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The Real Value of Accelerators

The Real Value of Accelerators

by Jessie Kang

What is truly the value of joining an accelerator program? Huge names like Y Combinator, TechStars, and AngelPad beckon to dreamers, promising growth, mentorship, and an opportunity to get some mind-blowing figures as funding. Alumni of some of the top accelerators have listed “learning how to fundraise,” “establishing a team,” and “extensive training,” as some takeaways from their experiences. And these are the same outcomes that these accelerators promise when you submit that application for their program, hoping to get past the competitive 3% acceptance rate. But what is it that you can really get out of these startup breeding grounds? When you really get down to the nitty-gritty experience of joining an accelerator, what do you walk out with at the end of each day?

EPIC, the entrepreneurship student group at Northwestern University, started a program this academic year, called Launch, the first student-run accelerator here. It’s an intense ride and there’s only more to come, and there’s no doubt that one of the biggest reasons the cohort chooses to stick through with this hardcore program is the people involved. Being a part of Launch means that you receive coaching from not only the student leaders of Launch (who have been involved in every step of the startup journey, from founding through failing), but also from entrepreneurs-in-residence providing office hours, and keynote speakers offering very concrete “pro-tips” on very real issues that entrepreneurs face.

As such, one unquantifiable gain shines through in the testimonials of past participants of accelerators, whether they were part of a student-run accelerator like Launch, or part of a giant one like Y Combinator. They never fail to mention the valuable connections made in their time. Connections with founders, investors, employees, unfathomably valuable advice from mentors and partners, and leaving with a network of true friends that mean so much more than just a professional connection – these are the real takeaways from being in an accelerator. Yes, you will learn the hard skills it takes to build a business, and that’s the expectation, but people walk out with so much more, having been totally immersed in an environment where everyone’s about helping each other grow as entrepreneurs, with relationships that will last years down the road that will only continue to give back.

At the end of the day, business is about people. It’s about understanding people, delivering value to people, and working with people to make that magic happen. And if you’re convinced that you can learn all that there is to learn without the help of an accelerator, think again about the people you’ll miss out on, before you say no thanks to that intimidating 3%.

*quotations taken from http://onforb.es/20XWz9I

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Growth Hacking: Why You May be Interested

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by Sienna Parker

In the age of start-ups, there are a lot of things to take into to consideration for a company to take off and be successful. Who will be on your team? How will you brand yourself? How will you get funding? While all these questions are extremely important, one of the most pivotal aspects of starting a new company is growth. Without growth it doesn’t matter how hard everyone on your team works and it doesn’t matter how well you branding yourself. And while you might get some initial funding because of a great idea, a great idea means nothing if you can’t attract customers.

So how does one get acquire a new customer base? There’s a new position that many start-ups are looking for that deals with the issues regarding growth and exposure. On job-boards and on company websites, start-ups around the world are looking for growth hackers. Growth hackers are not your traditional marketing specialists, hence the word “hacker”. While marketing focuses on the broad concept of exposure, growth hacking focuses on growing a specific number of customers. Growth hackers use a variety of methods to grow the customer base through online quantitative and analytical techniques especially. Growth hackers know where potential customers will be online and how to get them to be customers for their companies.

As the competitive landscape for start-ups becomes more saturated, having a large customer base can make or break a company. Marketing is still very important, but the increase in demand for growth marketers speaks volumes to how necessary the initial phases of growth are for a company. If you are considering starting your own business or working for a start-up, don’t overlook this new position. On the other hand, if you are looking for a remote job working for a start-up becoming a growth hacker might be the position for you. As many college students are tech savvy and interested in marketing, growth hacking is the perfect intersection of the two skills and can be a great and manageable job.

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How to Find Your First Funding

How to Find Your First Funding

by Ann Yu

When you want to realize your entrepreneurial dreams, money is the first things to come to mind. Digging for the first bucket of gold for your startup is pretty hard. Having merely a powerpoint about your ideas or maybe a rough prototype, you ask around to some angel investors to invest in your dream, or present your ideas in a pitch competition. But really, how do you ace in finding you first funding?

1) Ideas are important but people are even more important.
A million of people all could have had the idea of creating Uber once upon a time. However, only one team came to the final success in building this worldwide company. In the realm of entrepreneurship, multiple teams could have the same great idea. However, it is the people that make the difference. A great team could really bring a wonderful idea into realization. Show your investors that your team is the perfect team to launch this idea. Show them that you and your teammate are experienced and prepared enough for the success of your idea. Moreover, make yourself likable and approachable. After all, no one wants to work with boring jerks.

2) Have a good idea of how to spend that first funding.
When you get the money, how are you going to spend it? While some start-ups blow off their funding in the first month of launching their dream, some choose to budget it for the long run. No matter how you decide to use the money, show your investors that their money will be wisely spent. If you want to spend it all on marketing, show them WHY.

3) Have a solid profit model for the long run.
Investors care about their money (obviously). They invest in your ideas because they believe it will bring them profit back in future. Presenting a solid profit model is crucial in attracting investors’ attention. Show it will be resilient to external pressures and possible changes.

4) Try to get referrals from investors.
Even you don’t win a pitch competition, it is a great opportunity to get to know different investors. Don’t walk away after the pitch ends. Go around and gather some business cards, and keep in touch with all of the them. Even if one turns you down, don’t be discouraged – ask if they have any connections, someone who would be interested, someone who could offer some words of advice. Maybe there is an opportunity around the corner, and you’ll know when those personal connections have paid off.

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It’s All for Humanity

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by Elenore Pan


It was around three years ago when I first heard of TED Talks. On that day, I did nothing but watch every single talk on the Most Popular playlist, regardless of the subject. That was the first time I realized that huge impact doesn’t necessarily have to come from money, and that was also the first time I started to believe that non-profit organizations have something special besides the lofty-sounding title of “non-profit.”

In the past decade, more and more non-profit startups have won public recognition for their contributions in their fields. One starts to wonder, ‘What drives those people to painstakingly create a business model, not for profit, and what makes them uniquely successful?’ Gradually, I find one thing in common among successful non-profit organizations, across the board. It’s not some fancy model or well-hidden secret recipe, but something these organizations embody in every branch of their existence – They all have human-centered core values. These entrepreneurs aim at utilizing their expertise to serve and enrich humanity.

The New Colony, a hot emerging theatre company based in Chicago, finds its way out in the show business with its faith in the impact that media can have. Its productions assemble award-winning playwrights, actors and directors, yet the price for its show pass is a low 20 dollars, with an additional 5-dollar student discount. The actors and directors would stay after the show and discuss their ideas with any audiences. Having been to a show, I was impressed the most by their passion and faith in the power of theatre as an agency, where the artists can address problems and express their values. The founders of The New Colony are true entrepreneurs: they strive to challenge the current preconception that theatres are mostly for the privileged, by producing high-quality shows at an accessible price, and by focusing these productions on the sharing of ideas. The New Colony is a small non-profit startup, but critics now view it as a worthy competitor of Steppenwolf (an established theatre company also based in Chicago). The success of The New Colony proves the validity of the non-profit entrepreneurial spirit.

Truth, curiosity, and diversity are three key words in Chris Anderson’s speech discussing his vision for TED in 2002. The same value is applicable in all non-profit organizations. Should you decide to take the non-profit route, whatever you do should help to educate people, tap into their emotions and build a connection, and pass on the conviction you have in humanity to future generations. After all, people earn respect for what they do, not necessarily for the money they make.

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Is Sharing Truly Caring? What the Sharing Economy May Spell for the Future

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by Nate Woods

Is sharing truly caring? Once incredibly fruitful companies like Airbnb and Uber seem to be making their descent from the towering apex where they once stood. Facing both external and internal law suits and protests, companies from the sharing economy are suffering from the faults inherent to the economic system.

Businesses following the sharing economy model opened doors for consumers to save time and money at the touch of a button. The question is: who suffers in this type of economy?

A study unveiled that 72% of Airbnb rentals in New York violated state and regional laws or zoning regulations.

The sharing economy’s tendency to clash with governments stems from evading normal taxation and stealing business from government-backed industries, like taxi services. Germany and other cities have banned Uber for these exact reasons. Governments also have a reason to fear for their economies as a whole. Increasing availability for low skill jobs, like driving and completing chores, are enticing to millennials. These options lead to an unskilled workforce that can fall behind an increasingly competitive world economy.

Even the contractors perpetuating the sharing economy are starting to realize it’s detriments to workers. Uber drivers have begun to rally around the desire to be considered employees rather than contractors. In addition to their approximated 20% income charge, Uber’s refusal to provide consistent wages, employment benefits, or money for gas has chipped away at the average driver’s salary. It’s been calculated that some drivers receive less than minimum wage for their services. Uber faces a difficult decision between conceding to these costly demands or risking employee numbers and morale. It seems that either option will reduce their previously astonishing profits.

Time will only tell if the sharing economy will become the caring economy – or the harming economy.

 

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Double-Edged Internet of Things

Double-Edged IoT

by Jessie Kang

 

“Before you know it, everyone is going to know that your refrigerator told your TV to notify you that you’re running low on milk.”
-Jordan Timmerman, Co-President of EPIC

 

The world of entrepreneurship and especially tech has grown incredibly sensitive to cringeworthy buzzwords, and in a space in which everyone claims to be innovative, buzzwords are uncomfortably common. Let’s make a bingo board of them and take it to a startup conference: “Big Data,” “Clouds,” “Disruptive,” And even more recently, The Internet of Things is a hot one.

To most people, the Internet of Things sounds like… the future. Smartphones were just the beginning! Everything, everywhere, automating and optimizing every single aspect of our lives. It definitely provides rich brain food for our imagination. Just think: you wake up in the morning, your pillow tells you about your heart rate, cholesterol levels, and quality of sleep, and then your bathroom mirror tells you what you have in your fridge so you can decide what to have for breakfast to keep that cholesterol level in check, while you wash up.

However, it’s easy to get lost in the potential glamour of this prospect and miss the glaring problem. Do we really want more internet and technology in our homes and streets? Clever use of personal information has made our lives easier, of course. For example, targeted marketing allows us to see advertisements about products in which we would actually be interested – I would rather see advertisements of “100 new styles of boots” over “diapers now 30% off.” But even this application of information is controversial. There are already many voices of concern about the astronomical quantity of data we have available to us, more than we know what to do with, and the ethical use of such data.

The Internet of Things possibly represents an exponential increase in the amount of data available to us, data concerning our personal lives collected from wherever these devices could be installed (which could be anywhere, for better or for worse). And with more data, as well as the introduction of more channels, it is becoming easier to abuse the information and infiltrate people’s privacy; this is  a nightmare to cyber security, and an opportunity – for lack of a better catchall term – for criminals.

Could the Internet of Things make our lives better? Yes. We could predict problems before they happen. We could increase efficiency in all aspects of work. We could save lives. But until there’s some way this information could be harnessed effectively and treated carefully, we’re not ready for the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Things is not ready for us, either.

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Startup or Corporate Life?

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by Sunyoung Kye

At Northwestern University, business means finance and consulting. Recruiting season happens quickly and on a tight schedule. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan come to campus in the fall and McKinsey, Bain and BCG come in the winter, and to some, these firms are the end all, be all. But there are other options.

These firms often serve large clients with similar prestige and name recognition, and these client companies are also hiring. After all, students usually leave consulting and finance jobs after the first two years to go work for these clients. Why not skip two intensive years of long hours or traveling and jump straight into corporate life? Or better yet, become an entrepreneur and pave your own career path at a startup.

Working at a corporation and working at a startup are two very different experiences but rooted in the same principles. When did Facebook stop being a startup and become a corporation? Its goal as a startup to connect students with one another has not changed but has merely expanded to connect more people and provide more value. Is Facebook still a startup? Then what about Google? Or Netflix?

All companies have to start somewhere, and so do college students. Most companies start small, with employees who contribute a little bit of everything in every area of expertise. One employee might research, create and implement a marketing plan, whereas larger companies do not expect one employee to do all three. At a startup, each employee contributes something that affects the core business, but at a corporation, each employee contributes a fragment of something that could potentially affect the core business.

This is the trade-off for the tremendous resources that an established corporation offers. In order to have fully-stocked fridges of food and drink 24/7, extensive training programs and high salaries with health benefits, someone must manage each and every detail without mistakes. This means a structured learning environment, but with bureaucracy and limited mobility.
At a startup, there is no such thing as fully-stocked fridges or great health benefits, and they generally do not have established training programs either. But at a startup, every employee sees the work that they do from start to finish. And the personal development comes from firsthand experience when the company does not have a marketer and the financial officer has to try his or her hand at marketing or the CEO has to run operations with the intern when another employee calls in sick.
So you have to decide, whether the bureaucracy and niched job position at a prestigious company with the salary and structured environment is worth your while; Or whether you want to take the risk of working at a startup that could fail, but with the personal and professional development opportunities of a lifetime.