Reflections on the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival
NYU has a five prong approach toward entrepreneurship: inspire, educate, connect, accelerate, and fund. Frank Rimalovski, fearless leader of leader of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute and managing director of the NYU Innovation Venture Fund, kicked off the Second Annual NYU Entrepreneurs Festival with this five word mantra but emphasized the first three. He made clear that while attendees could potentially find their next source of funding over the next two days, the Festival was really an opportunity to feed the entrepreneurial soul. And I’m happy to report, we binged.
The tall task of inspiring an already driven and amped bunch fell squarely on the shoulders of the keynote speakers (who included the founder of Square). They did not disappoint. Whether it was from Herb Kelleher, NYU Law School graduate and founder of Southwest Airlines, sharing tales of his experiences leading one of the most successful public companies of the past half century, or from Dan Porter, another NYU alum, explaining his jump from different career paths before landing his startup success story with OMGPOP, attendees had plenty to draw something from.
Of course, perhaps nothing is as inspiring to a student as imagining a college-going Jack Dorsey turning his obsession with maps into a failed online dispatch company, only later to become a founder of Twitter. Of course,@Jack now runs the geometrically named, scrappy payments company mentioned above. #trifecta
Jack oozed inspiration, and for those still not converted or hesitant to go start their own business, he had advice for them too. “I don’t believe an entrepreneur by definition needs to start a business. You can have an entrepreneurial attitude within a company, or even within school.”
The festival was educational for anybody, whether serial entrepreneur or startup neophyte. The smaller breakout panels, workshops, and roundtables provided deeper dives into both new and familiar worlds. If you knew everything there was to know about NYC tech, a sitdown with Susie Levitt, co-founder of CitySlips, would have given you perspective on manufacturing physical products internationally and importing them for sale at major US department stores. If you had developed the next great life sciences innovation but needed a few pointers on commercialization, perhaps the “From the Lab to the World: Translating Research to Startup” panel or the “Leveraging Entrepreneurship Resources at NYU” roundtable might have pointed you in the right direction.
The variety of subject matters and industries was eye-opening to us tech geeks whose worlds start and end with mobile apps. It was a much needed dose of perspective. After all,“How many more social networks and fashion startups do we need?”
The most valuable and really, most fun part about the Festival was connecting with other entrepreneurs, investors, startup lawyers, and techies. So many times we attend Meetups or panels on entrepreneurship without having one meaningful conversation. Within the comfort of NYU’s non-judgmental, intellectual-curiosity-promoting walls, people seemed more open to have honest conversations about their passions and goals.
Much has been written about Jack Dorsey’s insights from the Festival—his fondness for Justin Bieber, his cry for peace between the NYC and Silicon Valley startup worlds, and his preference for self-taught coders. But perhaps the most important takeaway from the weekend came from the founder of Audible, Donald Katz, when he introduced Jack Dorsey and Fred Wilson. He spoke about Audible looking at Odeo as a potential acquisition and said the story goes that at Odeo Jack Dorsey sat alongside the other Twitter founders and across from intern, Kevin Systrom who co-founded of Instagram. Regardless their actual seating arrangements, it is no coincidence that such amazing entrepreneurs once worked together. Connecting with other passionate, smart, and driven individuals enables entrepreneurs to build powerful launchpads to success. The Festival provided a tremendous opportunity to do so.
The two days are over, but the quest to build something great (re)starts now. For those who didn’t attend but read this far, I know I’ll see you there next year. For those who did make it, see if you can catch yourself in this AV snippet produced by @Jack himself.