Jamaican/Thai/BBQ Tacos

- by Josh Wine, VentureLab Graduate Assistant

During my time at VentureLab I have learned many things. One is that [Principal] Harold [Solomon] really likes metrics…But one of the more important things is the concept of customer discovery.  The whole aspect of talking to people (customers) before you start something (a startup!) sounds like common sense, but as many of us know common sense ain’t that common.  Especially when you have a GREAT IDEA. After all, how could anyone not want to buy my widget if it solves every problem and I have been perfecting it for some time now?  People just need to be made to understand how much better their lives would be if they buy my product, right?

I don’t mean to sound condescending of anyone who falls into these mental traps, because I have done it numerous times myself.  The problem is that you can get sucked in to your great idea, and develop tunnel vision on something that you are passionate about.  This doesn’t confine itself to individuals; groups that have ideas get themselves into “group think” and don’t go outside themselves to test their ideas. After being exposed to the notion of customer discovery, it’s pretty easy for entrepreneurs to figure out that they should talk to customers, and I believe this concept is even more important in this day and age….

The other day I was thinking about how the Internet, in all its awesomeness, has ruined things for people like me.  I am not particularly intelligent or good-looking but I do have the ability to work hard and take action.  If there’s something I want to try and do, I find out about it and act. Twenty years ago that would have meant a lot of work: going to the library or maybe the courthouse, using the card catalogue or renting a storefront.  Nowadays, people can gather knowledge on a subject with a few clicks of a button and can launch a business with another click.  In this day and age, it is so easy to get businesses started that it is even more important than ever to do customer discovery.  Just look at all the obviously horrible apps, websites, food trucks, you name it that were started because it was so easy to get these businesses off the ground.

Studies show approximately 95% of apps are unused.

And of the 649 million websites in the world today, 462 million are inactive!

If some of these entrepreneurs had spent a day or two interviewing folks to see if people actually wanted Jamaican/Thai/BBQ tacos, they might not have wasted a lot of time and money.

Ready to try your hand at Customer Discovery? Contact the folks at VentureLab to get started: www.venturelab.gatech.edu

Josh HeadshotAbout the author: Josh Wine is a military fellow pursing his MBA at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. As an officer in the United States Coast Guard, he has served as aviator flying the H-65 Dolphin helicopter on search and rescue and counter narcotics missions throughout the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for the last decade. Josh will serve as a financial manager for the Coast Guard upon graduation. While at Georgia Tech, he has taken part in the startup community, serves as a graduate assistant at VentureLab, and has launched two of his own enterprises. His projects are sharethebonus.com, an arbitrage website that allows individuals to share referral codes when signing up with things like credit cards, cell phones, or banks, and vayando.com, an online marketplace connecting travelers to emerging economies with local microentrepreneurs for a more emersive and authentic travel experience.

Juicing for Ideas

Wayne Li 11_2014

Last Wednesday evening, 20 Georgia Tech students, faculty and staff gathered in the Idea Incubator in the library to ideate with Professor Wayne Li.

Using juicers.

Li provided a Cuisinart juicer and a Philip Stark design and asked opposing teams to juice as many oranges as they could in 5 minutes. The exercise engaged everyone in the room – if you were not actually squishing oranges, then you were cheering for a team from your seat. starck

At the end of 5 minutes, Li challenged the room to answer, “Which product is best?”

Crickets…There wasn’t a clear answer! The “best” product depends on design, and users’ needs.

“Design is a participatory exercise,” says Wayne Li, and so are his workshops. Li’s workshops are free and open to everyone on campus.   Cuisinart juicer

Interested in attending January’s event? Send an e-mail to Brandy.nagel@venturelab.gatech.edu to have your name added to the invite list.


Why Should Entrepreneurs Visit the Library?

Ever had one of those great ideas that just burns a hole through your brain?  It’s all you think about.  And now you’ve managed to get your closest friends worked up about it, too.  But you’re not sure where to go from here: you don’t want to give the secret away to the wrong people, but you need to find out if the world thinks it’s as awesome as you think it is. And you don’t want to waste time or break the bank finding out how important this idea is to the world.

Where do you go next? VentureLab, to learn Customer Discovery: the process of interviewing potential customers before you invest time and resources into a “really cool idea.”

At VentureLab, we’ll help you perform excellent Customer Discovery, and we’ll also recommend you use another valuable resource: the Library. Before you invest time discovering customers and obsessing over an idea you’re trying to tease out of unsuspecting prospects, wouldn’t it be interesting to know that your idea is not already patented and licensed to Apple, Tencent, Medtronic, Caterpillar, etc…?

If you’re in Atlanta, make an appointment with Patent Librarian, Lisha Li – lisha.li@library.gatech.edu. If you live in Georgia, you can gain access to the library with your student ID or Driver’s License.

The Patent section may be the most entrepreneurial-friendly section of the library! When you look at an issued patent, you’ll see who invented it, who or what owns the license (your competitor), and you might learn a few tricks you had not yet considered for your idea. That’s all on page 1 of the issued patent, a 2-minute read if you’re the diligent type. You will see detailed diagrams, business or university affiliations (businesses = competitors), creative use cases, and references to other patents.

So make a date at VentureLab and the library. It will save you time, money and put you ahead of the pack of wolves you are competing against.

Chicks Rule.


Rachel Ford, Second Place in the 2014 InVenture Prize Competition

Did you know that women founded about half of all small businesses in the United States? Even in areas such as high tech startups, where this number has been historically much lower, we are seeing a change in the trends. Women have begun pitching a broader range of startup ideas, which has lead to more involvement from venture capital firms. This is great news, not just because diversity is almost always a good thing, but also because women have the potential to make darned good entrepreneurs.

  • Women tend to take smarter risks. Of course, to run a startup you have to be willing to take some risks, but women, for the most part, tend to shy away from risk that is unnecessary.This kind of careful behavior is great when you’re starting a business, because it causes you to ask more questions, run more tests, analyze more data, and basically do whatever it takes to make your business seem like less of a risk.
  • Women don’t mind asking for directions. In general, women aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something, which opens them up to a wealth of valuable information as they seek out mentors, ask questions, and look for feedback.

    Elnaz Banan Sadeghian

    Elnaz Banan Sadeghian, Winner of the 2014 GTRIC Edison Prize

  •   Women are relationally minded. To a large degree business is built on relationships. There are relationships between partners, between employer and employees, and between businesses and customers. If you look at your business from this perspective, and view the relationships in your company as long-term, it will be easier to build a team that feels valued, respected, and supported. It also gives customers a feeling of ownership when they have relationships with people at the company. Women also value their lives outside work, which makes them less susceptible to burnout.
  • Elnaz photo  Women multitask well. Most women are adept at juggling multiple roles simultaneously, working toward several priorities and handling a full plate. Multitasking is a vital skill for an entrepreneur, so the fact that most women already multitask effectively makes them valuable to a startup.
  • Elnaz photo Women tend to take things personally. They take it to heart when something doesn’t go as planned, and that leads to better products, better service, and an overall better company. They’re not afraid to change course if they think they’ve made a misstep, and they’re not afraid to put in as much work as it takes to succeed.
  • Women are good listeners. Conversation is a valuable entrepreneurial tool. Networking is essential when you’re building a business, and talking to people opens you up to valuable opportunities. Not only that, but good communicators are able to create deeper bonds, and give other people the opportunity to get involved and help the business thrive.
  • Women offer a higher return on investment. According to recent research published in 2014, Venture Capital firms that invest in woman-owned businesses tend to perform much better than those that are completely man-led. Private technology companies, too, tend to be more capital-efficient when women are in charge, yielding a 35% higher ROI.

In a traditionally male field, isn’t it nice to think that women might actually have an entrepreneurial edge? Whether you’re a woman looking to start your own business or an investor weighing all the factors, it’s time to take a step back and acknowledge all that women have to offer a startup.

Special shout out to Georgia Tech students Elnaz Banan Sadeghian, the winner of the 2014 GTRIC Edison Prize,

and Rachel Ford, who secured second place in the 2014 InVenture Prize Competition!


Life Sciences Folks: Accelerate Your Startup!

Are you a Life Sciences student, researcher, or early-stage startup? Then we’ve got an opportunity for you! This September through October, Georgia Tech is hosting the 2014 Southeast Regional Life Sciences Startup Accelerator to help scientists explore commercializing their research.

Our Life Sciences Startup Accelerator offers an opportunity for folks involved in therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices, and health IT to learn and grow. Here, you’ll learn about FDA approval, prototyping, IP reimbursement, testing, and SBIR. There will also be opportunities to tour GCMI and the T3 Labs.

For Life Sciences students and researchers, this startup accelerator is a chance to learn from customers and take the first steps in launching a business around your research. By participating, you’ll be part of a proven program that has helped researchers dramatically increase their SBIR application success rate, allowing them to launch companies in one-third the expected time.

Have you already launched your Life Sciences startup? The program is open to early-stage companies that are pre-clinical or have done minimal testing. If you’re interested in filing your first SBIR applications, this program could be a great next step for you.

Based on the Lean Launchpad Life Sciences program developed by Steve Blank, the Life Sciences Startup Accelerator was first launched at UCSF in 2013, and is being adopted by the NIH for their I-Corps curriculum. The six-week I-Corps curriculum is designed for 3-person teams who want to commercialize research. After a 3-day kickoff, there are 5 weekly meetings and a 2-day conclusion. In-class lectures and keynotes are combined with out-of-class learning—getting out of the building and interviewing people to learn about your business model. It is necessary to commit one day per week on top of class time in order to be successful in this program.

This program is not open to individuals; you must participate as a team with 3 or 4 members. These members should consist of:

  • One or two entrepreneur leads to provide leadership and organization of customer discovery activity, as well as acting as spokesperson for the project
  • One principal investigator (optional) for technical leadership
  • One mentor to provide business expertise and guidance for the team—this person should be an entrepreneur or executive with deep industry experience

The 2014 Southeast Regional Life Sciences Startup Accelerator is open to researchers in the Southeast, and all Life Sciences research projects are eligible. Unlike the national I-Corps program, there is no requirement for a lineage to NSF research funding. The last day to apply is August 29so if you’re interested in learning more, visit http://www.icorpssouth.com today.

What’s Hot and What’s Not: Tinder for Technology

Back when computers took up a whole room, the things we take for granted now were the stuff of science fiction. Today, technology changes at such a rapid pace that it can be hard to keep up. Staying on top of the trends can be dizzying, but here are some areas to watch this year:

  • Data Privacy is a big issue. In the wake of some pretty disastrous security breaches, consumers are understandably paranoid. As people begin to pay more attention to their digital footprints, successful companies will be the ones who jump on the privacy bandwagon. New measures are being taken to protect privacy—especially for children, digital privacy services let users control how much of their information is accessible, and IT systems are beginning to be created with privacy embedded into the design.
  • No-Touch Interfaces use existing pattern recognition technology to create something fundamentally unique. We’ve gone from keyboards and mouses to touchscreens and texting, with each new generation of technology requiring us to develop new skills. With no-touch interfaces like Microsoft Kinect, Apple’s Siri, or Google Glass, the technology is beginning to adapt to us instead of us having to adapt to our computers. It’s not unreasonable, in fact, to expect computer interfaces to become more and more “human” over the next decade or two.
  • 3-D Printing might just change the world as we know it. This technology has been in existence since the 1980s, but it’s just starting to come into its own. Today’s 3D printers make a variety of objects through the use of a laser of extruder that can build an object, layer by layer, into three dimensions. Imagine the ramifications! Mechanics and entrepreneurs can print their own parts, components, and prototypes, customized to their specifications. Want to know something that seems even more like futuristic science fiction? One day, medical companies may be able to use 3D printing to create organic organs for transplant recipients.
  • Wearable Technology puts your data where you need it. Do you have a Fitbit? Do you crave Google Glass? We’re used to having data at our fingertips whenever we want to access it, but what if your fingertips aren’t close enough for you? Wearable technology offers information as close as your goggles, wristwatch, hoodie, or ring. In fact, there are even snow skiing goggles meant to show the skier speed, altitude, and vertical descent, while plotting the position on a resort map, playing music, communication with others, and even taking photos.
  • Online Video Streaming’s impact is a big topic of conversation. Will it kill cable? What’s its impact on movie theaters? Even more intriguing, what’s its impact on the environment? The answers to those questions are, in order: maybe, probably, and about the same as or a little bit less than renting a DVD. Why is online streaming so popular? People enjoy the convenience of being able to watch movies and television wherever they are, whether on their television screen at home, or on a computer or mobile device, anywhere they choose. And while there has been speculation that streaming entertainment will be less energy intensive than manufacturing and transporting DVDs, a recent study indicates that, while the value is slightly better with streaming over driving to a video store, the comparison with mailed DVDs is basically equivalent.

All of this new technology is interesting for a consumer, of course, but it’s a particularly exciting time to be an entrepreneur. Whether it’s building a more secure data system, coming up with the next big app, figuring out how to reduce the energy output needed for all these gadgets, or finding some other, never-before-imagined niche, the sky is the limit for those with an active imagination and the power to bring their ideas to fruition. The next big technological leap may be in one of the areas we’ve discussed here, or it may be something no one’s dreamed of…yet.

Are you a Georgia Tech student with an idea for a startup? Or are you interested in commercializing your research? Connect with VentureLab Principal Colin Ake: https://calendly.com/colinake

Mentor a VentureLab Team: You’ll Be Glad You Did

VentureLab offers amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs, both new and established. The appeal of the program for new businesses is obvious; as the #2 incubator in the United States, VentureLab has a proven program to launch successful startups. But what is the draw for an already established business, already flourishing in the private sector? The opportunity to mentor emerging startups.   Mentor [Read more…]

Meet Narvaro, one of Georgia Tech’s Summer Startup teams

Team Members:
“The Narvaro team is made up of 4 mechanical engineers: Chris Taylor, Kevin Green, Devin Andrews and Tyler Sullins. All of us graduated from Georgia Tech in the spring of 2014. Chris is the mad scientist who came up with this crazy idea [to create 3D presence], and he pulled us together for senior design.”

Business Thesis:
“Our system allows a user to be somewhere else by giving them a 3D vision of a remote area. Our technology uses a head-mounted display to show the video from two cameras, and the user can control the cameras with the simple head turns.

We were a bit different from most teams in that we started with a core technology and have been searching for different applications. This has led to a number of amazing experiences for us. We have been to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for a drag race, we got to see a live robotic surgery where we saw inside the chest cavity of a patient in HD 3D, and we even got to crawl around inside a Bradley Fighting Vehicle at Fort Benning.”

What do you think of Startup Summer?

“Startup Summer is crazy; it’s inspired us to push ourselves to see what we are capable of. The level of talent and commitment among all the teams is infectious and really pushes us to strive to be better everyday. We’ve learned so much in the past six weeks about how the world actually works.”

Share with us an “ah ha!” moment you’ve had.

“Through our experiences, we’ve found that things in the real world don’t work as smoothly as you’d think they would. For instance, when interviewing officers at Fort Benning about armored vehicle operation, we found that oftentimes the viewports on the vehicle become obscured with dust or mud. When this happens, a soldier has to physically get out of the vehicle to act as its eyes. Our take-away from an experience like that was that there are lots of problems with dangerous consequences that people put up with. It’s opened our eyes to the world by showing us there are numerous ways we could improve people’s situations by solving their problems.”

What questions do you still have about startups?

“Most of our questions deal with the step after finding legitimate customer demand, particularly with growing and scaling a company. Scaling a hardware company is a complex task because it requires design for manufacturing, suppliers, shipping and quality control.”

If you weren’t doing Startup Summer right now, what would you be doing?

Tyler: “I would be taking an internship for the summer and then moving on to graduate school back home in Florida.”

Chris: “I would be working for a startup or on the next idea.”

Kevin: “I would be working at a local product development company.”

Devin: “I would try to find an internship while I try to get into graduate school for an MBA.”


Mentoring an NSF I-Corps Team

Recently, we sat down with NSF I-Corps mentors to uncover their thoughts on the mentor/team relationship. The conversations were varied, but there were common threads throughout each discussion:

  •  There doesn’t appear to be a “right model” for mentoring an I-Corps team, and mentors’ involvement varies from team to team.
  •  Many of the mentors we talked with stressed the importance of finding a good fit for both sides. The Entrepreneurial Lead (EL) and the Principal Investigator (PI) need to interview the potential mentor; likewise, the mentor should interview them. Even if the team doesn’t end up starting a business together, the mentor, EL, and PI spend a lot of time together, and an effective chemistry—a shared interest—is a must.
  •  The more all parties involved have thought through what they want to accomplish, the better.
  •  Mentoring an I-Corps team is a 15hr/week commitment…minimum. There are mentors who spend considerably more and some who spend significantly less; relationships vary, and it’s important to discern upfront the expectations.
  •  Though many mentors expressed an altruistic benefit to mentoring, they almost all agreed that there has to be more than just the “give-back” aspect….
    •  …Mentors have to love building businesses…
    •  …And the technology/product the team’s focused on…
    •  …And the idea of transitioning technology from an educational environment to a commercial one.

Finally, many of the mentors we spoke with suggested that they are risk-takers, and that there is a rush when mentoring a team. The element of risk involved with potentially starting a business is the edge that motivates the team to push through the program.

Ready to experience I-Corps from the frontline? Contact Harold Solomon today about mentoring a team.



Good news: GT VentureLab is the exception to the rule

According to Dhruv Bhatli, Co-founder and director of Research at UBI Index, the world’s top universities do not generate the best business incubators. With the exception of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab and University of Melbourne-based Melbourne Accelerator Program.Badge_UBI_Global Top 25_250x150_2014


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Christine Hang & Arnab Chakraborty of Flow MedTech

Christine Hang and Arnab Chakraborty are graduates of Georgia Tech (GT), where they both earned a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. They are co-founders of Flow MedTech, a startup focused on stroke therapy management. Specifically, their company provides a therapy for atrial fibrillation patients by targeting the left atrial appendage.
Flow MedTech 2014

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Startup Gauntlet is Hitting the Road

At Startup Gauntlet, it’s understood that the best learning doesn’t take place inside our building. Practicing what we preach, we’re taking our show on the road this summer to locations across the southeast, where aspiring entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to take in all that Startup Gauntlet has to offer without making the trek to Georgia Tech. Sponsored by universities, we’ll bring Steve Blank’s Customer Discovery process, along with the Business Model Canvas, to help future moguls discover scalable and profitable business models.Paul Freet [Read more…]

Five Essential Components of Entrepreneurial Success

So, you want to be an entrepreneur, but do you have what it takes? You might have a great idea, but plenty of people have those, and most don’t end up launching successful careers. What’s the secret of success in business? It might not be easy to quantify, here are five things that every entrepreneur needs to have.

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Here’s What Happened on my First Week of Work at VentureLab

Here’s What Happened on my First Week of Work at VentureLab

by Melissa Heffner

I started on a Thursday…melissa heffner 2014

All geared up for an inspiring day of working and learning (does that even happen on day one?), I was waylaid by a building-wide fire drill. Friday, with renewed determination, I walked into the building and was greeted by the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring through the office, encouraging us to give the lead singer “Three steps toward the door.” If I held any doubts about joining the VentureLab crew, they were quickly erased. I knew this was the right place for me. [Read more…]

Meet SonoFAST, one of Georgia Tech’s Summer Startup teams

Meet SonoFAST, one of Georgia Tech’s Summer Startup teams

Team Members:
Stephanie Camstra: Graduated – BS in Mechanical Engineering
Gabriela Lamas: Graduated – BS in Biomedical Engineering
Jorge Mena: Graduated – BS in Biomedical Engineering
Keller Tomassi: Graduated – BS in Mechanical EngineeringStartup Summer 2014

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