On Saturday, April 28th, I watched something truly inspiring and remarkable: the courage, guts, hustle, resourcefulness, brains, and creativity of University of Missouri Kansas City's (UMKC) Student Entrepreneurs in the 2012 Regnier Family Foundation Venture Creation Challenge.
This seventh annual competition thrusts UMKC's Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation students into an exciting, fast-pased, full-day competition to earn attention and "investment." The morning starts with 60-second elevator pitches, continues with point-blank discussions on the exhibit room floor, and culminates with 40-minute grill sessions.
And, when I say grilling, the judges are brutal. In the afternoon finalist sessions, I was one of the judges who evaluated presentations from the following teams:
* AllerganEaterTM (presented by Deon Whitten, Cletus Obahor)
* Nstox (presented by Seth Cooper)
* Alpha 1 Biologics, LLC (presented by Matt Heimann, Rita Cortes, Lara Ogle, and Tim Schallert)
We were tough on these student presentations. Our questions and assessments were pointed and critical. But, these students handled themselves with tremendous poise and grace. No one flinched. Each held strongly to his/her belief and conviction in the viability and value in his/her individual or team ventures.
Were there moments of nervousness and stumbles? Of course. But, they kept going — that's confidence and courage personified.
60+ teams competed (and my one regret is I didn't have enough time to visit with all of them). You only have two hours to speak with students on the exhibit floor. 120 minutes immediately evaporates when speaking with enthusiastic and engaging people.
Words of Encouragement
Here are a few additional encouraging words to some of the fantastic students I had the privilege of meeting. You're so inspiring!
Deon Whitten of AllerganEaterTM: It bears repeating the evidence of your hard work in putting together a great-looking and functionally working prototype. You accomplished something few entrepreneurs recognize — validating learning from a minimal viable product (MVP). Continue that form of lean start-up thinking in this venture (and your future ones).
Seth Cooper of Nstox: I love how you're targeting small and mid-sized businesses with your web-based management and decision support software. One of my favorite companies, HubSpot (based in Cambridge, MA), received a $32 million investment from Google Ventures, Sequoia Capital, and Google Ventures last year. Quantify or dollarize how your offering will help your target customers either make more money, save money, or decrease their costs associated with customer retention. That's what HubSpot does. And, there's no reason why you can't replicate their success.
Rita Cortes, Matt Heimann, Lara Ogle, Tim Schaller, and Tony Luppino – UMKC Faculty Sponsor of Alpha 1 Biologics, LLC: When your team shared your diverse backgrounds and the limited time you had to get up-to-speed on the pharma / biotech industry, I shake my head in amazement. Your industry analysis and your abilities to move this venture to this point is FANTASTIC! Rita and Tony – you have my business cards. As we discussed post-competition, if you think I can help you keep this venture moving, I'm here to assist.
Evan Kirsch of FolioBoy: College graduates and current students are in dire need of your startup's services to leverage and maximize their personal branding opportunities for future employment. I love your enthusiasm, vision, and what drives you to succeed. I'm also jealous of your technical prowess (I wish I had that). The Internet levels the playing field for everyone in getting their work / art / passion easily accessible. Get those college speaking engagements set up! Today's students need a passionate champion (like you) who spreads the benefits and value of "investing in ourselves by putting ourselves out there." These students need YOU. Great job Evan — you know where to reach me.
Danella Obraztsov of The Six: It takes guts and patience to literally build a consulting practice one-client-at-a-time. And, you're on your way to doing just that with your online dating consultancy. I was so impressed how you pulled together a makeshift homepage for your future website (and how you're taking a programming class to take it to the next level). Get those YouTube or Vimeo video testimonials on your site to share your current client successes! I met my wife on eHarmony. And, I would have met her a lot sooner (with less frustration) if I had your expertise to help me with my online profile!
Evan Bryant, Fredrick Manasseh, Greg Walling, and Kashif Rathore of Infalite: If you hadn't gracefully pulled me over to your exhibit, I wouldn't have learned about your innovative idea for giving parents peace-of-mind that their child is safely resting in their car seat during night time driving. In June, I'll be attending ASCO (the biggest cancer and pharmaceutical conference in the world). And, the pros who traditionally work that convention room floor can't hold a candle to you guys! Thank you for pulling me aside to share why you believe in your concept and idea.
Brandon Thompson of The Smartboard and Ernesto Tinoco of SmartDWELL: Your passion, conviction, belief, and enthusiasm is INESCAPABLE. Your infectious energy is why I remember you! Don't ever, ever, ever lose that. Because, your continued passion and conviction can be game-changing.
It's Kansas City's civic mission and vision to create and become America's most entrepreneurial city.
The Kansas City community can achieve this outcome. Why? Because the UMKC Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation encourages and espouses a vital, ageless, and lifelong lesson to these students: having the courage to pick yourself.
And, UMKC's students (and our community) need to keep moving closer in executing another valuable Palo Alto lesson:
Silicon Valley is not a location. Silicon Valley is a mindset:
- Fostering collaboration among all entrepreneurs
- Exchanging ideas over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks after work (even if you might be competitors)
- Reinforcing competition and cooperation to advance the entire community's long term growth (versus a winner-take-all / zero-sum-game mentality)
I'm honored and proud to be a mentor with UMKC's Department of Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation. This was my first event in participating as a member of this program.
And, it revealed how much I need to step up my game just to keep pace with not only these outstanding students but also the top-notch people affiliated with this program.
I wish I had more time to recognize, mention, and share more about the inspiring students and people I had the privilege of meeting. But, just like yesterday, I'm out of time.
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
Tony Faustino is a marketing and corporate strategist. He writes about how The Internet reinvents marketing strategy for organizations and individuals in his marketing strategy blog, Social Media ReInvention. Follow his tweets @tonyfaustino or circle him on Google+.