well I cant speak for all those non full time (FT) programs out there. But I am happy to comment on the world’s #1 Executive MBA program. You know which one I am talking about.

Like high octane fuel powering a premium sports car, the Kellogg EMBA is designed to help leaders build a strong intuition. An intuition which can hold the test of time and merely fueled by the fad of the day / minute.  As it is, the world of leadership is replete with theories, hypotheses, case studies and of course real results. In a world where business opportunities and problems dont come in neatly defined packages, you cannot afford to have a program that is tied to the buzzword of the moment. Nor can you gain value from building tactical skills that are highly context specific and limited in their transferable applicability.

Here is where the Kellogg EMBA truly excels. The entire program is focused on building a strong inherent intuition. Through a combination of case studies, lectures, quizzes, in-class tests and take-home tests, you tend to develop many layers of finely tuned capabilities. Almost like Baklava that is easier to describe as an end product rather than in its making, you can be sure that each student’s Kellogg journey itself is layered with his/her own experience interweaving with the take-aways from the program.

So, how do you actually build these layers? How do you get to test the new skills and developing intuition without the opportunity to experiment and experience them in a real sandbox?

Some have said that FT programs tend to focus on building analytical firepower, while Executive programs focus on building leadership intuition. I dont see them as necessarily mutually exclusive. However, there is a difference between the means and the end.

Clearly, the FT programs are designed for younger candidates and their grounding analytical firepower is designed to help them reach the heights of their chosen pursuits. On the other hand, the Executive programs are designed for those with more experience, that now seek to make a difference in their professional lives by rounding out their capabilities. While analytical grounding is still part of an Executive MBA, the key difference is the CEO perspective in most courses and discussions.

So, yes, you can in fact combine 2 years of rigorous coursework along with ‘real’ work … and come away with a top-ranked full-fledged MBA from a top-ranked school. There is no cutting corners here. Afterall, the real test of mettle lies in putting all those strategies, ideas and plans to test in the real sandbox … and what better way to test and perfect one’s capabilities to do so than doing it in real-time while at school?




Kellogg EMBA … Wall Street, Hedge Funds and Private Equity

Prof. David Stowell is the closest thing you can get to a rock star in a B-School. Why? Just Google his name and find out. Oh well, here goes… from Kellogg’s Website:

“Prior to joining Kellogg, Professor Stowell worked at JP Morgan as Managing Director and head of Midwest Investment Banking. He also previously worked at UBS Investment Bank as Managing Director and Co-Head of Equity Capital Markets, at Goldman Sachs as Vice President for Corporate Finance and at O’Connor Partners as Managing Director for Equity Derivatives.”

He covered a week of classes on Wall Street, Hedge Funds and Private Equity. What a week. Through classroom discussion and case work, we examined the many issues and implications that arise when these worlds intersect.

While much of classical strategy is rooted in economic theory and models, Prof. Wolcott demonstrated how competitive strategy can be shaped and challenged through financial engineering and activity. Or, even activism.

3 obvious ideas for you to ponder upon …

a) convergence between hedge funds, private equity and investment banking: be ready for the ongoing convergence between these domains. no doubt the global financial system underwent a true transformation in the last 24 months. coming out of it, you can only expect that these worlds will continue to evolve as markets, regulators and you/me figure out what to do about it.

b) financial engineering is here to stay: financial engineering will not go away. innovation is a much needed fuel for growth and dare say, survival. if we dont innovate, we atrophy. so while we might look back at CDO’s and the resultant global meltdown, lets not wish away the reality of innovation in financial engineering. unless we want to go back to the days of pure barter trade, our economic system is too complex and integrated to wish for simplistic solutions with minimal risk from innovation. question is, how can you look ahead to be part of the next wave of innovation?

c) operational engineering: true operational engineering and value-creation is expected to be a large area of focus for private equity firms. with capital invested in portfolio companies desperately seeking return / exit in a soft market, operating leadership is expected to be the next source of value creation. control positions, while important, wont be the defining dimension of success.

clearly, this would mean opportunities for MBA’s and more so senior level folks from Executive MBA programs such as Kellogg’s. Oh, and please, it is “Kellogg” not “Kelloggs” as in the cereal box on your breakfast table. That is one convergence thats not quite right.