Thursday, March 22, 2012

Techstars expanding rapidly....

Wouldn't it be great if Rochester could join the Techstars fold?  We can make it happen but here's what we need to do for that to be a reality:
  • Education Cooperation - Rochester has several powerful and innovative schools in the area.  Unless they cooperate though - most of them don't have the resources to pull off making TechStars a reality all by themselves.  Realistically if the major area universities got together they could easily make it happen.  A key plank of the techstarts platforms is cooperative university support nurturing entrepreneurs and the employees they will eventually hire.  RIT, U of R, Nazareth, Brockport, St John Fisher, even Buffalo, Cornell and SU- all have something to offer TechStars but they have to get over themselves and realize that it's going to take regional educationaal cooperation to make this happn.  Then they can ALL take credit.
  • Governmental Cooperation - the constant battle between State, City and County governments needs to end.  To make this happen the proper tax incentives, employment opportunities, community redevelopment, facilities planning and regulatory control issues needs to be smoothed over.  All three entities need to chip in, and put their marbles behind a single goal - attracting venture and new startups to the Rochester Metropolitan area and beyond.  We've seen the glimmer of this in GRE - but they're focused more on attracting businesses both new and old to Rochester.  We need a singular effort with a charismatic and forceful leader to make this happen.
  • Established Startup Mentoring - One of the other key planks in the establishment of a TechStars program is a strong portfolio of established entrepreneur mentors to help the startups along.  Rochester is a giving community and has a strong and tight entrepreneurial community, unfortunately those community members are split up among 1/2 dozen groups and there is no one place for them to gather to assist, and no set of venture capitalists to "get behind".  Groups like DR, RPCN, GRE, Pariemus, Independent Entrepreneur Council, Rochester Open Coffee Club should merge their efforts and their meetings to create a single organization that pushes the entrepreneurial message in a concerted and coordinated way.
  • Coordinated Venture effort - The venture community in Rochester HAS grown and you hear more and more about Rochester funded startups being either moved to a new level or selling out to larger companies.  In the end though - the local Venture community still invests mostly in traditional business models, not high tech or software startups.  We need to attract new venture blood to our region - and not from outside it either - because bringing a venture capitalist in from Boston or California generally only results in an early exit to that community.  Syracuse has had some success in this arena and UVNY has also been doing outreach.  Let's coordinat them with the above groups.
  • Recruiting of outside people to move to Rochester - One of the key things that TechStars does is create opportunities for Boulder (which in the end has similar weather and isolation issues to Rochester) to attract young and talented people. While Rochester already has an awesome, hardworking and dedicted workforce - we need to turn into a destination city where a talented rockstar can see that he or she has not one but several cool startups to potentially work for.
  • More coopetition and less competition - some of the best startups end up being the blend of several great ideas - the more startups collaborate, the lower their costs, the better their ideas, and the more likely they will get implemented and funded.  Let's encourage startups to find ways to work together - instead of putting them in the arena to battle it out and see who can come up with the scrap of gold at the end.
  • A strong emphasis on improving the downtown environment - one thing that Boulder has going for it is a strong, well established zone of downtown development.  Rochester has a hole in the ground.
  • A strong emphasis on K-12 education and STEM subjects - In a city with as many engineers as Rochester there is no excuse for not having FIRST Robotics in every elementary, middle and high school - especially downtown where it matters most.

To read more about TechStars and it's successes - check out Brad Feld's blog article

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Are you a terraformer?

Outside the hotel gates Occasionally something from a local college crosses my desk and I can't help but crow about it to everyone.  We are blessed to have a number of great schools in Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) leads the pack in terms of software development.  All of my technical employees are RIT graduates.   RIT - recently selected as being one of the top ten schools for Online Game Development - has a fantastic professor of marketing and interactive media - Dr. Neil Hair.  His blog features some of the cutting edge courses that today's kids in online marketing are taking, as well as excellent advice on marketing in today's world.  I always pay close attention to what Dr. Hair is teaching - because that's typically where marketing is headed, not where it's been.

Dr. Hair's recent article on Commercializing Virtual Worlds Online is a first of it's kind course anywhere.  Taught entirely online, and featuring online commercial opportunities, it's a way for kids to learn about how to analyze business models, create markets, engage customers, and create a new business - all online. 

When building your software, concludes the article, you shouldn't ignore the vast marketing potential raised by incorporating virtual online worlds into it's every day existence.  You can read more on Neil's blog, and look at some of the other great articles to see what tomorrow's kids are learning today.  Are you considering virtual markets in your business plan?  Should you?