Fifth Week: Ain't nothing to do but get down to it

Colombia Summer 2012 Blog

Written by: Jennifer Jordan

July 24, 2012

This is the week of there ain't nothing to do but get down to it.  That's right this week is just pure work.  Sure we spent a little time on competition, financial modeling and capitalization (ie. ownership participation and investment), but mostly it was just work on the business plan and code, code, code.  The one thing that is hardest to get across in a 8am to 5pm lab is just how much work the start-up life is and how great a sense of urgency is required.  I think this is hardest for students to get because here in Colombia the academic life lives very much in theory and is often challenged when it comes to business practice.  

Not that this is unique to Colombia, even the the US a tremendous amount of great research at places like the NIH, DARPA, and our major academic institutions never makes out of the lab.  It takes a tremendous amount of work to get to the place that MIT has gotten--an organic process that took years--where there is support for the commercializing of technology in the labs ranging from IP licensing services to an ecosystem of investors and entrepreneurs-in-residence who are comfortable and have through trial and error developed a process to take this super early stage stuff and build a company around it to take it to market (Flagship Funds is one Cambridge team that does this extremely well in energy and biotech).  

Still the US, and Cambridge and Silicon Valley, have a rich history of start-up culture with a very high sense of urgency and a reasonably high tolerance for failure that makes it easier to get down to it with less of the that daunting combination of fear of success/fear of failure that can inhibit new teams from giving it their all and getting a product out there into the market. 

So, there has been some cheering and rah-rah, a pool-side Mexican barbecue prepared and grilled by Ivan and Miguel at our hotel to blow off some steam and do some team bonding (Colombian's don't generally like hot, spicy food so the jalapeno eating contest literally produced steam and even a tear) to inspire and motivate (the zanahoria or carrot), but also some cajoling and application of pressure (the palo or stick) that if a team's presentation is not done on time and practiced there is a risk they will not present on the 26th.  

Fortunately, the teams are making good progress.  My favorite accomplishment of the week was that one team managed to secure and meet with a leader at one of the agencies whose support is necessary for their product to succeed. The team learned a couple of useful things from that meeting that both confirmed their thinking and offered a route to help them reshape and further focus their solution. I love this because it is a great example of getting down to it.  If you wait to make the call/connection, you might never learn the critical thing you need to know.  And you never know where support might live. 

Speaking of support, the meeting at the Club of Executives on Wednesday night was terrific.  Thank you to all the Cali members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Club of Executives who came out to meet the entrepreneurs and offer their guidance and service as advisors.  It was greatly appreciated by the entrepreneurs who reported that your insightful questions advanced their thinking and helped them further refine their business models.  

I hope also it was a chance for business people to see that mobile technology, while it can be a thing in itself, is extremely powerful in creating value and even transforming traditional businesses and industries.  This means that mobile entrepreneurs can offer new opportunities by applying the technology in traditional industries but they need your advice, experience and knowledge about those industries and markets to understand how most effectively create and capture value.  We need angels in mobile who are not technologists but who have been succesful entrepreneurs in any number of industries to work alongside investors comfortable with software and mobile technology.  And we need executives in the large companies in Cali in both technology and other core industries to turn around and look for opportunities to work with and invest in these future value creators. (A shout-out to both Golden Seeds (full disclosure-I'm a member of this group) and TiE Angels, two US angel groups who provide a great model of doing just this!)

Next week -- the grand finale is just the beginning.