PayPal cofounder shares entrepreneurial wisdom
Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and first outside investor in Facebook, spoke on Tuesday at Boston University School of Management as part of his Zero to One book tour. BUzz Lab, the University’s new center for entrepreneurship operated by the School, hosted the sold-out event, during which the legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor served up plenty of his characteristically contrarian ideas on competition, progress, and technology.
From BU Today:
A word of advice for hopeful entrepreneurs: don’t pitch Peter Thiel on a restaurant. He’s not a big fan. In fact, the PayPal cofounder and billionaire investor thinks restaurant business plans are among the least sustainable, because eateries too often succumb to competition.
The restaurant taboo was one of the many rapid-fire nuggets of wisdom that Thiel shared with a packed audience on Tuesday at the School of Management auditorium. Thiel was there to discuss his book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, and to answer questions through moderator and Boston Globe innovation columnist Scott Kirsner (COM’93). BUzz Lab, the University’s new center for entrepreneurship, invited Thiel to campus to wrap up its inaugural semester with a bang. Within 72 hours of announcing the event, all 400 seats were spoken for, according to Ian Mashiter, an SMG lecturer and BUzz Lab director. The event was also broadcast on Livestream.
Thiel said the idea for his book evolved from a class on entrepreneurship that he taught at Stanford in 2012. He ran into a challenge early on when he realized that entrepreneurship greatly relies on serendipity. “Every moment in the history of business happens only once,” he said, adding that the next Bill Gates won’t build an operating system and the next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine.
Thiel challenged the audience to consider the question: “What great company is nobody starting?” And he asked them, much as he does job prospects, to “tell me something that’s true that very few people agree with you on.” Neither promises an easy answer, but that’s the point. “We live in a world where courage is in much shorter supply than genius.”
Thiel offered his own truth when he challenged people to think of competition as the antonym of capitalism. “What you always want to be aiming for as an entrepreneur is a monopoly,” he said. Google has dominated the search engine market since 2002, he said, although their business moves try to hide that fact. They waltz out new technologies, like smartphones and self-driving cars, under the Google banner so they can say, “‘No, we’re not the monopoly the government is looking for.’”
Successful entrepreneurs find niche markets. “All happy companies are different, because they found something unique to do,” Thiel said. Those that follow trends are bound to fail. “When you hear ‘cloud computing’ or ‘big data,’ you should run away as fast as possible.”
Read the full story here.
Photo by Tom Vellner (COM’13)
LinkedIn profiles informed school rankings
Boston University is considered one of the top start-up schools in the U.S., according to Forbes. The business magazine ranked BU 28th on its 2014 most entrepreneurial universities list.
Forbes based its ranking of the nation’s most entrepreneurial research universities on an “entrepreneurial ratio,” pitting the number of alumni and students who have identified themselves as founders and business owners on LinkedIn against the school’s total student body (undergraduate and graduate combined).
Boston University School of Management is leading the charge at the University for more innovative academics, offering a newly enhanced curriculum that fosters and cultivates entrepreneurship. The School’s Entrepreneurship Programs Office also hosts various entrepreneurial events, including new venture case competitions, business start-up boot camps, and a Pitch & Pizza competition, during which participants have 60 seconds to pitch a business idea to a panel of experts.
See the full Forbes list here.
CEO magazine says yes, SMG’s Vinit Nijhawan says no
Excerpts from BU Today:
A generation after Massachusetts was dubbed “Taxachusetts” for its putative hostility to business, the charge has been resurrected in the magazine via its latest state rankings, determined by a survey responded to by 736 CEOs. The commonwealth was rated 47th among states for the warmth of its business climate, slightly better than New York, Illinois, and dead-last California. Texas won the best-of designation.
“If I were designing Hell for a company, I couldn’t do as good a job as Massachusetts has,” one anonymous CEO told the magazine. Another groused that the company was moving operations out of Massachusetts and three other states and firing employees there, as “the regulatory and tax environment has become untenable.” The magazine itself slammed Governor Deval Patrick’s plans to raise income taxes and eliminate corporate deductions (coupled with a cut in the sales tax), proposals that legislators may scale back.
We ran the matter by Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of BU’s Office of Technology Development and a School of Management lecturer. He has started or served on the boards of about a dozen technology companies since coming to Massachusetts from Canada a quarter century ago. “The biggest one grew to 400 people worldwide,” he says, “and it had about $60 million in sales.”
BU Today: California and Massachusetts are hubs for technology companies. If they‘re so awful for business, why would CEOs cluster in those states?
Nijhawan: It’s really clear why: because a lot more emphasis is placed in those states on human capital and lifestyle. If you’re starting a technology company, you have enormous access to technology and people in those places, more than anywhere else. That suggests that the CEOs they interviewed were from bigger companies, especially companies in low-margin commodity markets, like retail. There, the difference between having a 6 percent state sales tax versus a 3 percent tax probably makes a difference to your bottom line, because your margins are thin.
But retail’s very complex, because your outlets could be all over the country. Your income gets taxed differently if you’re here, so who gets affected? Basically, in-state shareholders and management. In the past 30 years, CEO salaries have increased dramatically. So I could see CEOs getting a big personal hit if they were here, versus, say, New Hampshire, which has no sales or income tax. But people aren’t going to move out of Massachusetts to Texas because of sales or income tax.
Read the full article on BU Today.
Team Wins First Prize in Energy Efficiency Category
By Mark Dwortzan via BU College of Engineering
A College of Engineering and School of Management team took first prize in the energy efficiency category of the annual MIT Clean Energy Prize on May 6, one of six premiere regional clean energy student business plan competitions in the U.S.
A collaboration between students and faculty from ENG and SMG, the team, Aeolus Building Efficiency, won $20,000 for its business plan and presentation for a full-service company that utilizes software to optimize airflow and reduce energy consumption in large office heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems. The technology could be a game-changer for today’s commercial buildings, which account for 18 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions and 36 percent of national electric utility demand.
Consisting of ENG’s senior Ryan Cruz, Associate Professor Michael Gevelber, and former Professor Donald Wroblewski from the Mechanical Engineering Department, and MBA candidates David Cushman, Jonathan Ellermann, and Benjamin Smith from SMG, Aeolus outperformed 15 other teams from nine states, including three semifinalists representing Harvard University, MIT, and the University of Chicago.
Aeolus drew on ENG members’ expertise in building energy efficiency and HVAC systems optimization, and SMG members’ business development, operations, project management and sustainability experience. The team’s presentation impressed a panel of six judges from academia, government and industry who based their assessments on environmental benefit, creativity, execution and financial strategy, market and customer knowledge, and team strength.
Benjamin Smith (MBA’13) relished the opportunity to compete against outstanding teams and technologies from some of the nation’s top academic institutions. “Not only were we able to develop a comprehensive and compelling business plan, but the competition gave us an opportunity to substantiate that plan with cleantech industry leaders,” he observed. “It was an amazing experience.”
Taking part in the competition reinforced Ryan Cruz’s (ME’13) aspiration to pursue a career in the energy efficiency field. “I was able to learn more about the business side of engineering and aspects of building energy efficiency that I would not have normally been exposed to in the classroom,” he said.
“It was a great learning experience for all the team members, and we’re proud to get BU’s name recognized at such a highly competitive event,” said Gevelber (ME, MSE, SE). “We also had great mentoring from other BU faculty in both schools, and received support from BU’s Office of Technology Development, Institute for Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) and Sustainable Neighborhood Lab.”
HVAC systems account for a large portion of energy use in mid- to large-sized buildings, and energy use and cost scales strongly with airflow. This is particularly true in older buildings designed when energy was much cheaper and HVAC systems were designed with high air flow rates. Based on concepts developed by Paul Gallagher (ME, MS’13) in his master’s thesis, Aeolus aims to commercialize its software-based service that enables room-by-room measurement and optimization of airflow rates, thereby reducing energy consumption while maintaining thermal comfort and meeting ventilation requirements.
Invented by Gevelber, Wroblewski, and Gallagher and now being patented by BU, the breakthrough technology uses existing, computer-based building automation systems to reduce large building HVAC energy consumption by up to 20 percent without equipment installation, intensive manual labor or long payback periods.
“What’s amazing about our approach is that the system would take the same time to work on a building the size of Sargent College as it would for the Prudential Center,” Gevelber explained.
Formed in 2007 to help develop a new generation of energy entrepreneurs and companies and sponsored by NSTAR and the U.S. Department of Energy, the MIT Clean Energy Prize offers awards in three categories—renewable energy, infrastructure and resources, and energy efficiency. The competition’s $20,000 Energy Efficiency Track Prize is sponsored by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which seeks to accelerate the success of clean energy technologies, companies and projects in the Commonwealth while creating high-quality jobs and long-term economic growth for the people of Massachusetts.
Pictured above is Team Aeolus Building Efficiency: Professor Michael Gevelber (ME, MSE, SE), David Cushman (MBA’14), Jonathan Ellermann (MBA’13), Ryan Cruz (ME’13), and Benjamin Smith (MBA’13) with $20,000 Energy Efficiency Track Prize. (A sixth Aeolus team member, former Professor Donald Wroblewski (ME) was unavailable for the photo.)
Entrepreneurial Success Starts With a Strong Pitch
Would you shop at a natural products convenience store? Can you think of a way to use a portable hologram projector? These were two of the 25 new business ideas proposed at the Pitch & Pizza event on October 26, the first stage in the three-part 2013 New Venture Competition. Open to the public, the New Venture Competition features BU students and alumni competing for the opportunity to win a spot in BU’s Startup Summer Camp and a package of startup legal consulting worth $10,000.
From October’s Pitch & Pizza, eight teams or individuals advanced to the semifinals in March (listed below, and pictured in the video above).
BU students and alumni with a business idea are invited to enter the next round of Pitch & Pizza on Friday, February 1, 2013. Applications will open in January.
The first stage of the New Venture Competition, Pitch & Pizza, is simply a 60-second verbal pitch for a new business. The judges allow visual aids, but no PowerPoint. In the semifinals (Friday, March 1, 2013), the deliverable is an executive summary and presentation to a panel of experts. At the finals (Wednesday, April 3), teams will deliver a five-minute presentation and executive summary to angel investors.
Executive-in-Residence, Lecturer, and event director Beth Goldstein said, “[The judges] were all impressed with the range of business concepts presented at Pitch & Pizza I, and we look forward to seeing more at Pitch & Pizza II in February and how all the winning entrepreneurs move forward with their projects. To support their efforts, we’ve developed a new program called our Terrier Track New Venture Workshops, which we’ll begin rolling out as soon as students return for their spring semester in January. These will be 90-minute intensive workshops every Friday afternoon, led by experts in launching businesses. Anybody can participate and we’re planning on offering this on the cloud so our alumni can also watch.”
The New Venture Competition is sponsored by the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC), housed in Boston University School of Management, and first stage judges include SMG entrepreneurship faculty, invited alumni, and sponsors from the venture capital, legal, and entrepreneurship worlds.
The eight October 26 Pitch & Pizza teams that will advance to the March semifinals are:
- Consumer Website Help, Peter Smith (BSBA’13)
- Customized Cupcake Bar, Jill Acquarulo, (BSBA’13), Soleil Schwabe (BSBA’13), and Emily Burdett (BSBA’13)
- DiagnosQuick (People’s Choice Winner), Timothy Chanoux (BSBA’13)
- euMetrica Project, Dmitri Boulanov (ENG’10)
- I.Deal.Lokal, Sinisa Baranac (BSBA’13)
- NineBrain, Inc., Arun Rai, (MED’14) and Ruby Kandah
- Read Ahead, Matt Uvena (MS·MBA’14)
- TownRally, Asad Butt (MBA/MS in Media Ventures ’12)
Torres-Palma is cofounder of OoOTie, Boston’s only online bow tie boutique
Excerpts from BU Today:
Dressed in a blue oxford shirt and neatly pressed khakis, Diego Torres-Palma looks like any other MBA student. But what sets the 26-year-old entrepreneurial engineer apart is his choice of neckwear. On this particular day, it happens to be a butterfly style, three-inch paisley silk bow tie.
As cofounder of OoOTie, Boston’s only online bow tie boutique, Torres-Palma (GSM’13) is an ambassador for what has become one of the hippest accessories in men’s fashion. In 2010, he and friends Matthew Pearlson and Adrian Rodriguez (both MIT grads) set out to hatch a business. They noticed that bow ties were showing up more often in fashion magazines and on celebrities, and knew they had their product. The company launched that year with only an iPhone app and a smattering of followers on Facebook and Twitter.
OoOTie sold some 600 bow ties last year, many of them custom orders for weddings and bow tie diehards. The three-year-old business is projected to sell 1,000 bow ties this year.
Read the full story and see more videos on BU Today.
Nathan Bernard (BSBA’12) delivered his elevator pitch for Boston University Urban Business Accelerator
Nathan Bernard (BSBA’12) visited MSNBC’s “Your Business” as part of their elevator pitch segment, where he delivered his entrepreneurial pitch for feedback from guests Beth Goldstein (Senior Associate for Distance Learning, Boston University Institute for Technology and Entrepreneurship Commercialization) and Jarrod Barood (Executive Director, Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, Fairleigh Dickinson University).
Bernard, who prepared and refined his pitch with the help of SMG faculty and staff, founded the BU Urban Business Accelerator (BUBA), which pairs student teams hungry for experience with local businesses in need of assistance in organizing their financials. BUBA had a successful pilot this past summer with two student teams and local businesses, and has six new client businesses this fall.
Boston University’s Beth Goldstein was a recent featured expert on MSNBC’s Your Business, a show devoted to entrepreneurial and small-business success.
Goldstein is a School of Management research fellow, director of the School’s $50K New Venture Competition, and alumna (MBA ’91), as well as founder of Marketing Edge Consulting Group and author of the book “Lucky By Design: Navigating Your Path to Success.”
Goldstein, along with co-commentator Angela Jia Kim, answered questions from MSNBC viewers in two segments, “The Secrets to Effective Window Displays” and “Finding a Distributor and How to Increase Repeat Customers.” Among the advice Goldstein gives:
- On choosing an educational program for entrepreneurs: One size won’t necessary fit all. First, assess your own strengths and weaknesses, and then choose resources that can help you address the latter.
- On choosing a distributor: It is crucial first to define clearly who your audience is; only then can you strategize how to target them.
- On small-business sales and marketing strategies such as window-displays: For any entrepreneur or small business, both your product’s image and your personal appearance are the ways you will project “your message to the world.” Entrepreneurs should think of both as the “brick-and-mortar” version of “the elevator pitch.”
Watch both MSNBC Your Business segments here:
The Secrets to Effective Window Displays
Finding a Distributor and How to Increase Repeat Customers
Story via BU ITEC:
Congratulations to Daniel Gnecco (BSBA’12) whose company, KontrolTV, won first place in this year’s 12th annual $50K New Venture Competition. KontrolTV’s mission is to design an application that would make it possible to use a mobile phone like a television remote control, allowing the user to find and launch TV listings. The application would also allow you to see what your friends are watching on TV in real time. Gnecco started his company with his father, Juan Pablo Gnecco, and Alan Queen, an engineer from Gnecco’s hometown of Atlanta.
In addition to winning BU’s Competition, Gnecco has landed $500,000 in seed money from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. KontrolTV was also selected as the winner of the TeleEMG People’s Choice Award, representing the company the audience believed is most likely to succeed.
Landing the second place position was BU alum Michael Adelizzi (ENG’02). His company, Stabiliz Orthopaedics, based in Philadelphia, focuses on developing innovative orthopaedic medical devices for the treatment of traumatic bone fractures. The company’s lead product is a hybrid metallic-resorbable plate and screw system that allows surgeons to customize the healing process, eliminate the need for future surgeries, and reduce overall health care costs. Michael started the company in 2008 with colleagues Douglas Cerynik, MD and Bradley Grossman.
Third place was won by City Fuel Company, headed by Diego Torres-Palma (MBA’13) and MIT graduate Matthew Pearlson. City Fuel is a small-scale renewable fuel technology company that plans to put Massachusetts at the leading edge of renewable energy and transportation technology. Its technology can convert new and used vegetable oils into fuels and chemicals.
Judges for the competition include: Louis Volpe (MBA’78), Kodiak Venture Partners; Charles Lax (BSBA’82), Grandbanks Capital; Eugene Hill (MBA’80), SV Life Sciences; and David Verrill, Hub Angels Investment Group.
The $50K New Venture Competition is generously supported by ITEC’s valued business partners: Cummings Properties, GrandBanks Capital, Kodiak Venture Partners, Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, Paul Horn & Associates, SV Life Sciences, TeleEMG, and WilmerHale.
Eyes on the Prize
Story via BU Today:
Like any entrepreneur with an idea for a start-up, Daniel Gnecco dreams of scoring a 15-minute meeting with a venture capitalist. Tonight, his dream becomes reality.
Gnecco (SMG’12) is one of four finalists in BU’s annual $50K New Venture Competition. Beginning at 6 p.m., each will have 20 minutes to pitch his company to a panel of Boston venture capitalists. But win or lose, Gnecco says, the real prize is getting facetime with prominent members of the Boston business community.
“To have some of Boston’s most well-known people in industry validate your ideas will raise everybody’s eyebrows and generate interest,” says Gnecco. “That interest can turn into investments.”
The contest, now in its 12th year, is sponsored by BU’s Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC). Created to encourage students to write business plans for their start-up companies, it is open to current full- and part-time graduate and undergraduate BU students, as well as all alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years.
“The beauty of having teams write a business plan for the contest is that they learn how to write one; they go through all the thinking that goes into it,” says Beth Goldstein, ITEC senior associate for distance learning, who is in charge of the competition. “Winner or not, they can take the lessons learned from writing a business plan and go and run another company.”
This year’s finalists, selected from 34 entrants, have started companies in life sciences, clean energy, mobile applications, and medical devices, “all cutting-edge industries,” says Goldstein.
Registration is required to attend tonight’s final round of the $50K New Venture Competition, which will be held at 6 p.m. in SMG’s fourth floor dining room, 595 Commonwealth Ave. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m. Read the full story.