Guest Blog Post by Joseph Steig – Director, Venture Well and CFO, Long River Ventures
Tech entrepreneurs are driven by the maxim “better, faster, cheaper.” But what about entrepreneurship education?
Over two weekends this April, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) conducted VentureLab. The goal is to produce an experience that accelerates university student entrepreneurial endeavors and better positions these ventures to compete for business plan competitions, funding and customers: better, faster, cheaper entrepreneurship education.
Sponsored by Microsoft and held at the Cambridge NERD facility, VentureLab was run by James Barlow. NCIIA “imported” James last fall from Scotland where he ran the Scottish Institute for Enterprise. At the first April 9 weekend session, James handed out $500 to each team to provide a little boost to accelerate their ventures. The challenge was to see how much they could accomplish in two weeks leading up the second weekend starting April 23. At a time when there is a national call for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s important to recognize that training and motivation are as important as money and that major progress need not always be expensive or drawn-out. Students can be equipped very quickly to advance their ventures. The ability to learn to do a lot with little is a defining point for many entrepreneurs. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a proliferation of low-cost approaches to invention and entrepreneurship. Programs as diverse as MakerFaire and TechStars suggest that ventures, particularly those created with “ramen noodle” budgets can produce tremendous innovation.
Is $500 enough to accomplish a lot? On Friday, April 23 at Microsoft NERD the twenty teams showcased their accomplishments with IGNITE style 5 minutes talks. The definitive answer: in many cases, dramatic progress was made by the push engendered by the deadline, and fueled by the money. Examples are as diverse as Solar Ivy, LifeServe and Relay. All the teams continued to work every waking hour through the weekend. Now NCIIA’s challenge is to take them forward and get them further support through our own mentoring program, our E-team grants program (open application for student innovators: May 7), MassChallenge and VentureWell.
The VentureLab program is part of a larger series of offerings from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance. This April event was sponsored by Microsoft NERD and is part of a larger set of offerings on which we’ve received support from Microsoft. The program came out of a mutual interest to provide support and acceleration to a range of student technology ventures in the Boston/Cambridge area and throughout Massachusetts and New England. The effort is in alignment with MassChallenge and initiatives such as the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, focused on the Massachusetts innovation economy and university technology entrepreneurship.
NCIIA is a national non-profit, based in Massachusetts, that works with top universities across the US to support faculty and student entrepreneurs in creating technology innovations and ventures that address global challenges and basic human needs.
Joseph Steig directs VentureWell, a spin-out of NCIIA that works with university researchers to produce transformative commercial innovations that improve the human condition and environmental sustainability. He also serves as CFO of Long River Ventures.