Last weekend, 17 University of Maryland (UMD) alumni came to the Smith School’s Van Munching Hall to jumpstart their business ideas at the Dingman Center’s re-vamped program, Dingman Jumpstart. The program helps alumni increase their odds of building successful businesses by learning how to reduce customer risk and develop clear action plans. The alumni, called Dingman Jumpstart Cohort Alpha, experienced a series of lectures and workshops presented by an all-star lineup of instructors who have all been trained in the National Science Foundations I-Corps curriculum. The weekend kicked off with a Friday evening reception complete with speed pitches then two days of lectures and workshops followed.
Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center, began the weekend by asking the founders to check their egos at the door because the biggest risk to any founder is ego risk. This set the stage for honest and open discussions during the next 48 hours. Below we share key insights from the Dingman Jumpstart instructors.
First up on the weekend was Edmund Pendleton, director, DC I-Corps Regional Node and director, VentureAccelerator, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute. He laid the ground work for what instructors within the I-Corps program are trying to accomplish. Pendleton defined a startup as a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable, scalable business model. The I-Corps mantra is get out of the building and talk to people. In the end, we’re trying to improve your odds of success, not picking winners.
Next was Ed Barrientos, CEO of Brazen Careerist and Entrepreneur in Residence at the Dingman Center, who focused on customers and value propositions. He began with admitting that all companies, startups and large corporations, have a hard time keeping their value propositions in focus. A key insight for the founders to focus on solving a problem. He went on to say that customers don’t care about the product you’re trying to sell them, they care about solving a problem or fulling a need. Startups must come to terms with the idea that customers do not exist to buy your product or service, you exist for them. Again, tying the lecture back to the I-Corp theme of talking to customers early and often.
With all this hype about talking to customers, Dean Chang, took the floor to talk about customer discovery. Chang is associate vice dean for innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD. He focused much of the session on finding customers and best tips on conducting interviews. Each person had to list 10 people they could interview encouraging the group to start with people they know. Then they had to list places where they might find customers. The session closed with a series of role playing among participants to get them comfortable with the interview process.
The final lecture was given by Fine who discussed the ins and out of channels. Much of the discussion focused on physical versus virtual channels with Fine noting that the the second industrial revolution shifted from physical to mobile. The session brought the lectures full circle as the participants learned that a channel is simply how a company communicates with and reaches its customer segments to deliver a value proposition.
In between these lectures Ben Solomon, CEO and founder, Hyperion Technologies, provided interactive workshops on the business model canvas and Launchpad Central.
Cohort Alpha is now working independently to conduct interviews. They’ll get some advising from our lineup of instructors along the way. In the end, each participants should be able to get to a ‘go or no-go’ decision on their startup idea.
To see more photos from the weekend, check out the photo album on our Facebook page.