Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big News from the Center – Fall 2014 BCC and Accelerator Fund

It’s been a while since my last post. Lots to report but notably the Fall 2014 Business Concept Competition is rounding into shape. First round entries, in the form of one-two page abstracts, are due Thursday October 30. The Finals are slated for Thursday November 13, with the winner automatically qualifying for the second annual Future Four in the springtime. Rules and an abstract submission guideline are available at the Center website.

This long delayed post is also a great chance to announce that soon after Thanksgiving, the Center will be hosting a round of presentations for funding through our Accelerator Fund. For those of you unfamiliar with the Fund, it is a seed funding mechanism for students to help get their business off the ground. Chico State is one of the few universities in the country with ample money available for undergraduates.

The biannual Business Concept Competition, of course, is the Center’s signature event. Past winners have included Upper Park Designs, Bizness Apps and last year’s two winners: Soul id and Outdoor Ally (website coming soon).  Each of these businesses later received funding through the Accelerator Fund. You could be next! Go here for the Accelerator Fund Application.

Last, a final word on seed funding from Sam Altman, who is the president of Y Combinator, one of the world’s leading incubators. Altman has a fascinating take on the initial seed round of funding; here are some excerpts from a recent blog post.

For all of the really good seed investments I’ve made, other investors I respected thought they were bad ideas.  Stripe started before it was cool for very young founders to take on very established industries, and the prevailing thoughts from people I asked about were that it was never going to work (the initial plan was to be a bank) because Patrick knew nothing about the industry.  Teespring got passed on by most investors, saying “It’s just a t-shirt company.”

Right before I invested in Zenefits, a prominent investor told me I didn’t understand the health insurance market at all and that the company was unlikely to survive another 3 months.  When I made this investment, the company was worried about imminently running out of cash.  I almost got talked out of investing by the other investor.

Great companies often look like bad ideas at the beginning—at a minimum, if it looks great, the seed round is likely to be overpriced, and there are likely to be a lot of other people starting similar companies.  But even when I attempt to adjust for price, the hot-round investments still have underperformed.

This is NOT to imply I think you should come to the CSUC Accelerator Fund with a bad idea, but rather that you take the risk of at least trying out your idea -- good, bad, ugly or just plain weird -- in the crucible of the Business Concept Competition. Who knows, it could turn out to be a bad idea like these successful Y Combinator graduates: Reddit, Airbnb and Dropbox.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Announcing eWeek 2014

It’s April. The dogwoods are all in bloom in Chico as are the azaleas, so it must be time for eWeek, right? Yes, right! eWeek is back again and this year as PT Barnum or maybe Elon Musk must have said, it’s bigger and better than ever.
We start on Thursday April 3 with the finals for the Spring 2014 Business Concept Competition. There are twelve finalists whose ideas range from a safer pin for cross-country equestrian jumps to a new concept for a camera-based mobile game app to a listening device that doubles as an earring. The competition begins at 6 PM in Glenn 112 and the top two finishers will move on to The Future Four on Friday April 11 – more on that event in a bit.
A first for eWeek 2014 will be our initial entrepreneur-in-residence, Gary Bright, who founded Kangaroo Kourts here in Chico and eventually started three other health clubs in the North State plus a night club. Gary will available to all students in the Center’s office, 221 Glenn, Monday the 7th through Friday the 11th. Check back for his hours.

Monday April 7 eWeek kicks into high gear with a 7:00 PM talk by Lance and Shelly Blanshei, founders and owners of the wildly successful T-Bar in Chico. The Blansheis’ talk promises to be quite interesting as they also launched Bidwell Perk and other ventures. The Blansheis will be appearing in Colusa 100 where all the other eWeek events will be taking place as well.

Tuesday April 8 is technology day. We will be hearing from two top executives at Bizness Apps: Zach Cusimano and Stephen Heisserer, who will be speaking on “A How-to Guide for Building a Startup in Chico" at 7 PM.  Quick bios on the speakers are as follow:

   Zach has been acting Chief Operating Officer for Bizness Apps since 2010. Originally from Las Vegas, NV, he graduated from Chico State in 2011 with a BS in Marketing.
   In helping to found Bizness Apps, Zach has been a jack of all trades. While overseeing the day to day operations and scaling up the company he has managed various departments including Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, VAR team, and HR.

   Stephen is currently the VP of Product at Bizness Apps. Born and raised in Hayward, CA, he graduated from Chico State in 2011 with a degree and certification in Project Management.
   What started out as an internship, quickly turned into a full-time critical role aboard the initial Bizness Apps team. Stephen currently manages a team of 30+ engineers comprised of both in-house and out-sourced developers. He is responsible for ensuring Bizness Apps' product maintains its position as the leader in the marketplace as well as pushing the envelope for the industry as a whole.

Wednesday, April 9 in Colusa 100 is Movie Night. We’ll be watching four episodes of the little seen but much loved Amazon prime series “Betas”. If you don’t have a Prime membership then this is your chance to see the rowdy, bawdy but semi-realistic view at running a start-up in the Bay Area. Definitely R-rated, but funny and worth seeing. The shows start at 7:00 PM and like all events during eWeek absolutely free of charge.

Thursday April 10 will be devoted to social entrepreneurship. We are honored to host Ambassador Obinna Adim, special adviser to the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan on Youth Empowerment. 7 PM, Colusa 100.

eWeek culminates on Friday April 11 with the first-ever Future Four, a business concept competition featuring the top two ideas from Chico State (the winners of our Spring 2014 contest) against the two best from Humboldt State, Sacramento State and Sonoma State. If you have never been to a business concept competition then this one is not to be missed; they’re always fun, but this one promises to be over the top. The Future Four starts at 4:00 PM and once again will be in Colusa 100.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Business Concept Competition, Spring 2014

Attention Chico State students. Just a few days left to sign up for this year’s Business Concept Competition.  The last day to get your abstracts in is Thursday, March 13 at 5:00 p.m.  Make sure to send in your ideas via e-mail to pstraus@csuchico.edu. The contest, in case you didn't know, is open to all currently enrolled students, graduate and undergraduate, in all colleges.

A quick note -- this semester's entrance requirements are a bit different than in preceding years.  In the past, we asked each entrant to send in a short PowerPoint; this semester, we are asking each contestant to send in a brief one to two page abstract of their idea.  You can find rules and submission guidelines at the Center for Entrepreneurship website.

But that's not the extent of the changes.  This year the event won't culminate with the Chico State finals on April 3 (6:00 pm in Glenn 112).  No the difference comes eight days later, when our top two finishers will present to another panel along with the top two finishers from three other California state universities -- Humboldt, Sacramento, and Sonoma.  That event, which has been dubbed The Future Four, will take place on Friday, April 11 (4-7 pm in Colusa 100).

By the way, one aspect that hasn't changed is that each finalist in the Chico State event will be presenting a five-minute power point presentation to a panel of distinguished judges. The same format: five minute PowerPoint followed by questions from a panel of judges will occur at The Future Four.

We are hoping The Future Four will become an annual event.  It is the culminating event of this year's Chico State eWeek 2014, about which I will write more in the near future.  For now, I want to acknowledge the cosponsors of The Future Four, my colleagues at the three other schools: Nancy Vizenor of the Institute for Entrepreneurship Education, Humboldt State University; Seung Bach of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Sacramento State University and Kirsten Ely of the Community for Entrepreneurial Leadership & Learning (CELL), Sonoma State University.  They have been a joy to work with and have already committed to doing this again next year in Sonoma. So the fun has just begun.

But, again, for you students to participate, you MUST get your abstracts in no later than this Thursday, March 13 at 5:00 pm.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Black History Month

As my students know, I'm a great fan of using history to help teach modern-day entrepreneurial tactics and strategy.  February is Black History Month and as such offers us a fine example of target marketing and also an outstanding female entrepreneurial role model, Madame CJ Walker - America's first self-made female millionaire.  Mme. Walker amassed her fortune in the early 20th century with a line of hair care and cosmetics products for African American women.

I was reminded of Mme. Walker's successes when I read about Tristan Walker (no relation to Mme. Walker) who recently put out a new line of products for the skin-care and beauty-product industry for African-Americans.  Mr. Walker got a training position of entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, a leading venture capital firm. His time at Andreessen Horowitz gave him a good idea about what makes a first-class company and what investors are likely to support.  Chief among those good ideas, of course, is finding a ready and willing target market.

In Mr. Walker's case that market is African-American men. Walker’s first product is Bevel, a set of shaving products for men with coarse and/or curly hair.  The shaving products are just about to hit the market and it will be interesting to see if they succeed.  It will take a lot to match the success of Mme. Walker, whose hair products dominated the African-American market for at least the first 25 years of the last century and are still available in limited supply today.

In each Walker’s case, of course the target market was clearly defined.  When done properly, a company with a well delineated target market has a good chance of success. 

Speaking of success, I’m hoping a great number of students this Spring will enter the Center for Entrepreneurship’s Business Concept Competition which culminates on Friday April 11 with our first-ever four school final, aka The Future Four.  You can read all about it on our website. I'll have a lot more to say about it in the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fall 2013 Business Concept Competition Results

A quick recap of this year fall’s Center for Entrepreneurship Business Concept Competition.

  • Peter Farsai won the contest with his app and associated website Outdoor Ally, which helps hunters and fishermen to understand local laws and proper regions. Apparently there are quite sizable fines if one is caught with say the wrong type of ammunition for a certain animal. Quite often hunters are unaware that they are even breaking a law. His app et al would be a great help to outdoorsmen and women everywhere.  
  •  The judges’ task was difficult and a bit arduous as there were twenty (20!) students who presented their ideas. I want to thank each for their contribution: Professor Daren Otten of the College of Engineering and head of the Sustainable Manufacturing here in Chico; local entrepreneur and a proud parent Chico State Entrepreneurship alum, Dan Roberts; Andrew March, one of the founding members of the CEA and now the general manager at CoffeeTable, an app and website for catalogs:   Katie Simmons, CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce; Mark Nemanic, CEO of 3Core; and Kevin Kinnell -- , who up until a few days ago was Entrepreneur in Residence at ChicoStart and now is head technology officer at Work Truck Solutions, a local startup with national plans.
  • I was quite impressed with all the presenters, that being said, I have to say that the members of the third place team who presented their idea PartitionPal, an easy to set up and inexpensive dorm room divider, were very impressive. Why? Because the Center or Entrepreneurship is dedicated to connecting students across campus. Though we are housed in the College of Business we actively encourage students from all colleges to bring their ideas to us and hopefully to collaborate. PartitionPal is the product of two College of Business Students: Luis Mejia and Chris Medellin, but the engineering was done by five students from the College of Engineering, Anyway, it is a great example of cross-college collaboration, which is one of our goals at the Center.
  • You may want to know where the winners go from here? The winners by the way were: Peter; Mandy Swearingen
    in second with her idea GRUPZZ, an easy way from students to collaborate in groups; and the aforementioned PartitionPal team in third place along with Sean Kvarda, for a Search Engine Optimization tool who also got the third place award. The prize money, while nice ($500 for first place; $300 for second and $100 for third) is hardly adequate. 
  • The Center has an Accelerator Fund, all of the winners can now present their ideas to our Due Diligence Board and request seed money of somewhere between $5000 and $10,000. Last year we awarded over $30000 to qualified groups of students. Furthermore, all students who receive funding from the Center immediately qualify for consideration for further funding from the 3Core Seed Fund. Past recipients of awards from the Accelerator Fund include Andrew Gazdecki of Bizness Apps and the team from Upper Park Designs.