Monday, August 18, 2014

New start Ups and the mind of an entrepreneur

 Great readings for the week :)

The Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston has been home to 84 startups run by students and recent grads this summer; they call it the Venture Incubation Program. And ten of the companies that have been making the most progress (while the rest of us have been working on our tans) gave short demos yesterday afternoon. These were the five that struck me as worth having on your radar screen…

• Altadu Biosciences is working on a $99 diagnostic test that can help doctors determine what drug regimen will be most effective for a person suffering from HIV. They can use existing qPCR machines, which amplify DNA, and deliver results in about five hours. The company won the grand prize at a Health & Life Sciences Challenge at Harvard earlier this year, and plans to start pilot tests soon in Botswana and South Africa.
• Experfy has already built an online marketplace of 550 data scientists willing to take on freelance projects. Today’s options for finding someone to handle an project that involves slicing, dicing, and analyzing a large data set involves either searching on LinkedIn, using a “generic” freelance marketplace like oDesk or Elance, or hiring a consulting firm. Experfy makes available MIT professors and former Google employees willing to do some work on the side, at hourly rates, and handles payment.

• Villy wants to help you find and book the best hotels to stay in when you travel, based on your interests: Is shopping your top priority, or visiting museums? The site is already live, but they’ll have ten cities up by next month, and they’re working with the organizers of big conferences to promote Villy to their attendees.
• LifeGuides is building a digital self-help library for millennials. The content is created by “been there, done that” mentors, and tackles questions like “Should I learn to code?”, “Should I get an MBA?”, or “Should I stay in the military or get out?”
• Seratis co-founder Divya Dhar gave the best presentation of the afternoon, arguing that it’s time to give doctors a more sophisticated communication tool than a pager. The company is developing a secure and HIPAA-compliant mobile app that will let doctors and nurses communicate more easily with their colleagues who on a particular patient’s care team, and manage hand-offs when one shift ends and another begins. (BetaBoston’s Kyle Alspach wrote about the company back in June.) Seratis has been through the Dreamit Health accelerator program, won $850,000 from Verizon, and is currently conducting several pilots in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Brazil.\

 The five other startups that presented were YouFly (drone retailer and manufacturer), Agora (online town hall), CommonLit (online resource for middle school teachers to help improve students’ reading proficiency), Potluck Energy (community solar), and Six Foods, which closed the afternoon with a rap about the merits of using insect protein in food.

 Almost every entrepreneur is self-taught. We see a problem and create a business around fixing the problem. Entrepreneurs are the ones who have a vision and work endlessly to manifest it.

Entrepreneurs teach themselves anything they need to succeed. You may not know how to code, market, draw, develop, outsource or export but the one trait we all share is we can teach ourselves.

A few examples of entrepreneurs who have taught themselves the necessary skills to succeed include:

Will Caldwell, founder of Two years after graduating from the University of San Diego, Caldwell launched Dizzle, an app that generates word-of-mouth leads for Realtors. He told me Dizzle started while he was still in college. At the time, he didn’t know how to code but spent more time in the library learning how to develop apps than he studying for his classes.
By the end of his college career Caldwell could churn out a personalized mobile real estate app in under five minutes. Caldwell wasn’t a computer science major but he did have a vision for Dizzle.

Kevin Newburg, founder of Newburg created Brew Cutlery after seeing a gap in the craft brewery market. “There were a ton of craft breweries popping up in San Diego that also served food so I thought why not combine a bottle opener with utensils,” he said.
He started without knowing how to develop the computer aided designs needed for production but, after a few late nights, he had taught himself how to create the CADs. Brew Cutlery was born from Newburg’s ability to teach himself engineering skills.

Nick Ramil, founder of Ramil first went to China six years ago without knowing anything about importing. He knew he wanted to do more than just teach English, so he started learning everything he could about selling products in China. He landed on wine because the growing community of wealthy Chinese enjoyed wine, yet the market was lightly tapped.
Ramil pushed to get meetings with importers, distributors and sales representatives so he could learn the ins-and-outs of bringing a product to China. Royal American Wines is now among the biggest wine brokers in China.

Caldwell, Newburg and Ramil each taught himself the  skills needed to make their business a success. If you’re looking to learn in order to chase your vision, a good starting point is the Internet. Nowadays, you can learn almost anything online—whether it be coding from or a simple Youtube video on how to draw a computer aided design.
Another way to learn is from the people around you. Start surrounding yourself with influencers in your industry. Reach out to other entrepreneurs to learn how they started and grew their business.
You have the ability to teach yourself anything. Figure out the skills you need to launch your business and start learning. You never know what you’re capable of until you try!

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