About a year ago I left Terrafugia and launched myself solo into Boston’s entrepreneurship scene. The advice given to me by a distant mentor was “find some local entrepreneurship resources and get involved.” I started by Googling. I was amazed by how much exists in Boston. Two groups in particular have earned a lot of my attention on account of their polished and varied programming:
IEEE Boston Entrepreneur’s Network
(Visit Boston ENET.)
The format of the meeting provides “as you like it” networking time way before, before, and after a set of three carefully screened and rehearsed presentations. Way before the meeting you can pay your own way to dinner at Bertucci’s. This is how I ended up meeting two of my eventual co-founders. At the meeting location itself there’s time to mix and mingle over sodas and snacks. After the meeting you can swarm the speakers or, even better, go introduce yourself to someone who asked an interesting question in front of the group.
The presentations are moderated, well timed, complementary perspectives on a single theme. For instance, this month’s meeting was “How do you know you’re ready to start a company?” The first speaker, Greg Skloot of Attendware, talked about the difference between tinkering on a project and really knowing that you have a business. The second speaker, Joe Baz of Above the Fold, gave insights into the personal aspects of entrepreneurship. Third we had Vicki Donlan, an impressively experienced consultant able to speak to a wide variety of startup success and dysfunction. We closed with Bill Seibel, whose resume slide made you turn to the person next to you and whisper “Wow.”
Every time I go to ENET:
- I meet someone helpful to my startup.
- I’m entertained by at least one charismatic and engaging speaker.
- I find a new role model of entrepreneurial success.
The Capital Network
This is like getting a laser-focused entrepreneur’s MBA for $400. Before I joined, I knew more than the average entrepreneur about debt and equity, about investment, and about business valuation. But the rules and norms for startups are usually a little different, and often they’re quite esoteric. For instance, when you buy $50,000 worth of stock of a publicly traded company worth $5,000,000, you get 1% of the company. When you buy the same amount from a startup worth the same thing, you get 0.99%. The reason is because of this difference: buying publicly traded stock gives you existing shares; buying startup stock causes new shares to be issued. If you’re thinking about taking investor money, this consideration and others must enter into your calculations, because the dilution effect on you means your share of the company will shrink with each investment round.
Unlike ENET, TCN often has a single speaker go for the full 90 minutes. In this format, the topics are meandering overviews of narrow subjects driven partly by slides and partly by audience questions. It’s a real good chance to ask about your specific startup. For instance, at the “founder issues” talk given by Paul Sweeney at Foley Hoag, we had a good audience-driven discussion about setting the strike price of stock options given to employees. (See my previous article here.) They also experiment with panels and roundtable discussions, which are helpful for giving diverse perspectives or more time in smaller groups.
Every time I go to a TCN lunch:
- I get delicious, healthy food.
- I can ask detailed questions of a knowledgeable speaker.
- I meet someone new starting an exciting business.
If you’re in Boston, you get access to lots of good Internet resources just the same as anyone else anywhere in the world. But these two groups are fun and, if you’re really going to do this for the first time, absolutely essential.