Today was Day 1 of the IBM SmartCamp Global Finals, a three-day event which kicked off today with a Master Class for the eight startup finalists, featuring a powerhouse lineup of guest speakers. The goal of the day was to provide the finalists with insights and advice on tackling various aspects of growing a startup company.
Martin Kelly, Partner at IBM Venture Capital Group, was emcee for the day and after a brief introduction handed things off to Deborah Magid, Director of IBM Venture Capital Group. To set the stage for the day Deborah walked the eight finalist teams through some of IBM’s strategic priorities for 2013 and beyond, emphasizing the importance of being at the forefront of new wave technology, like mobile and cognitive computing.
Toward mid-morning, after a briefing from the IBM Public Relations team on some media best practices and tips for dealing with reporters, the finalists heard from Professor Robert Farrokhnia of Columbia Business School. After amusing the crowd with a slide depicting the proper pronunciation of his name (a picture of an oak tree in the distance + “nia”), Prof. Farrokhnia spoke about working with strategic partners. He advised the finalists not to let their boards be dominated by one or two investors, and also busted some myths about different kinds of venture capitalists, like the myth that corporate VCs are not good for startups.
Up next was Gerald Brady, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Bank, who gave an energetic presentation on what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. One potent quote he shared with the audience was, “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.” He also shared an excellent and hilarious French video on the importance of story-telling, which surprised everyone with its twist ending:
On the point of story-telling, Brady emphasized to the finalists that in order to get investors on board, they should be able to explain what they do to a 9-year-old, since investors are rarely interested in the complexities of the technology and rather want to understand the value.
The bulk of the Master Class Day, however, was presented by the next speaker Ken Morse, serial entrepreneur, sales veteran, and Visiting Professor from ESADE Business School. During Morse’s presentation, the audience got a taste of what it must be like to be a student in one of his classes–with Morse pacing up and down the aisles and keeping everyone on their toes by asking direct questions to various individuals. Among the many gems of advice he gave, here were some of the highlights: You can’t get great sales people unless you can convince them that they’ll make more money working for you. You won’t get anywhere with your business until you can convince potential clients that you thoroughly understand THEIR problem. Everybody and anybody is not a client; you have to know exactly who you’re selling to. And finally–an audience favorite–it takes a pig and a chicken to make a ham omelet. The difference is that the chicken was only involved; the pig was fully committed. As a startup, you have to be the pig, and be fully committed to your clients and solution.
The day wrapped up with an informative and lively panel discussion, featuring Bill Reichert, Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures; Kazim Yalcinoglu, Metutech-Ban; Patrick de Zeeuw, Co-Founder and CEO, Startupbootcamp; and Phillippe Herbert, Partner, Banexi Ventures. They talked about global investment and cultures of innovation, but perhaps the most fun topic was the craziest thing a startup has ever said to them. Bill Reichert recalled an incident where a startup claimed that their company would be worth $30 trillion. “You mean the GDP of the entire planet?” he asked incredulously.
The day was interesting and informative, generating excellent questions and discussion among the finalists. Tomorrow the eight startups will work closely with expert mentors to refine their business models and pitches even further, before the final presentations this Thursday Feb. 7th. Already, the IBM SmartCamp Finals are off to an exciting start! Make sure to follow @IBMSmartCamp on Twitter for live updates this week.