Startup accelerators like Y Combinator and TechStars are known for producing the latest and greatest in Web startups. But there’s a set of established and accomplished companies—like ZipCar (NASDAQ: ZIP), Xenogen, and Constant Contact (NASDAQ: CTCT)—that also received startup coaching, mentoring, and connections to investors back in their day.
They went through a different program, run by Washington, DC-based Springboard Enterprises. Unlike the aforementioned accelerators (and the dozens upon dozens of imitators they’ve spawned), Springboard doesn’t directly offer funding or take equity. Instead, through its six-month-long venture forums, it focuses on connecting women entrepreneurs with mentors for intense coaching on their presentation and business strategy, and for connections to investors.
“It’s trying to build a network of individuals in entrepreneurial and venture communities who are supportive of these emerging growth ventures,” said Springboard director of programming Joshua Henderson in an interview about the organization.
Springboard, founded in 2000, is in the midst of its 23rd venture forum, which is focused on life sciences companies. It took its current crop of entrepreneurs to New York for a day of interviews with mentors last month, and brought the group to Boston last week for a full-day boot camp.
This past Thursday’s event included panels on topics like term sheets, getting press, and crafting the perfect pitch to investors. But much of the day was structured around active feedback sessions for the participating startups.
It featured an impressive roster of entrepreneurs, including doctors, lawyers, PhDs, and several who had built and exited multiple companies. But being a serial entrepreneur or accomplished professional doesn’t automatically make you a strong public speaker, so Springboard dedicated the first part of its boot camp to a session where the women presented for a few minutes on themselves and their accomplishments, while the audience of investors and mentors offered feedback. Below are some takeaways I caught from that part of the day.
—“I think any of these degrees shows stick-to-it-iveness. I value that tremendously,” said one audience participant after an entrepreneur started her presentation describing her failed attempt as an attorney (she passed the bar but decided she didn’t like the field). This sparked an interesting discussion on many of the candidate’s tendencies to downplay their achievements and degrees.
—This also brought up the suggestion by one audience member to “never disparage any profession.” Smart advice, given you never know the full backgrounds of the investors you’re pitching. Presenters were encouraged to say why they jumped into starting their company without negatively describing their previous job experiences.
—“You’re not learning the ropes, you’re running a company.” This came in response to one entrepreneur who described getting her footing at her new CEO gig. Audience members said she was clearly well qualified and understood the space, but spending time talking about how she was still learning “negated the positive.”
—Audience members advised entrepreneurs to go beyond rehashing their resume to telling their unique story—like one entrepreneur whose grandfather’s heart attack inspired her to start her medical monitoring company.
—The audience feedback showed that subtle changes in wording and phrasing can impact the overall feel of a presentation. One entrepreneur was cautioned for overusing the word “passion” and advised instead to be specific about what made her qualified to run that company. Another was told that the phrase “I believe” is stronger than “I think” when describing her company’s potential impact.
In its 10-year history, Springboard has worked with 481 companies, which have collectively raised … Next Page »
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