Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Look Forum -- Mentorship for Startups

I often see startups seeking funding prematurely. They lack market validation, product validation, and/or a solid management team. Many times these startups engage investors only to find out that their business has too many holes to fund at this time. To solve this problem, the Austin Entrepreneur Network created the AEN First Look Forum which is an event that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to give their fastpitch to a group of mentors and then meet those mentors in a one-on-one "speed dating" exercise to gain feedback on their business and potentially line up a mentor.

AEN ran its initial First Look Forum last Wednesday with several startups from the Austin on Rails group. We lined up the entrepreneurs in a row and gave each one sixty seconds to pitch their company. We then lined up the thirteen mentors and had each one give a sixty-second pitch on their background and experiences. Afterwards we assigned each entrepreneur to a table and had the mentors rotate through to meet each entrepreneur.

Five minutes doesn't sound like much time and it isn't. It's just enough time to decide if there's a reason to followup afterwards for a coffee and explore the potential of bringing the mentor on-board as an advisor or to gain general coaching.
The short time frame means there's little time for pleasantries (how are you doing today?, etc).

In talking with the entrepreneurs afterwards the key lesson learned is that the entrepreneur needs to know in advance what help is needed and to ask questions in that direction. Tangential questions can quickly burn up your five minute window so you need to say on topic.

To join the program, each entrepreneur filled out a one-page application. In some cases, the entrepreneur left key information blank such as revenues. I encouraged each one to not leave blanks on the form and if the information is confidential to indicate so. A blank indicates to the reader that the startup doesn't have anything in that category.

If you're an entrepreneur or a mentor, we welcome your application to join us in a future First Look Forum. Please email me at director (AT) austinentrepreneurnetwork (DOT) org and I'll send you the application form.

Best regards,
Hall T.