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Stories. Reflections. Entrepreneurial Thoughts.

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July 2013

Entrepreneur Panel: Customer Development

Today’s entrepreneur panel topics started in customer development and expanded to general entrepreneurship and life lessons.

The entrepreneurs today included:

Evan Baehr – Co-founder of Outbox

Isaiah Kacyvenski – Head of Sports Segment at MC10

Chris Goldstein – Co-founder of Kartis

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Exploring MIT Campus

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When not in classes, visiting labs, or working on their companies, students enjoy exploring the MIT campus: finding lectures, playing sports, or enjoying the beautiful sculptures and engaging aura that the campus exudes.

Determining your customer persona

An important part of assessing your customer needs and targeting your customer is establishing a customer persona.  This means taking your target customer segment and developing a profile, including a photo, for a specific customer within that segment, preferably one you’ve interviewed during this customer needs assessment week.

When developing Launch, this was easy – the customer persona was the high school version of the founders.  They were able to target and tailor the program based on what marketing they would have found appealing and what they felt was missing in what they wanted in their high school educational experience.  This example was used in class, even using photo examples.  Below are photos of founder Laurie Stach from high school.  No, the shirt with a limit on it wasn’t part of her typical wardrobe – this was for “nerd day” at her school.  🙂

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Harvard Innovation Lab Visit

Today, we got to tour the new Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) on the campus of the Harvard Business School.  The i-lab serves as a resource for students from across Harvard interested in entrepreneurship and innovation, helping them grow their ventures at any stage of development and covering a wide range of disciplines.

The Launch students loved seeing the openness of the co-working space, inspirational collaboration and whiteboard methods, and even made some powerful connections by networking and talking about their ideas and learning more about what others were working on.

“The iLab tour was so amazing- and the most important thing was realizing that there is really an infinite potential for idea development and novel solutions to needs.” – Student Feedback

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Students began taking part in a financial market simulation today to value their businesses. Each of them is able to act as an investor in any of the businesses except their own, gaining exposure to the challenge of evaluating new ventures.  Each team was given an opportunity to pitch their idea to their classmates to try to get the most investor money.

Businesses with high potential see a high initial “stock price”, while those viewed to have less potential by their classmates will be lower. This is intended to act as an early opportunity for teams to learn from market feedback and react accordingly.

The investor simulation has two additional times for teams to pitch updates to their business and for students to adjust their investments.  Ultimately, they want to be holding shares of the teams that are scored highest by the judges at the final pitches to get the highest return.

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MIT Martin Trust Center Visit

Christina Chase, the Entrepreneur in Residence at the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, was gracious enough to give us a tour of the center today.  The Trust Center provides the knowledge, support, and connections needed for MIT students to become entrepreneurs.

Christina provided business advice to many of the student teams during the tour and was a mentor to one team throughout the program.  A student of the Trust Center, Gabe Blanchet, also came to the classroom on multiple occasions, providing advice to the students both on their businesses and their futures.

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Dr. Paul Stoltz is considered the world’s pre-eminent thought leader on the science of Mindset. He is author of four international bestselling books on the subject, guest lectures for the Harvard Business School Executive Education program, and has his AQ theory and methods integrated into HBS executive development and MBA programs.  Dr. Stoltz joined our classroom all morning to teach how to handle the adversities that we face everyday as individuals and entrepreneurs, and not just cope with them but harness them.

For more on the power of AQ and resiliency training, check out the PEAK Learning website.

Entrepreneur Panel: Innovation

Today, students had the opportunity to ask a panel of successful entrepreneurs about how they came up with their ideas, what they did to test to make sure it was a good idea, and how they had to pivot based on feedback.  The crucial things they learned were that getting customer feedback early is critical, all of these ideas had changed from their early days, and success requires being truly passionate about your idea.

The entrepreneurs gracious enough to spend time with the students were:

Jonathan Yaffe – Co-founder and CEO of AnyRoad

Clemens Raemy – Co-founder and CEO of Safer Taxi

Ryan Adams – COO at Jewish Venture Mentoring Service

Chris Goldstein – Co-founder of Kartis

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Having assessed their overlapping passion, skills, and market opportunities with their teammates, each team had a short list of interest areas that could help them guide their brainstorming session.  Teams grouped together, collaborating and engaging to help each team come up with at least 50 ideas that suited their interests.

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Taking a break with BollyX

Classes here at Launch are all good and fun, but every now and then we like to shake it up just to keep things interesting.

Enter: BollyX. Started by some Harvard, MIT and Cal grads, BollyX combines the energy and fun of Bollywood choreography with an intense cardio workout into exciting fitness classes that are now offered around the country.

Of course, this was more than just a fun opportunity for exercise and a little student bonding. This week’s lessons are all about finding the right team and then coming up with a great business idea. At Launch, we believe that a great business idea comes from a combination of Passion, Skills and Market Opportunity. Our students also got to hear from BollyX’s cofounders about how they came up with their business idea and how BollyX combines all three of these things.

  • Passion: All three of the cofounders loved and had practiced Bollywood dance and other forms of dance for years.
  • Skills: Two of the cofounders had previous experience with dance groups and teaching others to dance. One cofounder was even a part of a dance group that made it to the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent!”. In addition, all three cofounders had a mix of business skills from previous business school and work experiences.
  • Market Opportunity: There’s been a huge surge in new exercise trends recently – Crossfit, SoulCycle/FlyWheel, barre classes, Zumba, etc. BollyX fits nicely into this new crop of businesses finding interesting and innovative ways to get people excited to stay fit!

Anyways, we think BollyX got our students’ hearts pumping and their creative juices running… just in time to choose their business ideas! Special thanks to Minal, Mayuri and Shahil for taking time out of their busy schedules to inspire our students!

Business Simulation

Teams had the unique experience early in the program of selling to one another through one simulations, learning the difficulty of this process even when you know your target market well

“The market simulation made us realize what we could have improved on, and even though it was on such a small scale, it’s easily applicable to any size business idea. We mainly learned that surprises are bad and we should really talk to and get to know the customer before we release the final product.” – Student Feedback

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First Day of Classes

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Students learn what it means to fail, pivot, and test your assumptions from day one.  This takes the form of hands-on simulations and interactive lectures, where students can often be asked to come to the front of the room to provide summaries or to debate the different sides of a case.

Kickoff Lunch

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We kicked off today with a lunch for parents and students to get to know one another, the Launch staff, and be inspired by today’s keynote speaker, Anita Elberse.  Anita is a professor at Harvard Business School of Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries,  a very sought after course, where her research sometimes finds her working with icons such as Lady Gaga and Jay-Z.

Anita shared some great lessons including:

  • Fail spectacularly
  • A good idea / product is only a small part of the battle, it comes down to execution
  • The real value is in the “blockbusters”
  • Be a superstar

Anita also had some fun by putting parents in the room on the spot with their knowledge of pop icons.  All in all, a great way to kick off what will be a fun and intellectually stimulating summer program.

Greetings from Cambridge!

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Today’s the day! Students will be arriving today from all over the country and overseas and moving into our beautiful MIT dorm. We like to joke here that our students are in for a rude awakening when they actually get to college because their dorms will likely be half the size and about 30 years older than the dorms that we’re living in here at MIT. Plus, you can’t beat this view of the Charles River and Boston. Stay tuned for more adventures!

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