Friday, September 21, 2012

Graduate student entrepreneurs “accelerate” at UGA

I have been honored to be a mentor for a program recently launched at the University of Georgia called the UGA Student Business Accelerator Program.  This is the brainchild of entrepreneur evangelist and UGA faculty, Chris Hanks.  His vision is to offer grad students who have a business idea the opportunity to receive coaching and guidance as well as the motivation to get their business off the ground during the school year. 

The students and mentors meet every other week in an informal class setting to brief on their progress, present hurdles, and reach agreement on next actions.  “By giving these entrepreneurs access to world-class, business experts and ensuring they leave with specific actions to take before the next meeting we stimulate them to keep moving the bar on their business idea”, says Chris Hanks.

In just two meetings there have already been some significant “ah ha” moments.  A couple of start-ups realized they needed to go back to the drawing board and re-think their business idea. Better it was discovered here than after spending a lot of time and money. Those who remain in are getting some very candid and valuable advice - free of charge.

I’d like to share two of the more significant lessons learned thus far  - as every business whether just starting out or well established could equally benefit from these.

1.  Stay focused on the problem you are trying to solve with your business.  Businesses thrive because they solve a problem or fill and need for a price their target market is willing to pay.  The better you are able to define the problem or need, as well as the target market, the more likely your solution will hit the mark, is unique and thus desired.

2.  To succeed in the marketplace your product must be “sellable” – customers are willing to pay a price to solve a problem or fill a need.  I know this seems kind of simple but there are a lot of problems in this world that just aren’t worth a dime to solve.  At the same time there are many successful businesses born out of making you aware of a problem you never thought you had (TV remote, pizza delivered hot and fast to my door).

I will continue to add to these lessons-learned as the school year progresses.  Here are the other mentors giving their time to support this exciting project.

Brent Chandler, Founder and CEO, Form Free – an Athens based start-up launched in 2009.
Nicholas Berente, Assistant Professor UGA.  He was the founder and President of Pentagon Engineering Corporation, a company he sold in 2002.  More recently he founded The Qube La, a mobile and web application development company.
Nick Campbell, Sr. Associate, Alvarez & Marsal North America, LLC.

About the author.  Mike Gomez is President of Allegro Consulting, a growth specialty firm helping turnaround privately-held businesses wrestling with stagnant growth. He grew his very first client’s business from $8M to $35M in just two years.  Prior to Allegro Mike sold military fighter jets to foreign allies for aerospace giants, Boeing and Lockheed.  He is a prolific speaker, writer, three-time marathoner, a former USAF officer and pilot of both aircraft and helicopters.