Last week I added another activity to the list of things to not turn down if at all possible. On top of ski trips, days at the beach, and boating excursions a Technology Venture Forum should be made a priority. (well maybe not 3rd on my list, but it’s up there!)
The forum I attended showcased technologies that are either being developed or recently developed at Cornell in hopes of licensing into a startup business. The school is basically asking entrepreneurs to window shop and see if there is anything that they would like to turn into a company. Obviously, they don’t give the technology away. It is instead licensed, with Cornell holding onto an equity stake in the company. The CCTEC then does what it can to support the new sprouting business to execute their business plan.
Normally I shy away from forums that require me to quietly sit still, however the rest of the startup industry seems to have the same problem. So the speakers do a good job engaging the audience (on account of having to pitch their technology in an entertaining way) and there are lots of breaks to allow people to stretch their legs and exercise their vocal chords.
This specific forum was held by the CCTEC office at Cornell University. There were presentations on organic PV cells, 3-D location sensors built on standard CMOS processes, among many others on physical and life sciences. They also had a poster session during a cocktail hour to give everyone a chance to chat with the inventors of the devices that piqued their interest.
To further attract the attention of entrepreneurs, they had a lunch panel of venture capital firms that discussed what was important to know in order to get funded. Some highlights:
- Barriers to entry are a good thing to have. However the execution of the barriers and a team culture of making consistent improvements in the technology is what really protects market share.
- ‘Beachhead‘ markets are considered, however it is difficult to sell a VC firm on how large the beachhead can become. At the end of the day, it is up to the VC.
- You can have a whole slew of advisers, however your directors should be a reasonable number relative to your size (only a few when getting started).
- When planning runway, anything less than a year is looked at negatively by VCs. While it is tempting to try and bootstrap to hold on to equity, by the time the funds hit the bank the entrepreneur will be back at fund raising for the next round.
- Having a ‘platform‘ technology is okay but only if it is being used as a means to an end such as feeling out the customer. Otherwise it looks like an idea with no focus. New companies can’t just jump into 15 markets — so focus on the ones you want.
All in all, a solid use of a day. I’ve browsed the technology listed on the CCTEC’s website before, but talking face to face with the inventor is where the real value comes in. If you have a chance to attend something like this in the future, I would highly recommend it.