Founder & CEO, StartUpWind
Naren Patil ’10 knows the challenges entrepreneurs face.
He felt the pains of starting a new business in 1998 when he launched IT consulting company Optimyz Software. As founder, CEO and CMO, he led the startup to profitability within two years, securing key tech customers such as Sun Microsystems and Quantum. The experience taught him that the biggest obstacle to new venture creation is not having a network to help along the way.
“I have talked to hundreds of people who say, ‘We have a lot of ideas, but we don't know where to get started,’” he shares. “They don't know how to attract a team or advisors who can guide them in the right direction.”
While funding is critical, entrepreneurs need more than investors to get an idea off the ground; they need the support of an entire ecosystem. Patil saw a gap in professional and social networking options available to entrepreneurs. “You need a social network that’s very focused and specialized for entrepreneurs and people interested in startups,” he explains.
So Patil created StartUpWind, an “entrepreneur’s social network and equity crowd-funding platform” that helps entrepreneurs bring raw ideas to life by connecting them with like-minded peers, successful alumni, mentors and capital. Launched in February 2016, the network already has more than 4,000 users from a range of top schools such as Northwestern, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Indian Institute of Management, and Indian Institute of Technology.
Using a simple, four-question form, entrepreneurs can share ideas on the StartUpWind site with everyone in the network, Patil says. “People start liking and commenting, so they actually get encouragement as well as constructive feedback.”
StartUpWind also benefits non-entrepreneurs, whether it’s a professional who wants to act as a mentor or advisor, an engineer or marketer who wants to work at a startup, or an investor looking for new opportunities. Smaller investors have the chance to get in on the ground floor of a startup that they wouldn’t have via normal PE/VC funding routes.
These are “a completely new breed of investors who have the wherewithal to put $10,000 to $25,000 a year,” he explains.
Building on the bonds of alumni is also key to StartUpWind’s model. The site has targeted students and alumni from approximately 50 top-tier schools in the United States, and premier schools in India. In five years, Patil says, he hopes that the network will grow to 2 to 4 million users.
Naturally, Kellogg already plays a prominent role in that network. The StartUpWind team includes alumni from Kellogg, while Northwestern professors Robert Wolcott (Kellogg), Mark Werwath (Farley Center) and Chris Reisbeck (McCormick) serve as advisors to the startup.
“The Kellogg curriculum is phenomenal, but the most important thing is the culture of collaboration and the relationships that you build,” says Patil, who did serve as CMO of the Kellogg Alumni Club of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. “Several of my Kellogg friends are either advising, providing feedback or evangelizing. They all think this is a great tool for them to foster entrepreneurship within the Kellogg network.”