The Entrepreneurship Foundation is a non-profit organization in Fairfield that provides moral support to student companies, matches students with mentors and and provides a forum for student entrepreneurs to network, and share leads, customers, and experiences. They offer various contests and programs which you can check out here.
I asked president Mike Roer a few questions about the state of technological entrepreneurship:
As president of the Entrepreneurship Foundation, and heading the Business Plan competition last month, you have obviously seen many innovative ideas. Specific to technology, what sort of trends are you seeing in business pitches? Is there one field right now that people seem to be flocking to?
College students are great harbingers of new trends. They are eager to embrace new technologies and cultures that will define their generation; and young people are not invested in yesterday’s platform or styles. But don’t blink. Hot topics change with the season.
Last year mobile apps represented half the entries we received in the Connecticut Collegiate Business Plan Competition. This year it was down to 20%. There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs to make money — and a splash — with a mobile app, but not if it’s just another “tell me where to find the nearest donut shop.” At this late stage in the evolution of the industry, the concept needs to be unique and offer a high value proposition for the consumer.
While future technology trends may be as hard to predict as stock prices (for the same reasons), there are some longer-term general trends:
- Over the years, our colleges and universities have been quietly increasing the number and effectiveness of their entrepreneurship course offerings. As a result, there has been a steady growth in the number and quality of plans germinating on campuses. The state is also expanding the number of business incubators and coaching resources for entrepreneurs, and increasing the amount of available capital. This new “Innovation Eco-System” will finally allow our sons and daughters the resources they need to launch their dreams right here in Connecticut.
- Another growing trend is the percentage of women entrepreneurs. Now, fully half of the finalists in the business plan competitions are women.
- The newest growth trend is the interest by students in social enterprise. Perhaps this is a backlash against the excesses of the current generation, but young people want to do more than launch a successful business; they want to solve what ails the world and its people.
You wrote about business incubators a few years back and how Connecticut was again making a push to provide them. In 2012, how do you feel about Connecticut business incubators? And are you seeing many local tech businesses coming out of the state because of them?
Unfortunately, the growth in Connecticut incubators has not been as robust as I would have liked to seen. Connecticut Innovations and the University of Connecticut have been gradually expanding their incubation capacity and a private group of investors have recently opened the Stamford Innovation Center; but these are isolated initiatives, unrelated to a comprehensive and coordinated economic development strategy.
Connecticut needs incubators in every city, and our larger towns like Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk, Hartford and Stamford could support multiple facilities — assuming they are focused on specific industries. By concentrating on one industry an incubator and its host city can bring together a critical mass of practitioners, especially if the initial tenants are incented with free rent and capital. These seed companies then attract suppliers and customers who want to be close to their supply line.
I’ve asked about those who are looking to get into starting their own entrepreneurial company, but what about those looking to invest? What sort of technological sectors do you expect to be strong investments in the coming years?
Technology and fashion change at an ever-accelerating rate. Last year it was mobile apps. Two years ago it was energy. Ten years ago nanotech. Currently mobile, SAAS (software as a service), cloud, crowdfunding are hot—especially because of the potentially high margins and scalability.
But if I told you the next big thing, it wouldn’t be the next big thing. By definition, it hasn’t been invented yet. So how do you know what to bet on as an entrepreneur or investor? Identify a new problem has not been adequately addressed. Solve that.
If you see a new wave coming, and you have the risk-taker gene, start paddling. If you wait until the wave builds and you’re sure it’s a monster, it’s passed you by.
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