Recently, the AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear teams gathered in our East Liberty space to discover their thespian side. What do entrepreneurs and entertainers have in common you ask? According to Mary Lemmer, “successful entrepreneurs embody similar skills, including: effective communication, focus, teamwork, listening, confidence, creativity, and discipline.”
As an entrepreneur herself, working for several years at an early stage venture capital firm, and having trained intensively at famed improvisational program, The Second City, Mary brings a unique expertise that draws on the intersection of these fields.
Mary Lemmer: Improv4 Entrepreneurs workshop included improv exercises and techniques to help entrepreneurs build skills while having a blast! Some of the improv exercises included improv classics “Zip Zap Zop,” “I am a Tree,” “One Word Story,” and “3 Things” in addition to exercises developed specifically for entrepreneurs, like “One Word Pitch,” “My Company, Your Company,” and “Pitch Mirroring.”
Overall the workshop emphasized the key lessons:
Think Steve (Steve Jobs and Steve Carell).
How can you learn from improv to be a better entrepreneur?
How do you simplify your message so it’s clear & compelling enough to garner interest quickly?
Tell Stories. Tell the Same Simple Stories.
How to ditch the pitch & tell an investable story?
Be Present. Putting yourself in the present improves your personal story & investor presentation.
The result: Our teams of engineers, computer scientists, and business developers were engaged, had fun, and walked away with actionable advice. Despite the high-tech world we operate in, it is supremely difficult to run a company from behind a screen!
Many thanks to Mary for joining us, and to our founders who were quick to take on the challenge (who may or may not know we posted this silly video)!
Five student startups from Carnegie Mellon University are getting a little more support, earning $60,000 in investment capital through the 2014 McGinnis Venture Competition, a cross-campus entrepreneurial challenge.
Read more in Pittsburgh Business Times.
Business accelerators like Y Combinator and TechStars have come to occupy a critical geography in the tech landscape, and today two professors are announcing the results of their survey to determine which ones have come out on top at South By Southwest.
“The goal of the seed accelerator rankings project is to start a larger conversation about the accelerator phenomenon, its effects and its prospects for the future,” according to a presentation by Professor Yael Hochberg, a faculty member at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Read more in TechCrunch.
I think it is fair to say, AlphaLab operates at a high level of organized chaos. While we are busy working with our companies, recruiting for the next cycle, hosting community events, building our mentor network, and interacting with one of our 60+ alumni companies, we are constantly focused on the core objective, which is to equip entrepreneurs with the tools they need to build businesses. Some elements of our 20-week program are relatively straightforward – funding, office space (and lots of free food), access to world-class mentors, and a growing number of dedicated AlphaLab alumni and investors. But others are more subtle, like our educational sessions and programming. Kicking off the 12th cycle, we were excited to hit the ground running and wanted to be sure our calendar was teed up to deliver.
Founded in 2008, and one of only 10 accelerators worldwide, our program development has been organic; informed by market trends, specific company needs, and alumni feedback. But with a handful of companies in different markets, various stages of growth, and driving hard towards product/market fit, commonality isn’t always obvious. Furthermore, our companies’ time is valuable, so programming is limited to 2 events per week and scheduled around convenience (lunch, happy hour, etc.) Within those constraints, we asked ourselves: How can we deliver the most value? And here is what we came up with:
Week 1-2: Nuts & Bolts of running a company
During this time we provide an orientation of the AlphaLab program, introduce our companies to their mentors, and host a number of foundational education sessions which cover topics like mentor management, accounting, LEAN startup principles, and agile development.
Week 3-6: Building a Product People Love
The main objective of this piece of the program is to understand key components of product development including design, testing, and customer engagement. We rely on our alumni and mentors to lead sessions and provide their candid perspectives on building an awesome product.
Week 7-11: Business Model & Acquiring Customers *we are here (2/25/2014)
During this time we are still focusing on customer engagement (so important), customer acquisition/sales, and building a business model that scales and sets the company up for success.
Week 12-16: Raising $$$/ Finance
Our programming objectives during this time include understanding fundraising basics, approaching angel investors, and building a sound financial model. We heavily lean on the investment community to guide companies on these matters and host a number of angel/VC office hours, and an angel investor panel.
Week 17-20: Demo Day & Life after AlphaLab
Last few weeks we keep the calendar wide open to allow companies to focus on their business and prep for Demo Day. For this cycle we will be hosting a “Life after AlphaLab” panel led by our alumni and all other events will be squarely focused on preparing for Demo Day!
Our Summer/Fall 2014 application recently opened and closes April 4th. We will be hosting a number of events to introduce the AlphaLab program and the many benefits we provide. During our open app times, one of the more common inquiries we receive from serious candidates is to describe a day in the life of an AlphaLab company. Stay tuned for a series of “Day in the Life” posts over the upcoming weeks!
1 in 3 shoes bought online are returned, and when Shoefitr started as an AlphaLab company in 2010, they set out to fix that using 3D scanners.
Since then, the company has grown:
- From no traffic to an application that is served 30 times / second, all day, every day
- From scanning shoes in a South Side apartment to managing a distributed 24/7 scanning process at 5 warehouses in 3 countries.
- From a founding team of 3 to a team of 20.
Co-founder and CTO Breck Fresen will discuss the engineering challenges facing Shoefitr and lessons learned about everything from algorithm development to managing AWS infrastructure.
Please join us on Thursday, March 13th. RSVP as space is limited.