Friday, February 29, 2008

Rubber bands, relativity, and real lessons for entrepreneurs

In a week of events buzzing with entrepreneurial spirit, we've seen solutions to obesity, heard tips on handling media attention, and learned about social ventures. Those attending the closing ceremonies for E-Week tonight saw the creativity of their fellow students in a model of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, a new way to raise money for breast cancer research, and...ShoeBands, "the latest in footwear adhesion."

These ideas (and many more) came in for this year's Innovation Tournament. The challenge: create as much value as possible using rubber bands.

Yes, rubber bands.

Big-time venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and technology writers judged the contest, and so students from around the world took it as an opportunity to show off their chops as entrepreneurs—and have fun at the same time. Take this example from a group with an idea for raising awareness about locally-grown food by tracking produce online:

Another group decided to create a "wishing tree" on the Stanford campus. Able to take from the flop profound lessons about success, the team earned the distinction of Biggest Failure—as well as a promise to have their video shown in business classes for years to come. "Like true entrepreneurs," they said, "we resorted to seeding the tree ourselves."

You can find more than a hundred video entries from the tournament on YouTube. Check Guy Kawasaki's blog for his take on the most innovative idea.

Beyond Borders: Global Entrepreneurship

Launching a startup is a challenge in itself. First you have to find the right players for the team, outline the perfect business model, then tackle the challenge of acquiring capital for your emerging business. Yet taking a startup global is an entirely different--if not infinitely more difficult--endeavor.

Today's panel included three seasoned entrepreneurs--all Silicon Valley natives--who successfully created a startup and took it international. Panelists Will Chen, Dr. Robert Lee, and Gadi Maier each shared tales of their startups' beginnings, hard times, and what they encountered when they took the leap to go global.

Fresh off a flight from China, Chen kicked off the discussion by describing the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur. He showed a picture of a man standing off the edge of a cliff and compared it to his experience as a young entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

"You look out over the cliff, and it's exhilarating. It looks like a lot of fun. But sometimes you want to jump off," Chen said with a laugh.

Chen knows this experience firsthand. He founded Billpoint, Inc., which pioneered person-to-person payments, and grew his small startup from three people to 70 employees. Ebay later acquired the startup. Now, Chen is the CEO and founder of Accelergy Corporation, a R&D technology company that operates in both the US and China.

China has a very different business structure than Silicon Valley, according to Chen. Silicon Valley proudly boasts success stories of "two men in a garage" who later grew their businesses into worldwide companies. Yet in China, the story begins with 50 men who live together in a house. Though the set up is different, the goal is similar: everyone is working together to dream up the next big thing.

China is extremely innovative, competitive and fast-paced, Chen said. To navigate in this foreign marketplace, novice global entrepreneurs must have an understanding of another region's local markets and dedicate enough time for face-to-face communication with international employees.

Dr. Robert Lee found a way for his startup to address this communication challenge. Lee, who is the CEO and Chairman of Achievo Corporation, set up six satellite centers in China to work in conjunction with the company's headquarters in San Ramon, California."We want to be very close to our customers so that we're very local wherever we operate," Lee said.

Achievo is a government automation software company that serves global clients. The majority of its revenue--56 percent--comes from Japan. Meanwhile, 22 percent is from North America, 17 percent is from Europe, and 5 percent is from China.

Similar to Achievo's clientele, its employees are also spread out across the globe. 73 percent are from China and 16 percent are from North America, with other employees located in Germany, Canada, and the US."We are the living example of a flat world, if you will, in terms of our business model," Lee said.

Yet Gaudi Maier, CEO and President of Israel-based FraudSciences Corporation, also noted that experience is a crucial key to fostering a successful startup. Although a young group of team members bring a lot of energy to the table, nothing can replace the experience one spends in the corporate world.

"Getting a perspective of how a major corporation thinks is extremely invaluable," said Maier. "Having worked inside those companies, you have a little bit of an inside view into what's going to happen [in the future.]"

Lee agreed, but added that having past immersion in global markets is one of the most invaluable tools for a startup that is planning to expand internationally.

"The only way is to be there [abroad], suck it all in," said Lee. He later added, "One challenge [Americans] have culturally is that we think we have a god-given right to be at the top of the food chain. That is a very dangerous assumption."

So what's an emerging entrepreneur to do during this chaotic economic period in the US, when the threat of a recession is looming just around the corner?

Fear not, the three panelists answered. Venture capitalists are particularly keen to find the next big startup during sluggish economic periods--but their expectations will more stringent.

"In slow times, the bar does get higher," Chen said. "You have to look at different regions and see what works best."

China is currently an attractive option for startups, according to Chen.

Startups must be ready to answer fundamental business questions to pass the altered standards of venture capital firms.

"Why should someone give you $1000? You have to tell your story," said Chen. "It's about your idea, it's about your team, it's about your market. Can you change something? Don't let venture guys tell you it's not a good idea unless you really believe it."

And although each panelist has come out on top, they've experienced their own share of failures also. It's all a part of the entrepreneurship game, the three admitted.

"Knowing how to fail and pick yourself up is one of the unique strengths we have in this Valley," Lee said. "Sometimes you gotta look at it and laugh at yourself, and consider it part of your human experience."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Your Turn to Tackle Obesity

Today's "Innovating for Health" panel on Pediatric Obesity was quite the eye-opener. Dr. Thomas Krummel, a surgeon at Stanford Hospital, moderated a discussion among a diverse panel of experts and then solicited ideas from a crowd of Stanford entrepreneurs. The panel tackled childhood obesity from medical, venture capital, entrepreneurial and behavioral angles and by all accounts, the disease is a growing problem (no pun intended) and the situation looks bleak.

According to one panel expert, Dr. Thomas Robinson, a Professor of Pediatrics at the Med School, 20% of today's children are obese and 1 out of every 3 children born today will have obesity-related diabetes at some point in their lifetime. That risk is even higher for African-American girls and Hispanic boys. Of those segments, 1 of every 2 children born today will get diabetes.

And the price tag for pediatric obesity related illnesses? A staggering $98 to $129 billion in annual health care costs. To many in the audience, that was a big Debbie Downer, but to other panelists, that's called opportunity.

Dana Mead, a panelist and life sciences venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, said there are currently about 50 companies addressing obesity, but the realities of the illness simply make it an unattractive investment for venture capitalists.

For one, investors acknowledge there is no panacea for obesity. Nobody believes one medical solution will work for all patients. Secondly, Mead said that the reality of the market is that only 10% of health care dollars currently go to preventative medicine. The combination of these two factors is one big red flag for Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

The entrepreneurial landscape didn't look much more obesity-friendly. Tom Fogarty, the renowned cardiovascular surgeon, inventor, entrepreneur and vintner, says today's entrepreneurs are not prepared to devote the kind of persistent innovation necessary to tackle childhood obesity.

Direct quote: "Today's entrepreneurs are like flies on horse s---. They jump around from one challenge to another. That does not lead to innovation."

Current medical approaches to childhood obesity are few. Dr. Craig Albanese, a pediatric surgeon and panelist, says that "Gastric bypass is the current gold standard. But it's a tool, not a cure." Albanese told the audience of entrepreneurs he believed the ideal surgical procedure for childhood obesity would be one that is reversible, done early enough to affect behavior, one that doesn't affect growth or development, is minimally invasive and can be coupled with a (what is now a non-existent) pharmaceutical remedy. In short, a medical miracle.

Finally Kristin Richmond, Founder and CEO of Revolution Foods, and Pat Christen, President and CEO of HopeLabs, spoke to some of the efforts to tackle childhood obesity from a behavioral standpoint. Richmond's company has partnered with Whole Foods and Clover (among others) to bring healthy meals to over 40 schools and 75 after-school programs in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. By Richmond's estimate, Revolution Foods, is reaching 10,000 students, 75% of which belong to low-income households and making a daily positive impact.

Christen spoke to HopeLab's first initiative to address obesity, called Ruckus Nation- a worldwide competition to generate product ideas to get kids more physically active. A staggering 400 teams from 37 countries have participated in the competition and winners will be announced March 17th, at an event in San Francisco.

For e-week, the panel is asking Stanford students and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to submit an idea that will help reduce pediatric obesity. If you have an idea, submit it by 1 pm on Friday, February 29th, to

Winners will be announced at the eWeek Innovation Tournament, from 5:00- 6:30 pm at Arrillaga Alumni Center (McCaw Hall).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Your Friends May Be Movie Stars!

Entrepreneurship Week starts in just a couple of hours. Definitely plan to come see the movie -- you may be in it! You may see friends in it! It's all part of our big Kickoff event at 4:00 today in Memorial Auditorium. Get there early for good seats and prizes.

Here's a preview on the Stanford University home page. It should be up there for at least the week:

I've seen the movie -- it's GREAT! You'll laugh hard, you may get choked up here and there, and you'll definitely come away inspired.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Guy Kawasaki on Entrepreneurship Week

Here's what Guy Kawasaki has to say about Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Robert Scoble Has Joined Judging Panel

Innovation Tournament participants: Robert Scoble has joined our judging panel, so get ready. Robert is a highly respected technical evangelist, blogger (Scobleizer), and co-author of Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.

Scroll down for a previous post listing our other judges. What a panel!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Amazing Prizes for Innovation Tournament

WOW!! I wish I could compete! This collection of prizes for the Innovation Tournament during Entrepreneurship Week, Feb 22-29, is just incredible.

Stanford students are eligible to win experiential prizes such as:

Handmade guitar plus an afternoon with Deloitte's Financial Advisory Services Partner

A day of sailing on the San Francisco Bay on a 36' yacht provided and skippered by Club Nautique

Box seats to Sharks game - Donated by Deloitte

Dinner party at Teresa Briggs' home with Deloitte Silicon Valley Leadership (she is the Managing Partner of Deloitte's Silicon Valley practice)

Meet Deloitte's Global leaders, hear Al Gore speak in person, and enjoy cocktails and dinner at Deloitte's World Meeting at Stanford University

Lunch and Deathball at Tim Draper's House

Dinner at Google with Kevin Systrom (Google Analytics)

The renowned Guy Kawasaki will blog about the most innovative submission

Become a VC for a Day with Highland Capital Partner

Shadow an ER Doctor, who is also a VC

Have lunch with Orbit Baby Founders (also Stanford alums)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Prestigious Judging Panel for Innovation Tournament

The Innovation Tournament is all in good fun, but that hasn't stopped us from gathering a pretty tough crowd to judge the entries. Judges include:

Jeff Hawkins - Founder Palm/Handspring/Numenta

Lee Gomes - Technology Writer, Wall Street Journal

Vance Vanier - MD and VC – Mohr Davidow Ventures

Fern Mandelbaum – VC, Monitor Ventures

Elizabeth McCleneghan – VC, Menlo Ventures

Kevin Systrom - Google

Michael Dearing - former SVP & General Merchandise Manager for eBay

Teresa Briggs, Managing Partner, Silicon Valley, Deloitte

Peggy Burke - CEO/Founder 1185 Design

Evan Tana – Loopt co-founder – first mobile social mapping service on a major US carrier; recent deal with CBS

Friday, February 8, 2008

Want to Find Out What It's Like to Be in a Start-Up?

If you want to get a taste of what it's like to be part of a start-up, sign up for the Innovation Tournament, an Apprentice-style student competition. Teams will be given an everyday object and challenged to create as much value as possible in five days. Last year it was Post-It Notes. What will it be this year? The mystery item will be revealed on Friday, Feb 22, at the kickoff event for Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford.

Hint to Stanford students: You'll get a slight advantage over other teams by attending the kickoff event. Get details here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How Do Those Start-Ups Get Such Amazing Press?