12 By 12 By 12 By 12 By 12
Yesterday, I participated in a very exciting event that culminated with the announcement by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick of an important funding program—a $1 million annual business plan competition called MassChallenge.
The essence of this announcement is to match the next generation of young aspiring entrepreneurs with numerous sources of capital, most likely local venture capitalists. The Governor has committed the State to match dollars committed by private sector investors to the top entrepreneurs who survive the MassChallenge screening process.
During the course of the events yesterday, my good friend Andy Ory (CEO of Acme Packet) and I moderated a panel stocked with local success stories: Desh Deshpande, Paul Sagan of Akamai, Bob Hower of Advanced Technology Ventures, Scott Savitz of Shoebuy.com, and Brian Shin of VisibleMeasures. We explored what was and was not working in the region as we try to build great venture-backed companies.
One consistent theme that the panel identified was the lack of broad-based mentorship to help this next generation of great entrepreneurs get started. So here is the commitment that Andy and I made to the audience: we will recruit 12 great successful CEOs to work with 12 VCs to mentor 12 promising young entrepreneurs to launch 12 new companies over the next 12 months. (Admittedly, I stated to the audience that it would be 20 companies in the first year, but upon reflection the alliteration of “12″ worked much better).
Office Hours: So what I will pursue over the next few months with Andy Ory is to see if we can establish “office hours”—that is, can we get a dozen successful CEOs in town to commit to open up their calendars and Rolodexes to a dozen promising entrepreneurs. Ideally these CEOs would serve as non-executive chairpersons and possibly provide some initial capital, but more importantly, they would provide guidance and advice. VCs get paid to see new opportunities, so it should be reasonably straight forward for me to line up the investors (maybe I will lean on the board of New England Venture Capital Association, which I happen to chair). And working with organizations such as MassChallenge, as well as our own deal flow, we should be able to identify a dozen great opportunities that merit funding.
I will keep you posted on our progress.