Living in the San Francisco Bay Area means that many of my friends are either entrepreneurs or work at start-ups. It's a culture that we breathe here. Optimism and ideas. Makers and inventors. So when I was given the opportunity to be a judge in the Semi-Finals of the Intel + UC Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge, I accepted the chance to experience innovation from a global perspective.
Now, I'm not someone who attends conferences every week. Being in finance management, I generally stay tucked away at my desk, crunching numbers by the light of a bankers' lamp with my sleeves rolled up, and working on the nuts and bolts of the financing transactions. I also participate in the weekly partner discussions around new investments and portfolio progress. However, this was my first time as a judge at an entrepreneurship competition.
From everything I had heard about such competitions, I had the impression it would be very formal and somewhat stressful for everyone involved. The exact opposite was true. The judges met each other in the morning and it was clear everyone was excited to be there to support global innovation and to help demystify the Silicon Valley VC industry for the international presenters.
Sure, the entrepreneurs may have been nervous (and some probably jet-lagged, having come from India, Israel, China, Japan, Russia, etc.), but their enthusiasm and professional demeanor did not reveal their stress. Our panel watched presentations from a diverse group of companies both in terms of technology (IT to medical devices) and stage (no prototype yet to already generating revenue). We were also able to give each team individually tailored feedback after the judging deliberations were over. Here are the pieces I think every entrepreneur could learn from if they are preparing to present to a VC:
- Be specific addressing your competitors – a vague overview is not enough. How, exactly, are you going to replace the incumbents in your sector? What makes your idea better than theirs?
- Think two steps ahead of your current plan – an initial target market is focused and excellent; but what about your next two steps?
- Have your expert available – even if your science or technology expert is not the person presenting, it's important they are there to field questions when the presentation is over.
- Be prepared with questions for your judges (VCs) – I'm sure you'll have questions. If there's time, we may ask if you have any. Make a list before your meeting so you can start the two-way conversation every entrepreneur and VC relationship is based on.
Maybe it was the friendly environment of UC Berkeley or the buzz of enthusiasm from all of the presenters, but the thing that struck me the most was how everyone genuinely wanted to educate each other about their companies. Here was a crowd with language and cultural barriers that melted away when approaching a common idea: change the world.
I often field questions from my entrepreneur friends. Many want to know about this ‘opaque' VC world and how to gain access to the mound of money buried under that Hill of Sand on the peninsula. I always answer their question with a question: what's your idea? Because that conversation is how everything starts: introductions, more ideas, a plan, a meeting. There is a huge network out there to help entrepreneurs make their own path, and it's accessible to everyone regardless of geography. Just start participating.
Of course being East Bay, we at Claremont Creek are fortunate enough to have close ties to events like the Intel + UC Berkeley Entrepreneurship Challenge. We certainly share UC Berkeley's excitement for new ideas and collegiate attitude towards helping entrepreneurs map their way from concept to VC funding. Have that list of questions yet? We can help you figure them out. Let's start the conversation and see if we can partner with you.