In any given week, I meet with two or three entrepreneurs who want to talk with me about their business--just to get some feedback. They know that I used to be on the venture capital side and vet business plans and ideas on a regular business. I'm happy to do it when I take some interest in the idea, mostly when I feel like I can add some value. Plus, I feel like it's actually useful for my own business--to see what technologies and processes other people are using and to help generate new ideas. I've been very fortunate to learn from folks like the guys at Union Square Ventures, to see successful companies get launched and grown, and to have the opportunity to run a business on my own, so I do feel like I have something to add. That's why I'm teaching entrepreneurship at Fordham University.
However, I'd imagine finding me as an up and coming entrepreneur must feel a little bit like finding the A-Team--especially if you weren't in established innovation networks. You can't even go see Mr. Lee at the Chinese laundry first. (If you don't get it, you didn't grow up in the 80's.) I don't put myself out there as an expert for hire or have a fancy nickname for myself like Dr. Startup. In fact, a lot of really good people in NYC to talk to about your startup idea are totally under the radar--just helping give feedback to whoever just happens to stumble into their network.
On the other hand, a lot of the people most above the radar on this kind of thing aren't exactly people I'd recommend to go see. I have to assume every city has this, but I like to call them the "Venture Vultures"--various startup strategy folks with murky resumes who will promise to connect you to capital, technology help, strategy help who simply don't have a lot of there there. In the Web 2.0 boom, tons of people hung up shingles offering to up startup businesses, and I'm hoping the recession will weed out most of these folks, because I think a lot of them do more harm than good. When entrepreneurs with real potential run into these pseudo-virtual incubator strategy consulting types and get bad advice or no real results, and that's who they see trumpeting themselves in the community, it gives the community a bad name.
The reason why these folks can self-promote their way to noteriety, however, is because of an educational vacuum for new businesses in NYC. If you had an idea for a new business, or you had already built a product, service, or technology and you needed business strategy help, where would you go? What about if you were a student?
If we really wanted to improve NYC's ability to support innovation, more so than money or space, I think putting more effort into educating students about entrepreneurship would be worthwhile. The bottleneck for creating new companies in NYC isn't desks or angel capital--we have plenty of both--it's the fact that there just aren't enough entrepreneurs with good ideas who know how to execute on a business. We need more students learning the technologies that allow innovation and more students taught how to turn their passions into ideas--and then into businesses (or just find their passions in the first place).
EDIT: Let's be clear on what I'm saying. I think NYC is a great place to start a business--I just think that not enough of the best local minds are in the mindset that such an endeavor is possible or worthwhile. On top of that, those that really want to learn need more access to the experienced people who can teach them best practices. I actually think the infrastructure for a startup here in NYC is pretty good--we're just not getting enough new entrepreneurs at the top of the funnel. New York City schools don't exactly pump out lots of students with the business or tech wherewithal (or interest) in starting a new company (athough perhaps that might change now that they can't just assume they'll get hired by big banks anymore). NYC students are taught how to work for big companies, not to start small ones.
I'm specificially interested in programs for students. It's an entirely different thing to take someone who has already established themselves in a career and help them with a new business idea. They at least have networks. They know people in their industry and they have a sense of how to create value.
I want to meet whoever is working with local students. In fact, Fordham has generously donated space for about 100 people during the day from 9-5 at their Lincoln Center Campus on Tuesday, April 28th to bring everyone educating local students interested in entrepreneurship together. I'd like to hold a small conference to share ideas, solutions, best practices, and step one is figuring out who is out there.
If you are involved with a university incubator, tech transfer office, entrepreneurship program, degree, or certificate, or if you just teach students in programs and subjects likely to create innovators, please get in touch with me.
I've created a form to gather all the interested parties. Even if you can't make it on that day, please let me know who you are and what you do.