On March 21, 2013, the Silicon Flatirons Center’s fifth annual Entrepreneurship Conference focused upon The Future of Entrepreneurial Finance. The Conference convened three panels of experts from business, government, and academia. After the conference, the Silicon Flatirons Center produced a report summarizing the discussions at the conference. The full report and a video of the conference is available here. Below are some of the highlights.
The Entrepreneurship Conference traced trends in the dynamics of outside investment into startups. Three insights bear special mention. First, the Conference examined whether, in association with early investments into startups, capital can be effectively unbundled from control. Several trends in startup investing – ranging from the activity of “super angels,” to expanded use of crowd funding, to wider reliance of Rule 506 exemptions – suggest that the traditionally tight coupling of capital and control in startup investments may be evolving in a way that increasingly unbundles capital and control.
Is this unbundling a good thing for entrepreneurs? It depends on both the entrepreneur and the investors. The experience, advice, and connections that an involved investor can provide to a less experienced entrepreneur can be critical in a business’s success. On the flip side, an experienced entrepreneur with a strong network may be better off with unbundled money, especially with an investor that is over-involved or otherwise challenging to work with.
Second, in examining the JOBS Act, panelists underscored the importance of removing the general solicitation ban in Rule 506 exemptions. Participants observed that this development will make Rule 506 even more attractive to emerging companies and, overall, may be the most important element of the JOBS Act.
The equity crowdfunding provision, although it garnered a large share of the discussion, was not seen as the most important part of the JOBS Act. When one considers all of the implications of raising capital through equity crowdfunding it becomes apparent that it will not be the right path for many startups.
And third, in looking to the future of entrepreneurial finance, innovation could occur at two levels. One, at a regulatory level, the Bank Holding Act merits examination to determine whether it is locking in 10-year terms for VC funds, even in sectors such as biotechnology where a longer fund term may be appropriate.
Two, at a private contracting level, funds may be well served to consider changes that include raising the commitment of general partners from 1% to 3% of a fund, allowing more flexibility with respect to GP team changes during the term of a fund, and more transparent reporting that would allow LPs to invest in “sidecars” alongside the VC fund. Each of these is elaborated upon in the full report.
The conference included a lot of spirited discussion of the landscape and future of entrepreneurial finance. While the landscape is perhaps more fractured than it has ever been, there is a spectrum of funding options available. This may shake up some of the traditional funding entities, but it has the potential to be a boon for startups of all stripes.Read More
Startup Summer, a summer internship program that combines a ten-week internship at a Denver/Boulder startup with a series of weekly evening events, focused on teaching the student-participants the fundamentals of entrepreneurism, is now accepting applications for its second year. Fletcher Richman, an electrical and computer engineering major at the University of Colorado participated in the inaugural year of Startup Summer this past year and has kindly offered to share his thoughts on the program:
Last summer was the best one of my life. Every college student should have an experience like Startup Summer. It was not just about the opportunity to have an incredibly valuable summer internship at a fun, fast-paced Boulder company. It also included evening events and speakers unlike any I have ever experienced. I heard stories from some of the world’s best entrepreneurs in a very personal, low-key setting. After every event, the speaker would stay for long periods of time and answer as many questions as I could think of. The speakers always had insightful, applicable advice that I could apply to my internship or my own projects.
Beyond the hands on experience and personal wisdom, my main takeaway from the summer was an amazing group of new connections and friends. I have continued to stay in touch with many of the speakers from the summer, a few have continued to advise and mentor me. Startup Summer also led to a whole new group of friends. It was a group of talented, like-minded, and just plain fun people. We all got along really well, and even organized a couple social events of our own. I can’t wait to see where we all are in five years.
Startup Summer is looking for students at colleges or universities who are aspiring entrepreneurs and want to accelerate their development by getting plugged in to one of the hottest startup scenes in the nation. Unlike last year when the program was limited to students in Colorado, we are opening the program up to any student actively enrolled at a four-year program in the United States.
The program includes:
- A paid ten-week internship with a Front Range startup; the internship will include frequent interaction with the company founders and management team
- The Startup Summer seminar series, featuring prominent entrepreneurs teaching classes on entrepreneurship
- A weekly social event with business leaders in the community
- A close-knit community with your peers in Startup Summer
- An opportunity to interact weekly with a personal mentor experienced in startups and entrepreneurship
If you are a student at a four-year college with a passion for entrepreneurship, or know a student who would be interested, you can get more details and apply to Startup Summer here.
Fletcher Richman is an engineering student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is well on his way to becoming a serial entrepreneur.
Ben Abell is a 2011 graduate of CU-Boulder’s Law School and currently the Executive Director of Startup Colorado.Read More
Success depends on finding and connecting with the right people. Whether you are a startup entrepreneur or an investor, however, finding the right investor or the right company is hard. In fact, it is too hard.
We wanted to do something to help the Colorado startup community make these connections. Something social, visual, and powered by the community. As part of the lead-up to the release of Brad Feld’s new book Startup Communities, and inspired by Represent LA’s mapping project, Brad partnered with the Silicon Flatirons Center and Startup Genome to develop a community-driven social startup map for Colorado.
We’re pleased to announce the public release of the Startup Genome Map. Your job: get found on the map. The purpose of the map is to connect investors and entrepreneurs. It is a community driven resource, and it needs your support. Be a part of the Startup Genome project, explore, and get on the map. http://www.startupgenome.com/city/boulder-co
The link to the map has a permanent home on the Entrepreneurial Culture page of this site.Read More
Bearish views about the value proposition of legal education proliferate. Journalists and commentators argue that graduates today don’t receive the right training for the few existing legal job opportunities. With an average debt load close to $100,000, so the analysis goes, students can be worse off for completing a juris doctrate. As a recent law school graduate – and one with a slightly above average debt load – I sympathize. Yet while criticisms ring true for graduates from many law schools, I value my educational experience at Colorado Law.
Colorado Law is well situated to help students succeed because, among other things, its faculty and staff cultivate exceptionally close relationships with the surrounding legal and business communities. As a result, Colorado Law graduates understand the legal marketplace. JDs pursuing transactional careers, moreover, understand the business models of companies that they will have as clients. These and other factors indicate that Colorado Law is ahead of the legal education curve.
A Roundtable discussion held in February of 2012 illustrates this point. The Silicon Flatirons Center – housed within Colorado Law – convened leaders of law firms and corporate departments to discuss how to better train students amid a turbulent legal environment. Sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the Roundtable participants identified skills and traits they expect from the very best lawyers they employ. A new report, available for download here, summarizes that conversation and supplements it with outside research.
The report analyzes the following issues:
- A “disaggregated” legal landscape underscores why legal education must adapt. Disaggregation, the process by which various legal services are broken into their constituent components, allows corporate legal departments to identify activities and tasks that require less specialized expertise or can be automated or standardized. These elemental tasks can then be individually allocated to the most efficient and cost-effective provider. As a result, the range of options available to meet legal department needs has expanded to include traditional large law firms, boutique law firms, in-house lawyers and contract managers, contract lawyers, legal process outsourcers – both domestic and off-shore – and non-legal service providers like technology professionals, tax professionals, and consultants. Automation tools, including deal contract management systems, self-help tools, wikis, deal rooms, etc., expand the range of options even further.
- Disaggregation has rendered the traditional training model obsolete. At one point in time, law schools taught students how to think like a lawyer while law firms taught new graduates how to practice law. As disaggregation shifts market share away from law firms to other legal services providers, however, many firms can no longer afford to train new lawyers. Consequently, the traditional approach to legal education is no longer viable. Experienced attorneys and law students must rely on new educational methods to learn the skills they need to remain competitive.
- Today’s lawyers must master more than just fundamental legal skills. The Roundtable’s discussion focused on the skills, mindsets, and training opportunities needed for success in the new legal environment. To be sure, Roundtable participants identified the continuing need for strong fundamental legal skills and, ultimately, sound professional judgment. But they further highlighted the need for lawyers to have complementary competencies, including process management skills, business savvy, digital literacy, and emotional intelligence. With fewer traditional training opportunities available, students, employers, and law schools must work together to change the structure of legal education and continuing training.
- A menu of reforms to legal education should be considered. Participants agreed that legal education must be seen as an on-going process – viz., a continuum that persists well after receiving a JD – especially as the legal profession changes at an accelerated pace. Roundtable participants identified potential reforms to respond to the evolving environment:
- Enhanced admissions screening- Admitting the right law students and helping them develop the skills necessary to succeed upon graduation and throughout their careers is a difficult challenge. However, Roundtable participants suggested that law schools assess interpersonal skills through interviews, require substantive pre-law school experience, and admit only those with a true passion for the law. These traits will either accompany the skills and mindsets identified as necessary to success, or they will allow the law student to easily adopt them.
- Increased experiential and business training opportunities- Traditional legal training is insufficient to prepare law students for a career in transactional law immediately upon graduation. Experiential training will prepare students to “hit the ground running” when they enter the workforce, and an emphasis on maintaining a general business aptitude will help them succeed in the long run. Colorado Law already offers a unique variety of experiential classes ranging from accounting for lawyers to contract drafting to corporate tax (a complete list of courses can be found here). In addition to these classes, students are encouraged to participate in clinics (like the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, which I participated in), externships, and internship opportunities offered each semester. Colorado Law should look to improve and, where appropriate, expand these offerings.
- Improved continuing legal education- Roundtable participants suggested unique post-law school training opportunities for recent graduates. “Apprenticeship” arrangements between the law school and a company or government office would allow graduates to receive specific classroom training immediately applicable to a practical setting. A similar arrangement between a company and a law firm would allow the two entities to split the time and cost of training the graduate, while offering broader learning opportunities. Roundtable participants also discussed the need for increasingly substantive CLE opportunities for experienced lawyers and those retooling their careers. At Colorado Law, Dean Phil Weiser has evinced a commitment to training the larger legal community through CLE sessions and multi-day training programs. The “hot topic” CLE series, for example, provides training on e-discovery methods, how to think like an entrepreneur, alternative billing methods, and much more.
- Unconventional Solutions- Roundtable participants also suggested an online law school offering basic legal training for those not interested in practicing law, and a condensed version of law school for lawyers who don’t intend to specialize. Both alternatives would cost much less than the traditional law school offering, which would remain available to those intending to focus on sophisticated legal transactions.
Time will tell whether Colorado Law is on the right track. As a recent graduate, however, I’m convinced Colorado Law was the right bet and will produce a significant return on my investment.
Therese Kerfoot received her J.D. from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2011 and is currently a Research Fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Center at Colorado Law.Read More
“This sounds like too much, too soon.” This was my thought as I sat across from Trent Yang and Steve Herschleb in the Deming Center conference room listening to their pitch on why REbound Technology should join the New Venture Challenge. It was a month after Russell and I founded the company, one month before the application was due and well before any thought was put into an actual application for our thermal energy storage technology. Nine months later we just attended the NREL Industry Growth Forum, socializing with a corporate and investor community that will, one day soon, help finance our development efforts, bring a product to market, and make ARPA-E wonder why they ever invested in batteries. None of this current or projected progress would have happened without CU Cleantech throwing us into the NVC mix.
Put simply, the NVC accelerated our business by A) pulling us away from MATLAB models and forcing us to think through regions, industries, incentives, capital expenses and margins, B) providing excellent networking opportunities and C) making us a punching bag for judges.
The NVC took us out of our comfort zone by thrusting us into the world of business development well before we had an established technology. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great concept and promising simulations to support it. However, if you asked me whether I thought we were anywhere close to thinking about gross margins my response would have been a resounding “hell no.” As it turned out, thinking through those business issues up front helped shape our technology. Nate Abbott from Everlater gave us that advice 10 months ago and investors continue to give us that advice today. In the end, it turns out the technology comes second. Think of an idea, advance its development, but let your markets drive the technological refinements. Thankfully the NVC taught us that early on because since the NVC, we’ve had a few technology pivots; small ones, but each market driven.
Networking was the number one reason we listened to Trent and Steve. Russell and I figured that if we crashed and burned, at least there were individuals from the community reading and talking about our tech. As it turned out, we made it to the CUNVC finals and the regional NVC cleantech finals, each providing excellent networking opportunities. In fact, at the regionals we met Rob Writz from CleanLaunch, an incubator at NREL now helping us advance our business. CleanLaunch has continued where the NVC left off, helping develop our business model through advisors, networking and, in the near future, fundraising support.
Now, getting beat up by a panel of judges who don’t know a thing about your technology seems unjust, right? As it turns out, it’s a blessing in disguise. We seemed to avoid any lashings at the CUNVC finals, but the regionals were quite different. Practicing a 20 minute pitch for a week only to be interrupted after sentence five by an inquisitive judge might not seem ideal, but its certainly realistic. Standing by while judges rip apart your business plan is also a reality. We definitely weren’t ready for the regional competition and it showed. While some technical comments by judges were just wrong, others regarding costs, margins, distribution, etc. were entirely justified. I wanted to jump on a computer and sign up for an MBA right there and then. The good news: we learned the hard way early on and, thanks to the NVC, we know what to expect going forward. Will we take a few additional beatings during fundraising? Sure, it’s inevitable. But at least we’ll be a bit desensitized, learn from the experience, iterate, and keep moving forward.
So, my advice to those thinking about participating in the NVC: stop thinking and pull the trigger, now. Get involved early and take advantage of the mentorship provided by the NVC along with other great organizations like CU Cleantech. In the end, the practical experience you gain from the NVC process will far outweigh your thermodynamics, environmental policy, biochem, marketing or communications course. Learn how to shift your focus from technical to business, learn to walk up to random people and pitch your idea, learn how to get up in front of a crowd and kill it with kick ass presentation. These are all critical professional development lessons, regardless of the NVC outcome.
Kevin Davis is the Co-Founder of REbound TechnologyRead More