The third annual Startup Scaleup hosted by JumpStart boasted massive crowds people from all different industries, backgrounds and stages of business development.
Among this were some of Cleveland’s top business people, rallying or championing the goal that Cleveland & the Mid West can build a lucrative startup and tech sector that competes, rivals and maybe even one day supersedes the more traditional hubs where startups have thrived like Silicon Valley or New York, Boston etc.
The event boasted guest speakers who had a credible track record of success, some amazing stories which they told about their experiences developing their businesses and the sheer grind to create credibility in the market and commercialize products and services.
Alex Bard with Mike Marchetti (from JumpStart) hosted the first event I attended and this by far for me was the stand out event of the day. Alex’s journey showed a genuine path where he spoke of the early days as a startup, previous ventures which he had tried, learned from, wins and losses and then ultimately the 1 venture he created which achieved massive success and the work it took to make it happen.
For me personally Alex’s story stood out because it highlighted the merit of being dedicated, of focusing on the client, building a solution that was driven by the client or market need and ultimately proving it in a commercial sense. These are core foundations to building a startup and making it work.
From a personal point of view I have had 3 startups in the past overseas, and experienced a little success and learned from mistakes in all of them, and this has given me a foundation to at least know what it takes to build a startup correctly, and try and make a really big success from an idea. I believe my next one will be that success I seek but I guess that is another reason why I could relate to Alex’s description of how he developed his business to reach the heights of success which he now enjoys.
The next event I attended was Strategic Money which was hosted by a panel of speakers. I liked the format of this presentation and some of the guidance was useful such as finding investors that share the same goals, interests, vision with you. The focus here seem to be on early stage development, and much attention was given to pre-seed or angel investment pathways, how to find angels how to create relationships, how to pool money from several angels etc.
The Q & A in the strategic money event was fairly interactive however I found some of the questions from the audience to be entirely too specific to their personal needs in their own businesses. Being a little bold and towards the very end I decided to take the mic and ask a question myself, although my question was a little revealing and perhaps critical of JumpStart since the theme of the panel was that JumpStart and its investors like to communicate and meet entrepreneurs and listen to their ideas and discuss investment opportunities.
“I had been through an experience with JumpStart following their online process earlier this year (which is what they recommend to do), engaging in a few in depth discussions and even issuing an exec summary where the response I got back was ‘we don’t understand the business and here is a mentor from Case interested in your area go talk to them’. Case is a college, JumpStart is our source for startup entrepreneurship and investment in Cleveland or am I wrong about this?
The sad part about this was there was little to no person-to-person engagement. Engagement and the ability to discover and learn about new innovative ideas in a serious conversation between investor and startup entrepreneur is the level of connection most of us seek when starting out in a new venture.
Brain drains are caused by the fact that talented people struggle to link up with opportunities in their local area and therefore decide to leave to places where they are more warmly received and can cultivate their ideas into real businesses. It is why we often hear stories of mid west founders who make it big in Silicon Valley or New York etc. and therefore those mid west areas the founders are from lose a great deal of intellectual and capital equity. Retention of talent is key and that takes initiative not just from entrepreneurs but also investors.
Having been in the startup space internationally for quite some time in my career I have seen the show and tell events like Startup Scale Up before and whilst these events are great for education and morale, there needs to be consistent opportunities created from these activities which have the outreach to offer genuine help to entrepreneurs that need it. And trust me most of us startup entrepreneurs need all the help we can get!
Anyway the next session I attended was Silicon Valley Money, Midwest Zip code. I did not find anything remotely great about this particular presentation. The guests who were on stage talking about their businesses, their success story sounded more like a brag fest.
When I was expecting that they would map out more clearly how mid west companies can attract outside capital, since that is why the majority of the audience was there. Perhaps if the young men on stage had defined more clearly the process or pathway to not only talk with investors in Silicon Valley but also the type of information to prepare before talking to them then it might have been more of a useful session.
But the whole ‘our company spoke to a dozen investors the first group were ones we were not entirely keen on but we used the experience of those meetings to strike deals with the other ones we were keen on’ basically gives nothing to the startup entrepreneurs who need to know more clearly what the investment process entails.
Any of us can get an appointment to pitch an idea with an investor, but if succeeding in that process requires you to know a few specific things as part of your pitch, this is the gap in education most startup entrepreneurs DO NOT HAVE, and if you are lucky to get your startup into the right circles and learn good for you.
But there are many of us that would also like to learn this so that we too can build great companies, I am less interested in a guy that makes millions of dollars and talks a big game because I cannot relate to that in my early stage startup, what I can relate to however is if the same guy tells me in the session these are the questions the investors asked and this is what they were looking for when deciding to invest or not.
We can read a million books on these things but it is far more meaningful learning them from real people who have been through and succeeded at the process.
The final event I attended at Startup Scaleup in the afternoon was ‘how to kill a deal’ this was genuinely a great event since the legal team of presenters went through a lot of tangible steps and described very clearly the process and terms of engagement that investors have with startups when striking a deal and what type of things can cost the startup from being successful. I took a number of notes here this session was high value and great, if I had seen nothing else all day than this alone was worth seeing.
Overall of the sessions I was able to attend I would say half of them were great I learned a great deal from 1 or 2 sessions and now at least know how to think of my next step. The other half of the sessions which I have probably critiqued above was is not to be negative but instead to highlight where improvements can be made. The colleagues I attended the event with visited different sessions, I asked them what they thought of their sessions, my friend Kay she said ‘it seemed to her that rather than providing useful business advice some of the speakers were just trying to promote their own business and its services”
So I guess I am not the only one who is a little bit critical but I do appreciate the good work and sheer effort JumpStart took to organize what was for the most part a wonderful event held here in Cleveland, and a great way to network and learn about the startup landscape here.
I hope that in my own case as a new startup wanting to build a great business here in Cleveland, JumpStart reads what I have written and reaches out to me and arranges a meeting to talk face to face and start to explore some of my ideas.