Friday, June 13, 2014

#Sandbox_Summit Day 1 Recap

This Way to the Summit!
Day 1of the Sandbox Summit was jam-packed with great keynote speakers, great workshops, an exciting pitch contest, and so much networking that it was impossible not to connect or learn something new.
Desh Deshpande Giving Inspiring Keynote
Inspiration came from everywhere, starting with the inspiring keynote from Desh Deshpande, co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation. He told the story of his entrepreneurial journey from India to Canada to the USA and from failed start-up to multiple successful start-ups. And he really means it when he talks about "Entrepreneurship for All".

Just a few of the nuggets of wisdom I noted from his keynote:
  • For entrepreneurs, every problem creates a new opportunity. 
  • Naivete is one of the greatest attributes of the entrepreneur. 
  • You go places you never knew you could go when you become an entrepreneur. 
  • Entrepreneurship isn't just tech. It is creative problem solving in context. Every individual is ultimately positioned to solve problems. 
  • When you get feverish about a problem you figure out a way to solve it. 
  • We need both technical innovation and social innovation. 
  • If there's no risk, it's really not an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Nonspec Networking in the Lobby
Networking was non-stop from breakfast through the end of the day. I spotted people meeting with potential investors and mentors in the hallways and the lobby. So much happened outside the structured agenda.

Pitching Workshop

The lunchtime keynote was Ahkil Nigam from MassChallenge, another inspiring speaker. Two things struck me about Mass Challenge, the diversity of entrepreneurs and the commitment to community. 

Ahkil Nigam Keynote
The picture that Ahkil Nigam painted of the entrepreneur "scene" in Boston is far different from what most people think of when they think "start-up" or "entrepreneur." The entrepreneurs at MassChallenge are all kinds of people in all kinds of fields,  not just 20-something techies. 70% of MassChallenge companies are non-tech. 21% of MassChallenge founders are 40 or older. Who knew? How do we get the word out to the world?

MassChallenge is about building a community, not just running a competition. It's all of us working together that will change the economy. If the whole ecosystem grows, we all win. The major nugget of wisdom I took away from his talk is "It's not about my piece of the pie, it's about the whole pie." That resonates deeply with the values I grew up with.  I'm psyched to get out there and bring the community together around creating jobs and solving real problems.

Mentoring Workshop
The break-out panel sessions/workshops provided great insights and interaction with other attendees. Spread throughout the day, they offered a chance to learn from other people's experiences. I attended one on pitching (insert baseball joke here :-)), one on mentoring, and one on starting a social impact enterprise.  I was having insights right and left and up and down like crazy. I should do a whole blog post on each topic.

In summary:
  • Pitching has a lot in common with slam poetry.
  • Mentoring is important.
  • After all these years I finally appreciate that my mother is a social impact entrepreneur.
Cheryl Hajjar Pitching Indigo Pixies
It was great fun for me to run into so many people I know from previous Merrimack Valley Sandbox events and from Mass Innovation Nights.  I loved catching up with everyone and hearing how they have fared since last I saw them.  The best thing was seeing how everyone had improved their pitches. This was particularly evident in the first pitch contest - local + consumer product + retail ideas.
The pitch contest featured three scheduled presenters and two wildcards. Cheryl Hajjar of Indigo Pixies, Maeve Jopson  and Cynthia Poon of Increment, Lucky Henry of CollegePower were the scheduled presenters and the wildcards went to Nkese Applewhite of Oshun Undies and Jessica Valentin of My Creative Learning Center. 
Nkese Applewhite
Maeve and Cynthia passed the O-rings among the crowd and folks were having so much fun they didn't want to give them back. All the presenters engaged well with the audience, which was good because we all got to be judges -- winner decided by fan voting.
Real Time Voting
The voting went right down to the wire, with Indigo Pixies and College Power neck in neck. Watching the bars change on the slide in real time was tense but exciting. College Power barely edged out Indigo Pixies.

Challenges of Starting a Social Impact Enterprise
At the end of the day, I went home thoroughly inspired.

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