Tuesday, October 30, 2012

George Bell’s Take on Boston’s Innovation Scene

George Bell really enjoys mentoring young entrepreneurs and teaching them to articulate the value of their budding businesses. As the current President and CEO of JumpTap, former Managing Director of General Catalyst Venture Partners, and one of the Co-chairs for this year’s unConference, George has a wealth of experience to share. He comes to the unConference because he enjoys hearing about fresh new ideas – your fresh new ideas – so come prepared to share them with George. We guarantee he’ll have something to teach you in return.

Below you’ll find his thoughts on entrepreneurship and innovation in Boston, with an important key takeaway: if you’re given 15 minutes to describe your brilliant idea, be able to do it in five.

What makes Boston an innovation hub?
The presence of so many universities sets us apart. We have some of the best universities and programs in the country for engineering, technology, and entrepreneurship. And young people coming out universities don’t find themselves bound by conventional thinking.

Are there any elements we’re lacking that would make our ecosystem thrive?
We need to up the ante on risk and increase the risk profile of startups in Boston. Our entrepreneurs need to think more boldly; we need more “change the world” ideas, and we need more high quality entrepreneurs. Once we have the ‘change the world’ ideas here, we need to cultivate every reason in the world for that entrepreneur or CEO to believe they can build a great business here.

As a Co-chair of the unConference this year, what appeals to you most about the program?
I love the freshness of ideas. I think that’s the most exciting thing to me about spending the day there.

What do you enjoy most about meeting and mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
I enjoy watching their presentation and packaging skills improve. One characteristic in young entrepreneurs is initial excitement about an idea, and that’s absolutely vital to the birth of a business.

On the other hand, young entrepreneurs need to be able to define their idea very crisply – can they describe it in one or two sentences? Have they vetted whether competitors are already attacking this idea? They need to know if it is likely to have a big impact, if it’s successful. What are the necessary ingredients to success? What are the things that can trip up this fragile idea and company? In most cases, young entrepreneurs haven’t thoroughly addressed these tough questions or researched the metrics to support their answers. So, you often find a fantastic level of enthusiasm with a very shallow sense of how, in reality, they’re going to move from idea to company to success.

I’ve found young entrepreneurs surprised to learn that they need to compress all of these considerations into single sentence or two sentence answers. My take is if you can’t tell me the answer to these key questions in a simple and compelling way, I assume that you don’t know the answers. And if you don’t, I have no confidence that the venture, despite the fact that it may be a nifty idea, can get off the ground.

How can entrepreneurs make the most of this year’s unConference?
They should rehearse their pitches extensively.  Although the pitching sessions are technically 15 minutes long, hold a mock rehearsal. Prepare for the worst case scenario in which, for one reason or another, the meeting starts five minutes late and has to end five minutes early. If you had to tell me your idea – why it’s sensible, why no one else is attacking it the way you are, and why there’s a big market for it – could you do it in five minutes?

Be sure to find George at this year’s unConference, but come prepared to pitch your idea in just a few succinct, compelling sentences!

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