In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new nonprofit incubator/accelerator in Newark called “Fownders,” and it’s dedicated to mentoring young underserved tech entrepreneurs in the Newark community.
On its website, Fownders says that its goal is to grow the local startup ecosystem by inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs to start their businesses earlier and, in turn, help establish Newark as a hub for innovation.
Fownders held its first big event on August 8 — a startup pitch competition at the Red Bull Arena, in Harrison. The competition featured 12 entrepreneurs, with $10,000 in prize money at stake. The winner of the event was Jade Jordan who presented ArizeAlarm, an alarm clock app for folks who ignore their alarms. The alarm won't stop ringing until the user gets out of bed and types an inspirational phrase.
Prior to the pitches, several of the judges conducted “entrepreneur workshops” that provided insights into various aspects of entrepreneurship. The first to speak was Gerard Adams, the incubator/accelerator's founder, who spoke about leadership and emotional intelligence.
Adams said that he had started his career 13 years ago as an entrepreneur, and that it was really difficult to find mentors and resources to help guide him back then. Throughout his career, he made a point of finding people he could learn from or who could mentor him. “It was vital to my success.”
He told a story of how his first mentor led to his first big failure. This mentor put him on stage in front of 500 people for the first-ever live demonstration of a nano battery, and the demonstration didn’t work.
“That day was the worst day of my life, but that day shaped my future,” he recalled. “I said to myself, if I was able to get over that day, even though that company failed, I can learn from this.” As an entrepreneur, you have to learn from your mistakes and your failures, he told the group, and you have to continue seeking mentors.
Vince Randolph, chief engineer at Sociosmith, a product development company, gave a presentation on how to transition into entrepreneurship from a regular job, and how to build a structure that will let entrepreneurs scale once they are out of the 9-to-5 world. Randoph has a number of businesses, and he demonstrated how an entrepreneur can reach out from his base and create multiple strings of income.
“It’s really a way of thinking. A lot of people who work 9-to-5 jobs may have great ideas and think their great ideas will make them a million dollars. They think if they put their great idea out there, they will be able to leave their jobs.” While that is a lot easier said than done, there are ways people can go about making that transition.
Randolph suggested that entrepreneurs start with a website and place carefully selected ads for related or affiliated products on it. Describing the many types of income streams available to entrepreneurs online, he noted that people “will pay you to place advertising on your website if you have an audience they want to market to. You can create an e-book or an audio book. You can market yourself as a speaker. You can take blog posts and reconfigure that into an e-book and sell it on your site.”
Lindsey C. Holmes, founder and lead strategist of Usable Tech Co., a digital marketing and tech agency, said that she had started her company 10 years ago with a dream and parents who thought she was “playing” on Facebook and Twitter. Today she has many brand-name clients and is a certified Evernote consultant who has written nine books on the subject.
Holmes told the entrepreneurs in the audience to automate their businesses for productivity, as she did when she first started out. “Automation and productivity have become a passion because they allowed me to scale my agency,” she said. “Automation is really the difference between working on your business and having your business work you.”
She noted that when you start out, you should assess your business processes and plan to automate all of them. There are automated processes for accounting, expenses, tax management, customer relationship management, marketing content creation, analytics and much more. She suggested using a myriad of tools, including IFTTT (for “if this, then that”) and Zapier, to custom-design automated systems for business and personal needs.
One way Holmes uses IFTTT is to link RSS feeds of content to social media outlets like Facebook, ensuring that a rich flow of content is always going out. She cautioned that entrepreneurs should select productivity tools with a strong developer community behind them. “With your new time, you can analyze your processes and create a new project management ecosystem and task flow to get things done,” she added.
Taseen Peterson spoke about his productivity app, Notefuly, a digital mobile reminder platform. He mentioned that Notefuly had racked up just over 4 million downloads. On the subject of pitching, Peterson told the group that the number-one thing to remember is to be prepared. “When we pitched for SXSW, we practiced every day and had mentors who gave me feedback.” Seek feedback from the judges, as they can offer insights that will improve your pitch, he suggested.
Lisa Ascolese, founder and CEO of Inventing A-to-Z, who is also known as “The Inventress,” gave founders advice about pitching. “If you have an invention, have passion for it. … It will sell because you are convincing that person” you are talking to. One of her first products was a hair accessory that she sold on QVC. “My product sold because I believed that that product was for every single person watching the television show. … When I pitch a product on QVC [or any other venue] I make that product dance.” She advised all those pitching at the event to speak with passion and with a belief in their products.
Anthony Frasier, who is entrepreneur-in-residence at Newark Venture Partners, advised the group about how to build an audience online, something he had struggled with when he built his first app, when he went to Silicon Valley, and when he built his first gaming site.
He came up with a formula that emphasized consistency, quality and distribution. “It doesn’t really matter what you create,” he said. It could be a video series, a blog or something else. “Making sure you are really consistent with it is key.”
The benefits of consistency are that you develop a relationship with your audience and they know what to expect from you. “This positions you as an authority, and if you are an authority, you attract opportunities!”
Don’t forget that you can batch things, he added. When preparing his podcasts, for example, Frasier often creates ten episodes in one day, thereby having enough content for three months.
Frasier also pointed out that where you distribute your content matters, and you should find the distribution source that works for you. He said that one post on Medium brought in 5,000 views in a day, but when he put it on his own blog, it only drew 100 readers.
Also speaking was Charles Cording, Co-Founder, CCO at Shock + Awe, who talked to the participants about branding themselves.