Hatching a Lark: An Entrepreneur’s Journey Through the Business Plan Competitions

6/15/10

Startups are constantly using biology jargon—phrases like “incubation,” “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” “symbiotic relationships.” I never fully appreciated these analogies until this year, when my team and I became the sleep-deprived but happy parents of Lark Technologies, Inc., or Lark for short.

We have been diligently incubated by many university competitions—kept at a suitable temperature in a thoughtfully constructed mini-ecosystem until we develop enough to be hatched into a fledgling company with a higher likelihood of survival.

I’ve come to think of well-run business plan competitions like the MIT 100K and the Rice International Business Plan Competition as a simulation of reality that helps, ironically, to counterbalance real reality.

For Lark, these competitions provided us with an artificially optimal entrepreneurial ecosystem with project deadlines, project deliverables, mentors, and judges. They created structure, provided a name brand, and supplied a continued sense of urgency and priorities in an otherwise chaotic process.

They also almost killed our company before it hatched. But that’s the beauty of these experiences.

Commitment to an Idea

I started with a problem, an annoyance really, and if it weren’t for the MIT 100K’s Elevator Pitch Competition, I would have never committed to solving that problem by creating a company.

When I moved in with my boyfriend last year, we were already sleep deprived because of our workaholism, so it drove me crazy that he woke me up everyday with his alarm clock an hour before I had to get up. I had a bunch of ideas swimming around in my head about silent alarm clocks, but MIT’s first competition forced me to commit to the best of my half-baked ideas by pushing me in front of an audience for a 60-second Elevator Pitch. That’s how Lark got started.

Lark Technnologies' iPHone app and prototype wrist monitorMomentum

After getting to the top five in the competition, I realized how much my problem resonated with other couples. It gave me a new type of momentum and discipline. Instead of trying to fix our lives with some sort of hack job to deal with the problem ungracefully, my team and I pushed ourselves in defining Lark so that our technology could enable people to wake refreshed everyday.

The Focus After The Unfocus

The PR from the competition brought a flurry of interest, and as our team, product and business was taking shape, I was brainstorming with everyone. It was at once confusing and exciting. “What if Lark also solved snoring, what if Lark was a vibrating watch, what if…” The ideas grew and grew into an amorphous cloud of what the product and company could be.

But maybe these were necessary growing pains.

Through the sifting of all the great and sometimes contradictory advice, I realized a simple truism: Every mentor will have a different opinion, and it is your responsibility as an entrepreneur to be open to these ideas, but not to idealize them.

The benefit of having many mentors is that certain pieces of advice are consistently repeated, and those naturally rise above the white noise. This is why I don’t believe it’s … Next Page »

Julia Hu is the CEO and co-founder of Lark Technologies (www.ourlark.com). Read more about her team's journey at ourlark.posterous.com. Follow @

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