Tuesday, November 20, 2018

EforAll Summit 2018 -- Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Black Thought
What a privilege it was to attend the 2018 EforAll Summit on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems! This year's lineup of speakers was absolutely amazing. Black Thought (MC of The Roots), Bill Cummings (Cummings Foundation/Cummings Properties), and Brandale Randolph (The 1854 Cycling Company) all delivered inspiration and insight. UTEC did an excellent job hosting. 

As at previous summits, my peak of meeting new people was at breakfast. I always seem to meet people from Holyoke, but this year I also met interesting people from Gardner. Discussing how cities like Gardner have changed through the years over several cups of coffee is a great way to start the day.

The crowd built steadily during breakfast and David Parker's opening remarks outlining the day's program for us. Oh, and he had so much success with his Moana slides last year, that he featured other movie scenes on this year's slides :-)

David Parker -- Opening Remarks
For the first panel session, I chose Leveraging Your Ecosystem to hear how each of  the panelists had benefited from the entrepreneurial ecosystem and what advice they had for other entrepreneurs (and students). Panelists Luis Gonsalves, Dawn Cordeiro, Ray Hamilton, and John Noto had diverse stories about different aspects of their local ecosystem. Luis from Juice'd Cafe mentioned that the SBA is a great place to start.  Dawn from Holyoke Hummus tested out her idea at community events and recommended a strategy of always being out there telling your story. Ray from InvisaWear talked about entering competitions and taking advantage of the UML incubator and the EforAll accelerator program. John of Lowell Makes pointed out that your ecosystem starts with friends and family. The quotes going up on Post-its over my desk are:
"Your ecosystem starts with your friends and family " -- John Noto, Lowell Makes
"You need to be always telling your story" --  Dawn Cordeiro, Holyoke Hummus
"Go for it to start. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice." --  Ray Hamilton, InvisaWear
Leveraging Your Ecosystem Panel Listening to Dawn Talk about Holyoke Hummus
The Pathway to Building Successful Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Maximizing the Entrepreneurial Experience looked good too, but I was very happy with the one I chose and came home with a bunch of notes.
Andy Vargas Facilitated the Leveraging Your Ecosystem Panel
The main hall really filled up for the first keynote, a fireside chat with Black Thought (aka Tarik Trotter) MC of the hip-hop group The Roots, also the official house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. If I had to pick one quote that resonated it would be: "Be brave. You have to take the risk to reap the rewards." Christa Brown did an excellent job of interviewing him and at the end she asked him if he would rap about entrepreneurship for us. And he did! His freestyle was the highlight of the summit. You simply have to check out this video. Needless to say, he got a standing ovation. On top of all that, he also hung out with the young adults at Cafe UTEC.

Christa Brown
"Stay focused. Stick to your dream. Be brave." -- Black Thought

Big Crowd for Black Thought
For the Ecosystem Interactive Session in the main hall attendees grouped themselves around 7 topics: Inclusivity, Collaborative Culture, Shared Vision, Connected Networks, Quantify Methods, Universal Support, and Sustainable Work. Participants brainstormed ideas and goals for what to do next in those areas. I chose Inclusivity and found it a valuable discussion though it was a bit hard to hear with all the ambient noise from the other groups in the main hall.

Interactive Panel Session on Inclusivity
As the interactive session was winding down, copies of Bill Cummings' book Starting Small and Making it Big began to appear on the tables. Time for the next fireside chat/keynote. Desh Deshpande interviewed his fellow philanthropist Bill Cummings. Cummings' personal story is inspiring and packed with lessons for entrepreneurs of all kinds. He told so many great anecdotes that I could barely wait to get home and start reading the book.  Being in Lowell, he naturally brought up the thing he has in common with Jack Kerouac: they both sold Vicks VapoRub. The audience also enjoyed his story of his first meeting with members of the Giving Pledge and being asked "What's your tail number?" (Spoiler, he doesn't have a private jet.) It was great to hear that Cummings Properties provides low-cost rent to early stage entrepreneurs -- another bit of the ecosystem. And yes, Desh did ask if Bill would rap for us but he declined :-)
Fireside Chat: Desh Deshpande Interviews Bill Cummings
 "The most important thing in any negotiation is to listen." - Bill Cummings

Can't Wait to Read It!
I loved the Art of Pitching workshop. It was great to see so many entrepreneurs willing to test out their pitches and so much useful feedback emerging from both audience and judges  Anne Estabrook and Todd Fry. Some of the pitches were from folks I've heard at EforAll pitch contests before, like Nate McNiff's Wandering Stage. It was great to see Reem Yared, founder of Help Around Town, whom I met long ago at a Mass Innovation Nights event  (MIN48  -- wow, that was a long time ago). Some of the entrepreneurs didn't have much pitch experience. We all learned lots of good stuff from Anne and Todd's critique of each one. "Lead with the value proposition" was probably the most important advice.
Help Around Town Pitching
The final fireside chat of the day was with Brandale Randolph, founder of The 1854 Cycling Company, interviewed by Shelley Cardoos. Randolph shared his experience growing his business, brand building, Framingham's entrepreneurial ecosystem, and creating careers for the formerly incarcerated. His emphasis was definitely on the social impact of the business: "It’s not about the bicycles, it’s about a brand that means something." Inspiring and thought-provoking don't even begin to cover the impression he made. I highly recommend  his TEDx talk "Stop throwing breakfast sandwiches at the poor."
Brandale Randolph and Shelley Cardoos

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