Collaboration of organizations help Upstate get smart on startups


[ezcol_1third]Dunbar[/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_2third_end]By Matt Dunbar, managing director, Upstate Carolina Angel Network[/ezcol_2third_end]

“A startup is not a smaller version of a large company.”

On the surface, this small slice of startup wisdom from entrepreneur-turned-teacher Steve Blank might seem obvious, but its profound importance has really only begun to shape our understanding of startup companies over the last five years.

Blank postulated that startups are temporary organizations in search of a scalable business model. Entrepreneurs should “get out of the building” and get to know their market through a customer development process, he said. One of Blank’s students, Eric Reis, furthered Blank’s hypothesis and developed the Lean Startup methodology, which has been widely studied and adopted since its publication in 2011.

In short, their insights have helped entrepreneurs learn valuable lessons about conserving precious resources – namely cash – until they have validated their company’s product-market fit. Once validated, however, entrepreneurs can begin to apply human resources and financial capital to scale up and capture significant market opportunities.

The concept of lean startups is just one thread of a complex and dynamic startup education that entrepreneurs must obtain along the path to building successful companies. Other important lessons include everything from technologies and markets to legal structures and contracts to building teams and culture to accounting and venture finance. And of course, the best startup lessons come from experience and other entrepreneurs.

As cities and regions across the county work to build up their entrepreneurial ecosystems, the academic and experiential elements of a startup education are proving an important ingredient for success. Prominent venture capitalist Brad Feld recently shared his thoughts building those ecosystems his book “Startup Communities.” Feld’s “Boulder Thesis” describes the need for committed, inclusive, entrepreneur-led initiatives that create continual activities to engage and educate all the parties in the ecosystem, or “entrepreneurial stack.”

Just last month, the Kauffman Foundation published a case study on the growing startup ecosystem in St. Louis. At the core of their findings was the need for collaboration and local-learning among and between entrepreneurs and support organizations, along with hands-on activity-based events, where would-be entrepreneurs gain practical opportunities to put startup skills to work.

Fortunately here in the Upstate, many of those critical elements of a startup education are growing and thriving, and we are getting smarter when it comes to startups.

We have strong leadership from entrepreneurs who have started companies, spearheaded efforts to launch the NEXT initiatives with the Greenville Chamber, the Iron Yard code academy and accelerators in Greenville and Spartanburg, e-Merge @ the Garage in Anderson and Startup Weekend events across the Upstate.

We have great support organizations that are connecting the community and providing opportunities to learn, from speakers and forum series hosted by Innovision, Black Box, NEXT, GSATC, Clemson and others to the networking events hosted by at Tech After Five.

We have strong institutions of higher education providing a broad menu of opportunities, from Clemson’s Spiro Institute and MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, to the Incubator at the George at USC Upstate, to Wofford’s Launch Program, to the Greenville Tech Entrepreneur’s Forum to the collaboration between Furman and Clemson for the recent University Innovation Fellows Southeastern Meetup.

There are many other critical components of our startup education system in the Upstate. And we need to continue to build connections, collaboration and learning opportunities among them.

The Upstate Carolina Angel Network is also working to do its part to provide part of the startup education – both for entrepreneurs and investors.

UCAN leverages the resources of the Angel Capital Association and the Angel Resource Institute to offer regular educational workshops and seminars geared to both entrepreneurs and investors. In the past, we’ve hosted workshops on topics ranging from valuation to term sheets to startup boards. This month, we are offering a new workshop on an often-overlooked topic for startups – cap tables.

As entrepreneurs start and grow their ventures, it is vitally important that they understand the ultimate impact of sharing equity with their team, their partners and investors. Likewise, investors must understand the ultimate economic allocations their investment will buy. The UCAN Understanding Cap Tables Workshop on Oct. 29 will offer both entrepreneurs and investors an opportunity to study the math and implications of many common events in a startup’s life.

We’re building a stronger startup community here in the Upstate – and part of that process is getting smart with our startup education.

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