CIC Guest Blogger Varun Bihani talks us through some of the successful pitches on Shark Tank and highlights best practices for entrepreneurs looking to pitch their new ventures.
How was your Women's History Month? Ours was great! Let's close it out with five articles about women, entrepreneurship, and venture capital:
1. Meet Melanie Perkins, CEO of Canva
The close of a $40 million funding round makes Perkins the youngest woman to lead a $1 billion startup. Canva is a web-based design platform with over 10 million users. Learn more about Perkins and Canva at Quartz Media.
2. VC Stereotypes about men and women aren’t supported by performance data
Only 2.7 percent of venture capital-funded companies have a woman CEO. But according to a new study, stereotypes about women held by venture capitalists (like “women are risk-averse”, “women are reluctant to grow their business”, “women lack the resources for high growth”, and “women’s ventures underperform”) aren’t supported by performance data. This study also shows that VCs evaluate entrepreneurs differently based on gender. Read more here.
3. Meet Brazen Global
Brazen is a nonprofit (and CIC client) committed to “tearing down barriers for women entrepreneurs so they can successfully grow their own businesses”. Read our interview with Mindy Mazur, Executive Director of Brazen St. Louis, and check out this profile of founder and CEO Jennifer Ehlen by her alma mater.
4. Meet the women venture capitalists who are changing the face of investing
Women are still underrepresented in VC firms, and in 2017 their numbers remained mostly stagnant. Business Insider profiled women making waves and deals in VC firms in 2018. Read more here.
5. Women of color are starting businesses at record rates
Women of color receive virtually no venture funding - 0.2 percent. But all over the country, women of color are starting businesses. Between 2007 and 2012, businesses owned by black women increased by 66 percent. Read about women entrepreneurs from the Las Vegas Sun and Ag Funder News and stay inspired.
St. Louis is a city with a complex history. CIC knew some of that history when we began establishing the company’s first expansion location, but as our space opened on the heels of the unrest in Ferguson, we were forced to examine both our understanding of that history, and our place in St. Louis’ future.
At the end of last year, CIC St. Louis worked with the Diversity Awareness Partnership to assess our spaces, find out how our community was feeling, and discover whether there were changes we could make to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment. It was a great exercise that gave us our first real data on the diversity and inclusivity of our internal community.
Happy International Women's Day from cic St. Louis! We're celebrating by checking in with Mindy Mazur, the Executive Director of Brazen St. Louis - a nonprofit committed to empowering women entrepreneurs.
“Artists should think of themselves as innovators and entrepreneurs... The birth of Creator’s Lounge was a mission to make local creators and makers aware of the resources around them... and [give them] practical business skills to thrive and survive and respond to the market,” says Medrano, who also works as a senior relationship partner at the CIC.
Air quality, noise, traffic density, vibrations. There’s a lot going on in the outdoors that has an impact on people, day in and day out. With technology being as advanced as it is, tracking and measuring each of those metrics is certainly realistic. There’s just the question of finding the right access points.
Whether very early-stage or more established, innovative companies are constantly on the lookout for new customers, trusted partners and key investors. For a strong network, both at home and abroad. For relevant knowledge and expertise. If they could find that in one place, too, then all the better.
Plastic is all around us – from our homes, cars and phones, to disposable water bottles, food packaging, and even our dental fillings. Avoiding just about every contact with it is, thus, rather unrealistic. Yet, while a lot has been said about the negative impact of plastic on people’s health and the environment, there is now a way to make it a lot safer.
We started the journey to open CIC Rotterdam as CIC's first international location over 4 years ago, with 2017 marking our first full year officially open. To commemorate it, we decided to take a snapshot of our demographics and the numbers inside our center.
Drop in for a hot coffee or a pastry at Render Coffee, and the whirr of the espresso machine won’t be the only buzz you hear. You’ll likely also see and hear a digital fabricator or two laser-cutting a rough, miniature prototype for a new chair, building a dental model for a custom oral retainer, or simply “printing” a beautiful piece of digital art. You might also hear the buzz of designers, entrepreneurs, educators, and other innovators – coffee in hand – collaborating across disciplines and sharing skills with each other.
Welcome to Fab@CIC, a digital fabrication lab and community providing an open platform for people to support each other in their efforts to make new things. Powered by CIC Boston, Fab Foundation, and Render Coffee, Fab@CIC is a fabrication lab, yes, but we’re more than that. We’re one of more than 1,000 “Fab Labs” in 78 countries around the globe providing space in which the technological future of personal fabrication and manufacturing can be tested and tried. We’re bringing together innovators from across the region to collaborate, as well as connecting our local design and startup communities with a rapidly flattening global business network.
To understand the significance of what we’re doing at Fab@CIC, one must understand the era in which we are now living. Technology historians say we’re on the precipice of a Third Industrial Revolution. The first American Industrial Revolution, born in the mill towns of Massachusetts in the late 18th century, launched the transition from handmade products to machine-powered manufacturing. The Second Industrial Revolution, which ran roughly from 1870-1914, involved another rapid ramp-up in industrialization behind mass-production of steel and the use of interchangeable machine parts.
This Third Industrial Revolution, sometimes called the Digital Revolution, involves the digitizing of how we make things. And like the first Industrial Revolution, this digital revolution we’re experiencing now was born in Massachusetts. Futurists see a day when rather than producing something in one place and shipping it thousands of miles away to be used, communities are producing more of what they use locally in fabrication labs.
Here at CIC Boston, our fabrication lab is a place where designers and entrepreneurs – really, anyone in Boston – can experiment and create in a supportive and collaborative environment. Technology available to the public in Fab@CIC includes 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC milling, vinyl cutting, soldering and electronics, and large format printing — skills that should not be hijacked by the scientific elite.
“We want to democratize access to the tools needed to invent the next generation of manufacturing and personal fabrication,” says Julia Hansen, one of Fab@CIC’s managers. “Everyone should be able to take part in shaping our physical world. We love great coffee, too.”
In the coming months, this blog will unpack some of the ways in which digital fabrication is being used here at Fab@CIC to design products that will improve lives around the world. We hope these stories – like Fab@CIC itself – will inspire someone who didn’t know she could make something, connect our work to the global Fab Lab movement, or link a product conceived in Boston to a market beyond the city limits. We hope you’ll check in here regularly, because, as we believe at Fab@CIC, the unexpected unfolds when new technology and creativity meet.
This post was written by CIC Member and Fab@CIC Contributor, Steve Holt.
Young people nowadays are brought up with a smartphone in their hand. They’re online and they’re on social media. They play games and share their experiences with their virtual friends. Yet, more often than not, there’s a certain disconnect between what they do and achieve in the online world and what they do and achieve offline, and vice versa.
This guest post was written by Varun Bihani, CTO of Galaxy Weblinks and CIC Cambridge member.
Building the MVP the right way
After ages of working on the idea and dreaming the dream (impostor syndrome is cruel, ain’t it?), you have decided to go ahead for the MVP. You have a clear idea of what it should do and how you want it to look. The narrative is ready. All good and great. Your obvious next step–to get ready for shipping.
You need to get the idea in the hands of the real user for validation. To ship a product soon is to complete half the race. Easy? Kinda sorta. How are you going to do it? By getting the MVP out soon.
Now, before getting all hyped up with the jargon, here is the thing: an MVP is a highly misconstrued concept.
A. It is not your final product. Your MVP is not what you give to all your beta users.
B. It is not just basic wireframes or prototype. It is not non-functional or purposeless.
Simply put, the MVP is your idea turned into a product with all the ‘minimum necessary’ features providing ‘maximum value’. The latter is the key ingredient. You have to decide on what to keep and what not to keep because the primary aim is to ensure optimal tangibility and functionality.
It’s all about decisions and iteration. What you choose is what the product becomes. Your MVP needs to have some key characteristics. Here is a quick checklist:
- it should serve one–just one–specific audience
- it solves at least one problem
- it has a functional and usable UX (does not need to be aesthetically pleasing)
- it can be built and launched quickly
Have you completed this checklist? Great! Here’s what you do next:
A. Brainstorm your idea
What, again? Well, yes! But hear me out. This is not the I-will-stay-awake-untill-I-get-a-revolution-out ninja brainstorming. It’s time to get out of the bubble and talk to people. People who think like you, people who might shun the idea, people who are your customers, and people who might help you build the product (take deep breaths because that is almost too many people to talk to). Get your idea out and start conversing about it.
You need this feedback to refine the blueprint. Sit with other entrepreneurs and discuss your initial challenges. Speak to prospective customers and ask them about their problems and desires. The more you iterate in this zone (let’s label it the ‘buffer zone’), the better it is for later stages.
B. Find a techie
There are two ways to go about it. You can either hire a development team or you can get a co-founder & CTO. Finding the right person or team will take time. Do not try to save money here. First of all, you need someone who gets your vision. You will need absolute synchronicity to go ahead with the technical partner. Find people who share your zeal.
Their expertise and technical skill are crucial for further consultancy. Even if you know the nitty gritty of coding and design, getting the right techies on-board is important for technical feasibility. They will help with making better decisions about technology and a proper development schedule. They can point you in a better direction, you can define budgets clearly, and you will stick to the timeline.
C. Budget, budget, budget
You are going to spend money. In fact, quite a good sum of money. Better do it wisely. Design a milestone blueprint and allocate funds accordingly. Your expenses will include the legal costs, fee for technical assistance, product development costs, and sundry expenses. Anything that does not directly help the MVP should be removed from the loop.
Money is no cakewalk. Be extremely wary of what you choose to be the source. Be more aware of which channels get a portion of your share.. Only overburden yourself if you have a knack for constant regret and constant fuss and stress.
D. Iterate like your life depends on it
This is a brilliant life hack that seeps right into the development process. Follow the Build-Measure-Learn routine. Get the first draft of the MVP out soon and lock in the first development cycle. Past this, get to alpha testing, and begin the fine tuning. The more you analyse and iterate, the better your MVP is. Build user stories, evaluate performance, spot the discrepancies, and work on it.
It is not an easy loop but a very crucial one, and the one worth spending time on. Conduct functionality tests, usability tests, and a funnel analysis. You will have areas to work on and specific sections to improve. You will need complete coordination with the technical team and a lot of patience. Issues will pop up at the last second and you will need real-time iteration.
E. Don’t jump in the jeopardy
Your MVP looks ready and you are hyperventilating. There is panting and breathing and you cannot contain the joy. You want to send the product out there into the universe to rise and shine. Hold the thought, and count to 10 (okay to 50 if you are *that* excited). Do not jump in for the roll-out. Rather, gather your trusted peeps and let them test the product. Take feedback, know the flaws, tell the technical team to fix all the bugs, and let a quick QA happen.
This is the most important step.This ensures functionality for initial customers and a perfect user experience. When you take feedback from real users, you can make substantive improvements in the comprehensive blueprint. Your MVP should drive the product ahead. Take two steps back if it’s not.
Next up, we discuss the elephant in the room: The Pitch. Getting ready for putting your idea out there, showing up, shipping the MVP, and moving ahead. The struggle is real but so is the adrenaline rush!
I am Varun Bihani, CTO at Galaxy Weblinks Inc. I have been in the business for a good 15 years and it has been an exhilarating gig. I love working with startups and hearing new ideas. You can find me in Boston around CIC. I like my coffee strong :)