Kellogg Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2015





As they developed their idea for Groovebug in the NUvention: Web + Media program back in 2011, Nishant Verman ’11 and his co-founders felt like they were onto something: a personalized, rich media music magazine that aggregated content based off a user’s iTunes library. “When we started, it actually didn’t work,” Verman says, “which was great experience because we learned a lot about what the consumer cared about.”

Verman and his team pivoted quickly, creating a new product: a next-generation music app that brings a music publisher’s catalog to mobile devices. Verman changed course as well, going on to become senior director of corporate development at e-commerce giant Flipkart in India. But he shares that lesson and many others as a board member at Startup Village, India’s public-private partnership incubator.

Funded jointly by the public and private sectors, the incubator grew out of what Verman and his colleagues saw as a need in India for enabling entrepreneurship in colleges. “We realized if we could make entrepreneurship accessible down to the university level, then we could create a generation where people would be unafraid to take risks because they had not that much to lose,” he adds.

Generation “E”

Entrepreneurs like Verman are becoming the norm, as are incubators like Startup Village. The last decade has seen not only a boom in the number of incubators and accelerator programs around the world but also a radical shift in what these spaces can offer. The corporate parks of old providing discounted office space are a thing of the past.

Today, incubators and accelerators have become entrepreneurial ecosystems that provide expertise, support, mentoring and access to financing, essentially everything businesses need to get started. They also understand that a long-term focus is critical to building and sustaining these ecosystems, says Troy Henikoff, adjunct lecturer and managing director of Techstars Chicago, formerly Excelerate Labs, where he served as co-founder and CEO.

“You have to have a long-term, generational view,” he says. “If you do it because you want to see some great companies, invest in them and turn a profit in the first year, you will fail. If you want to help build an ecosystem that, 20 years from now, will be this rich, fertile ground for early-stage technology companies, you will have a shot at building something great.”

Developing the meta-entrepreneur

In developing these kinds of ecosystems, people like Techstars Co-founder Brad Feld have become what Kellogg Innovation Network Co-founder and Executive Director Robert Wolcott refers to as a “meta-entrepreneur.”

“It’s an entrepreneur whose mission is to help other entrepreneurs be more successful,” Wolcott explains. “They are leaders who make it their mission to build an organization, ecosystem or program to significantly influence and support the success of other entrepreneurs.”

He got the idea for the term after speaking with Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871. A serial entrepreneur who has launched or saved dozens of businesses, Tullman is considered one of the most sought-after entrepreneurial minds. “But now, he has a very different challenge,” Wolcott says, “which is building an entrepreneurial ecosystem at 1871.”

Housing more than 350 digital technology startups and graduating 65 companies in just three years, 1871 goes beyond the term incubator, with support from universities, state and local government, venture funds and hundreds of mentors. And in the thick of it is Tullman, overseeing this huge network of people, capital and ideas.

“I realized there’s no word for him,” Wolcott says. “There’s no word for this role.”


EMBA elective teaches the nuts and bolts of capital investment and identifying growth opportunities

The Kellogg-Recanati Executive MBA Program offers the global elective course, Venture Capital — What’s It All About, presented by veteran IT executive Avi Zeevi, a major player in the Israeli VC community.

Zeevi is co-founder and general partner at early-stage tech VC firm Carmel Ventures, which has more than $800 million under management.

The course focuses on the VC industry, its players and their respective roles. Participants experience the life cycle of investment decisions and learn the VC game plan and best practices of the industry. This allows students to get into the mindset of both parties and learn how to avoid common pitfalls within a classroom environment.

Students from the entire global network can attend, including EMBA students from Evanston and Miami.

“Professor Zeevi’s venture capital course is very popular every year, due to several factors,” says Jennifer Gerrard, director of Kellogg’s Executive MBA Global Network. “Professor Zeevi’s depth of practical experience in VC, along with the interactivity of the class and its setting in Tel Aviv, a hub of startup activity, make it a must-take for those interested in understanding the VC industry.”

Beyond the Valley

Greater accessibility to the Internet, enhancements in mobile technology and the widespread adoption of e- and m-commerce mean that these meta-entrepreneurs can build startup-friendly environments in places outside of New York and San Francisco. “We’re now connected and able to work anywhere because all the resources can be accessed from anywhere,” says 1871’s Tullman. “It’s not just that there are incubators or accelerators, it’s that the overall entrepreneur community now is materially different because people are no longer location-constrained in any respect.”

Because of that, communities full of new and transformative businesses have begun popping up around the world, says Malcolm Hebblewhite ’00. “We’re seeing multiple sites popping up as potential candidates where you can start your business because infrastructure has advanced,” he says.

Hebblewhite has a firm grasp on Sydney’s growing community of entrepreneurs. He spent years consulting for tech-based startups before joining Ignition Labs, Australia’s first niche seed accelerator program for early-stage medical device technologies, as a mentor and investor. Later, he joined tech incubator ATP Innovations as director of business development.

Currently, he works as sales and marketing manager for Rex Bionics, a Sydney-based medtech startup developing exoskeletal walking devices for the physically impaired.

“I wanted to bring to bear some of the experience I had, not just in medical devices but also in startups,” he says. “There’s a lot of activity around startups in Sydney — a lot of support, a lot of groups, a lot of venues. There’s even an increasing amount of investment capital available.”

Those growing communities are becoming more and more attractive to venture capital firms looking for a front-line position on all the latest — and potentially lucrative — developments in technology, says Rodrigo Baer ’07, principal at venture capital firm Redpoint eventures.

Baer knows the territory. He started off co-founding Warehouse Investimentos, an early-stage VC fund based in São Paulo, with classmates Moises Herszenhorn ’08 and Pedro Melzer ’07. “We were one of the very first VCs in the market here, so it was not only being an entrepreneur and creating your own VC but also being an entrepreneur in the sense of creating a whole different industry that didn’t exist.”

Now with Redpoint eventures, Baer can walk his companies through the challenging Brazilian market, where infrastructure and attitudes about entrepreneurship are catching up.

“In Brazil, it’s harder to get started,” Baer says. “It takes more money, time and resilience. On the flip side, once you get some traction, very few competitors are able to come into the market, so once you get over that hill, you’re probably going to see better margins.”

Standing on shoulders

Learning and sharing with other entrepreneurs is one of the main benefits of entrepreneurial ecosystems. “What’s really great is that you can stand on the shoulders of those who’ve been there before,” Henikoff says.

CEO and Founder of Keyrious, a luxury wearable tech company, Emily Fallon Baum ’13 has had the benefit of learning from others through her role as entrepreneur-in-residence at Citrix Startup Accelerator in Santa Clara, California. It’s a program she helped design that has connected her with many successful mentors. “The Bay Area is a big connector culture,” she says. “Many of the people who have made it want to help others succeed.”

While she builds Keyrious into a successful enterprise, Baum uses her time at Citrix to help others navigate the winding road entrepreneurs face, making her own path to launch a little less bumpy.

“I really enjoy getting to step out of my own bubble for a bit to share the resources and techniques that I have discovered with other entrepreneurs,” she says of her Citrix experience. “Seeing them realize their goals is incredibly rewarding.”