BUILD students from Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH) and Burke High and the undergraduate students in the Entrepreneurship Club of Northeastern University got down to serious business on February 16, 2012 at the BUILD Business Skills Workshop held at Northeastern University. The Workshop, which consisted of two components, was designed to offer valuable information and practical advice that would help the BUILD student entrepreneurs kick-start their ventures and also help overcome challenges that most business tend to face in their start-up phase. If the enthusiasm and swiftness with which the BUILD students assimilated the new ideas shared with them and translated them into action is to be considered an indication of how things will turn out for these student entrepreneurs, then their companies and products, currently in their early stages, are all set for success!
The Workshop opened with a talk by Matthew Krepps, PhD, MBA, and Masters in Economic and Business Administration all from Harvard University! Very simply put, this talk was all about – “how to figure out where a product stands in relation to competing products”. The students were introduced to a very useful, practical way of measuring this – ‘graphs’. After walking them through an example, the teams were encouraged to pick up a paper and pen and repeat the exercise for their own products and graphically see for themselves how their products compare against their competitors’ in terms of what they had identified as the core features of their products. For the next 20 minutes, the atmosphere in the room turned electric. Student teams huddled together trying to figure out whether their products scored better or worse over products of their competitors on different variables, ranging from price, originality, ease of use, durability, to donation to charity and meaningfulness! Here’s a sample of some of the questions and statements (and sometimes threats!) that were exchanged by the student CEOs, CFOs, COOs, VP Sales & Marketing–“We have to be affordable else our customers will turn us down!”; “How much does Gucci charge for that?”; “If we can’t be a niche, we should at least be durable”; “Everyone can’t be our market”; “You better be able to cut down cost of raw materials!”…sounds like board room talk, right?! The students gradually recognized that there were tradeoffs between the various aspects of the product. More exclusive might mean less originality. The trick was getting things calibrated just right so that they arrived at the optimal combination of characteristics that best fit their product and the market they were trying to reach. At the end of 20 minutes (actually 30 minutes, the 20 minutes were graciously extended by another 10 by Ryan Oliver, Site Director, BUILD Boston), 3 teams were chosen to present their graphs, “I See Colors”, “Glove Warmers” and “Backpack Organizer”. The competitors that these teams were taking on were formidable – Gucci, Gap, North Face, Columbia and the like! And on some counts such as affordability and creativity, the BUILD student teams even managed to stump these big names!
For the next round, focus shifted from team to individual skill building. Separate training sessions were held for the student CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and VPs of Sales & Marketing on Resume Building & Linkedin; Pitching through Power Point Presentations; Social Media and other relevant topics. These sessions kept up with the momentum and enthusiasm that the first session had generated. The ‘Resume Building and LinkedIn’ session involved comparing two hypothetical resumes, one very haphazardly structured, bad resume (of a fictitious “Bobby Jones” – whose work experience included, dealing with obnoxious customers and cleaning up people’s disgusting mess while waitressing at Applebees; and whose skills included getting away with not doing homework and littering!) with another well very written, well structured resume. The ‘Pitching through PowerPoint Presentation’ session held for the CEOs was equally informative and realistic. Some of the advice shared included – “You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you are unable to explain it clearly no one will care”; “follow the 6 by 6 rule i.e. no more than 6 words per bullet, 6 bullets per slide!”; and “maintain eye contact with the audience while presenting”, these are indeed pointers that even seasoned presenters sometimes forget leading to ineffective presentations. The social media training session highlighted the importance of various aspects of a good online profile. “Whether your company is massive or tiny, social media will help get you out there, and get your message across” the Northeastern students said. They showed profile pages of companies like Walmart, as well as BUILD in Boston itself. They then launched into a hands-on workshop, where they worked with BUILDers to set up a Facebook page for their business step-by-step. Once the individual training sessions wound up, teams re-grouped for a final, upbeat wrap up by Ryan on the lessons learnt at the Workshop.
At the cost of sounding repetitive, if these student entrepreneurs retain and apply even a small fraction of what they learnt at this Workshop, and they clearly demonstrated that they were capable of doing so, then GAP, Gucci & North Face will need to watch out, the BUILDERS mean serious BUSINESS!
We are excited to officially welcome BUILD Boston's new Regional Executive Director, Betsy Neptune! Betsy comes to us with many years of experience as an executive leader and brings to BUILD wisdom and experience in entrepreneurship, economic development, coaching, team development, and nonprofit management.
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