At Northeastern, many students have or are already implementing innovative business ideas. But as almost every young venture will eventually find out, there comes a point when the only way to keep moving forward is with some sort of investment. Many will ask, ‘How, and when, should I approach investors?’ or ‘What makes a startup investment ready?’ These questions and more were all addressed at IDEA’s first biannual Investment Forum.
The forum, dubbed IIF, featured a panel of experienced investors, including David Verrill, Hub Investment Group; Jeffrey Beir, Between Novels; Jo Tango, Kepha Partners; Bill McCullen,LaunchCapital, LLC; and Marcia Hooper, HooperLewis, LLC.
With over 150 students, faculty and others in attendance, moderators Ashkan Afkhami, IDEA Founder, and Genna Scisci, IDEA Communications Officer, opened the floor by asking the panel how an entrepreneur should approach investors.
Bill McCullen’s advice: get a warm introduction and have your pitch down. He told the crowd of entrepreneurs to put themselves out there, go to networking events and meet people. The entrepreneurial community – especially Boston’s – is a vibrant and welcoming one. Chances are if you meet enough people and pitch them your idea, you’ll stumble across the perfect investor-match for you, or at least someone who can put you in touch with the right people. Remember: investors want to help you.
While it is necessary to network and meet the people who are involved in the entrepreneurial community, this is not the only step needed to get the first meeting. Marcia Hooper told the crowd of entrepreneurs they must “do their homework” – research nearby investment firms to find a good fit for a startup. If you are a social entrepreneur, don’t go to a high-tech investment firm! Find someone who knows your business and wants to spend time with you on it.
When you land your first meeting, investors will be straightforward. According to Jo Tango, if they’re not planning on investing, they won’t waste your time. He also provided some insight to what goes on in an investor’s head when meeting with an entrepreneur. “Is this someone who listens? Follows up? Takes suggestions?” He looks for entrepreneurs who not only have a great idea and lots of passion, but are ready and willing to learn from others along the way.
When looking for the right investor, it’s important to be open, as Tango said. It’s also vital that an entrepreneur finds someone who’s not just willing to give money, but is willing to give time. “You want an active investor,” Marcia Hooper told the crowd. “Someone who helps you recognize good and bad opportunities, and guides you along the way.” An entrepreneur and his investor are going to spend a lot of time together, so it’s essential that that there is chemistry. All panelists agreed: the entrepreneur-investor relationship is a huge factor in whether or not a startup will be a success.
After an hour and a half of questions from the attendees and discussions between the crowd and panel, one thing, among many, was clear: the key to any successful startup is passion – complete and total belief in the venture being pursued. Tango puts it quite simply: “Entrepreneurs see the world differently. It’s a gift – you either have it or you don’t. And you find out fairly quickly if you have it.”
The IDEA Investment Forum, held biannually during the fall and spring semesters, is an opportunity for students to receive valuable feedback on early stage venture funding from a panel of experienced investors. Student moderators lead the discussion, asking the panelists a variety of questions. Through this discussion, the panel provides the audience with useful and candid information to help them determine steps they need to take to move a venture forward.
IDEA’s mission is to help ventures become sustainable and investment-ready. The IDEA Investment Forum’s goal is to introduce emerging entrepreneurs and their ventures to angels and venture capital firms. The next will be held in spring 2011.