In July 2016, the Venture Founders Program launched its inaugural cohort based on a simple precept: build things that matter. This seemingly elementary idea has since gained velocity and traction and – most importantly – validation that there is market ecosystem for pre-idea entrepreneurs. Through intentional steering from key opinion leaders in our respective areas, all of us have shown that you don’t need to come to the table with an idea to make something worthwhile.
The path of an entrepreneur is never a linear one. The exuberant feeling of stakeholders validating the problem (and even perhaps validating your solution) is balanced with hitting brick walls and pit falls. It is imperative to know when to pivot – or more importantly – when to consider doubling back and re-entrenching your efforts in perhaps a new problem area altogether. All seven (yes, we picked up a new Founder - see David Hardwicke’s December update for more on that) of us are at exciting junctures right now.
David Hardwicke and Eoghan Martin together form a formidable duo that moves with an unparalleled synergistic velocity. They have demonstrated how the cycle from research to idea can be truncated once the process is learned. Since Eoghan came on board in December, he and David Hardwicke have masterfully navigated through the validation (and invalidation process) of two formal ideas. Their first was a solar energy project that with extensive research in market timeliness, the team decided to shelf until the economics become more favorable. They pivoted and decided to take one final look at David’s original problem area: healthcare and antibiotic resistance. This move was an excellent one and they have since been taking massive strides in the enterprise healthcare/software space. David and Eoghan are in the process of garnering massive data sets and building prototypes to test them. These two are confident that they can be beta testing within a month.Margot Hughan, Kellan Carney, and Connor Ratycz are together at concluding stages of their projects with unbiased media, long-term chronic disease management, and healthcare transportation respectively. All three have decided to package their months of extensive research, due diligence, stakeholder networks, and project outlines for future founders to then unbundle with a novel perspective. It is their vision to have others pick up, research, and then run with these challenging problem areas. In condensing their projects into discrete files, the legacy of the work may continue moving forward – including potentially as an enFocus Fellow “Thirty Percent Time” project.
Eva-Marie Costello’s crusade for digital literacy education in the United States has been formally embodied in her company, Fintus. Fintus masterfully executes the principles of human-centered design in a simple mobile application that instructs its digitally illiterate users through the basic functions of mobile banking. Eva-Marie designed this with game-ified and incentivized mechanisms for the user to maximize impact. Last week, her business debuted publicly at the Schurz Innovation Challenge, where she competed with other digitally innovative businesses. As VFP co-founders Dustin Mix and Maria Gibbs said, “The coolest part about getting to see [Eva-Marie’s] pitch was that no one knew it came from our program and something that could have huge potential with social impact was evaluated on par with all other business ideas. Everyone treated it inherently the same, even though it was a social venture.” Also of note, Eva-Marie has submitted Fintus into the McCloskey Business Plan Competition and expectantly awaits the results.
Lastly, I enjoyed effectuating my eight months of work with the advanced manufacturing talent deficit by submitting a McCloskey Business Plan for GEN4. GEN4 challenges the convention that American family businesses tend to go “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” in three generations. It aspires to create economic and social opportunities for individuals who might not otherwise see a clear path to a creative and fulfilling future for their families. You can teach people trades and train them to be leaders, all the while ultimately aligning their interests with the clearly articulated need for next-generation talent in the skilled trades.
Moving forward, the Venture Founders anticipate the upcoming month as we journey to Silicon Valley. We have been invited to the renowned Stanford d.school (the ultimate destination for innovation, collaboration, and creativity), where we will collaborate with design thinking experts and fellow Post-it Note aficionados. Following that engagement, several of us will be presenting the successes of the Venture Founders formally at the VentureWell Conference in Washington D.C. at the end of the month.
In wrapping things up, I think it is important to note that these events mark the outward success of the foundational Venture Founders concept. Eight months ago, none of us would have envisioned an invitation to Stanford or Washington D.C. to speak on behalf of social innovation. Yet, the seven of us now represent an entire movement gaining momentum around the world. We are advocates for making things that matter and irrespective of our backgrounds, we now take a proactive approach in catalyzing the earliest stages of significant social change. Invanti!