On Friday April 29th, Launch NJ hosted its end-of-semester Entrepreneur Tank in Madison alongside the Drew University business school’s student Shark Tank event.
The Launch NJ event put three entrepreneurs in front of a panel of experts from the startup space, and the primary goal was to have the entrepreneurs pitch to the panel and get feedback on their business models and pitches.
To make things just a bit more interesting, Launch NJ made a point of filling the room with an audience, thereby turning the feedback process into a learning experience for the entire community.
While no funding or competition was on the line for the event, there was still pressure on the entrepreneurs, as they made their pitches in front of the panelists and the audience.
After the opening networking segment, which featured time for the entrepreneurs, panelists and attendees to get to know each other, the event officially kicked off.
Filling out the panel of experts on the night of was Vishal Singh, cofounder of InnCreTech (New York); Scott Barnett, founder of Bizyhood (Asbury Park); Marc Baskin, vice president of finance and operations at FlexWage Solutions (Mountainside); Ann Mills, founder and principal of The Resourceful Business (Summit); Christian J. Jensen, a partner at the law firm OlenderFeldman (Summit); and, finally, Richard J. Colosimo, an attorney at OlenderFeldman. Their many years of combined experience in the startup space, both in New Jersey and (for some) Silicon Valley, made for a very strong panel.
First up at the podium was David Leibowitz, who presented his startup, PicketFencer (Maplewood). PicketFencer is a platform that allows house hunters to make their decisions based on the towns that would best fit what they’re looking for. Instead of taking the time to find a good house, visiting the house and surrounding area, and then deciding that they love the house, but not the town, house hunters can use PicketFencer to flip that process. David first provides them with the ability to find a town they’d love to live in, and then the house or apartment that would be the perfect fit for them.
Following David’s presentation and feedback, the podium was handed over to Adam Greenwald and his startup, Montclair-based LaunchableLabs, which aims to be the Airbnb of coworking. This means that Adam wants LaunchableLabs to be “a coworking and colearning platform” that allows spaces to be rented out and educational classes to be held wherever and whenever. He hopes to bring value to the tremendous growing population of freelancers and remote workers worldwide.
The final presentation of the night came from Faris Jebara, who pitched for Vocate Academy (New Brunswick). Faris’ passionate presentation spoke to the need in the education space for a solution that allows teens to see what their desired career paths would be like when they graduate from college. Vocate Academy hopes to provide teens with career trial courses that will give them simulated job experiences, including a taste of the kind of work they’d actually be doing in their desired careers. Faris spoke from his own experience, saying that if he’d known what his day-to-day work experience would be like before committing to his master’s degree, he would have gone in a different direction.
All of the presentations given that night were of good quality and showed promise, but the panel had plenty of feedback to give to the entrepreneurs.
One response to most of the presentations was that the entrepreneurs should test their business assumptions before building or marketing their startups. A major point of the feedback was the suggestion that they use the Lean Startup methodology. Here’s what the panel also advised:
- Always validate a market need or a pain point within a market before building out a platform or team. If you’re not solving a problem for a market, then the chances are customers won’t spend money with you.
- Interact with your intended target market from the very start of your venture. Their feedback regarding your business is the most important of all.
- In a crowded marketplace, make sure you emphasize not only what makes you different from the competition, but what makes you better.
- Make sure your marketing approach is not too vague from the start. The value that your startup is providing should solve a specific problem for a specific market segment. Not every market segment you want to target has the same needs and desires.
- When pitching to investors, remember that the number-one thing they care about (for the most part) is traction, or at least some kind of go-to-market strategy. An important note here: You don’t even need to have your platform or product already built to prove traction. As long as you can prove that people will exchange their money for your product or service, that will get an investor’s attention much more than a well-designed website, application or software.
Launch NJ stresses that entrepreneurs must get as much feedback as possible throughout the process of building a business, regardless of how much feedback can, at times, be uncomfortable. It is crucial for an entrepreneur’s personal development and business decisions.