Winning has its perks.
Thanks to the generosity of a local entrepreneur and two GW alumni, the 2016 finalists in the GW New Venture Competition (NVC) were invited to attend the Big Idea CONNECTpreneur XVIII Forum, one of the region’s largest networking events for entrepreneurs.
Business leaders S. Tien Wong, CEO of Tech 2000 and Chairman of Lore Systems; Richard DiPippo, GSEHD BA ’79, partner at The Meltzer Group; and Kristina Bouweiri, ESIA BA ’79, President & CEO of Reston Limousine and Travel Service, Inc. made it possible for the 20 finalists to travel to the event on April 28 and network with established tech entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, and company founders.
Ms. Bouweiri cites her own career as the reason she helped fund the students’ tickets and transportation. “Being able to connect with successful entrepreneurs who were committed to mentoring students would have been invaluable in my career and might have helped me avoid common business mistakes along the way,” she says. “I have found that real life experiences have been the most useful in helping to develop business skills and strategies.”
Mr. Wong expresses a similar sentiment: “It would have been phenomenal as a young entrepreneur to share ideas with other like-minded people, to network with top business people and investors in the region—and motivating to be in a room so full of energy, optimism, and innovation.”
Mr. Wong, whose company has been supporting student entrepreneurship for many years, has seen firsthand the successes of young entrepreneurs and hopes to continue fostering the entrepreneurial spirit among D.C. students. “Some of the greatest and largest companies in the country have been founded by young women and men in their twenties,” says Mr. Wong. “We want to do our part to positively impact the student entrepreneurship ecosystem in the D.C. region.”
The NVC finalists enjoyed their time at the conference—and learned a lot. “We were able to see samples of different pitches and investment teasers from companies actually using them,” says Parth Chauhan, ESIA BA ’13. “We now know how to shape our own story and materials as we look for funding.”
Parth and his teammates took home first prize in this year’s competition for their work on HomeGrown Farms, a farming concept that grows hyperlocal, sustainable produce year round by utilizing innovative indoor hydroponic technology.
Finance and fine arts double major Anna Wu, GWSB/CCAS ’18, made the NVC’s final round by pitching Seamless Color, a color-matching system that allows desktop 3D printers to print in a full palette of colors. “I met so many successful people at the CONNECTpreneur XVIII Forum. I got to learn how they talk and how they look at a social event,” says Anna. For Anna and her team, the experience may also prove to be profitable. “We made around ten connections who could potentially help our venture, including angel investors,” she says.
“I think it was really beneficial because it gave us—as young entrepreneurs—a shot of positive energy,” adds Parth. “We are a lot younger than most of the presenters and attendees, and the fear of failure is a lot less for our teams. We know we are getting a head start over a lot of other people simply because of our age.”
The desire to instill this type of ‘can do’ attitude in young entrepreneurs was a common motivator among all of the sponsors. These seasoned business people know what it takes to succeed, and understand in retrospect how it might have been easier for them.
“Back in the seventies, I’m not sure we thought about starting our own businesses,” says sponsor Richard DiPippo. “We worried about finding a job at career days, interviews on campus, or through friends and family. I believe it’s important for all students to see how it’s done and to think outside the box. The job market is constantly changing and the jobs of the future will be very different. Students need to pursue any ideas they may have—and go for it!”
Mr. DiPippo saw tremendous value in supporting the students’ attendance at the conference, and hopes they learned firsthand what other startup companies do to present their concepts. And even if the winning students do not continue on as entrepreneurs, at the very least, he saw the conference as “a chance to meet other entrepreneurs and business people to facilitate job opportunities.”
After all, some things never change.