10 Lessons from 10 Years of Babson’s Summer Venture Program
During that 10-year span, more than 200 student founders have participated in the experience, building entrepreneurial skills and accelerating the development of their startups. Some went on to appear—and close deals—on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Others won pitch competitions, moved on to national accelerator programs like Y-Combinator, or closed major rounds of funding. Some have pivoted to launch new ventures. All of them use lessons from the program in their everyday lives as entrepreneurs.
What are those lessons? To celebrate the accelerator’s 10th anniversary, we spoke with SVP alumni to determine the top 10.
1. Know Your Goals
Whether it’s to make connections, develop a go-to-market strategy, scale, or anything in between, having a goal in mind was crucial for SVP members to focus their efforts during the 10-week accelerator.
“We went into every year with a goal,” said Enrico Palmerino, who participated for two summers as co-founder of ThinkLite. “Our first year, we needed to figure out the business model and how to sustain that business model, and year two was about scaling.”
“My goal for the summer was to learn as much as I could from everyone involved in the program,” said Braeden Ruud, co-founder and CEO of Raised Right. “It was a ‘Master’s in Launching.’ Everything I learned from the other startups, mentors, and guest speakers will stick with me forever.”
2. Founder Is a Full-Time Job (At Least for the Summer)
Launching a business is challenging enough; add in the demands of being enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program, and you have the difficult balancing act student founders must manage.
“During the school year, we have classes, extracurricular activities, and term assignments,” said Derek Tu, co-founder of Vidvision. “There was never enough time to focus solely on building a startup and being a full-time founder. SVP gave me that opportunity to pursue my dreams.”
3. You Are Not Alone
Summer Venture Program is a cohort-based model; everyone progresses through the experience together. Among the many benefits of this approach: being surrounded by, and able to learn from, likeminded peers.
“Having such a great group of friends to work with every day helped me learn to be brave and keep pushing forward,” said Abby Speicher Carroll, co-founder and CEO of DartDrones. “Without the other founders in the Summer Venture Program, I might not have realized all of the roadblocks I ran into were completely normal.”
4. Make (and Maintain) Connections
Be they with program mentors, fellow participants, or guest speakers, connections made in the program can help you in the moment, and throughout your career.
“As an angel investor himself, David Chang [director of SVP] really helped us with fundraising,” said David Zamarin, founder of DetraPel. “He understood what we were trying to pursue, and helped us tremendously with calculating our valuation.”
“Connections with mentors, and the people running the program, were one of the most valuable aspects of the program for us,” said Rob Hunter, co-founder and CEO of HigherMe. “Six months after the program, Cindy Klein Marmer introduced us to our first investor.”
5. Build Your Team Wisely
From interns to full-time employees, many SVP alumni credit the program for giving them necessary experience building, managing, and leading a team. With each new person, you are building a culture that defines what your company is all about.
“Managing employees is always the hardest part of being an entrepreneur,” said Carroll. “Building and effectively using employees has always—and probably will always be—the hardest part of owning a business. The Summer Venture Program helped me ease into the extremely complex role of CEO.”
6. Constantly Seek Feedback
One of the biggest takeaways for all SVP alumni: feedback is critical. And to find as many ways as possible to get it.
“Summer Venture Program was huge on feedback, and that constant feedback loop was so helpful,” said Yulkendy Valdez, co-founder of Project 99. “Experts asked us tough questions, gave us authentic but tough feedback. Because of that, we left SVP in a better position than when we started.”
7. Don’t Fear the Hot Seat
One of SVP’s signature feedback experiences is the hot seat, where teams pitch their businesses, and fellow participants offer constructive feedback to improve the presentation. It’s an opportunity to identify, and focus on, what needs to be fixed.
“Getting feedback during the hot seat on how we told our story played a huge role in developing our marketing messaging,” said Ruud.
8. Feedback Isn’t Personal
But, don’t worry if the feedback you receive—be it in the Hot Seat or one on one—is constructive. Everyone’s goal is to help make your business better.
Emily Levy, co-founder and CEO of Mighty Well, remembers a moment when an idea she shared was “ripped apart,” and she took the feedback personally. But, ultimately, she said, the experience helped her grow. “As I’ve continued as an entrepreneur, I’ve faced so much heartache and rejection. Being desensitized to it early on was valuable.”
9. Just Show Up
Building on the importance of finding mentors, and putting yourself out there, Levy recalled a time when her SVP mentor identified an opportunity—a nearby nursing conference—to solicit feedback on her product, a PICC line cover. “I kept telling him why I shouldn’t go. But, he pushed me to go, show my prototype, and see what they thought. I just showed up. And, I still do that today. I show up, give it my all, and see what happens.”
10. 10 Weeks Will Fly By
Ten weeks might feel like a long time, but when you’re in the program, it flies by.
“It was exciting, it was crazy,” said Palmerino. “It went too fast—it started and then it was suddenly done. At the same time, you couldn’t believe how much you accomplished in 10 weeks. Time sped up and it slowed down.”
“Summer Venture Program is one of our most competitive and sought after experiences at the Blank Center, and for good reason. It’s so intense!” said Debi Kleiman, executive director of the Blank Center. “Our student teams go through so much in just 10 short weeks. We are striving to put our student entrepreneurs in the best position to succeed with their ventures and have the confidence and capability to take the next step.”
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