Last month, I mentioned that members of the Entrepreneurship Society at Fordham University attended workshops at NASDAQ's Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, California. This month, I interviewed Nicola Corzine, founding Executive Director of the Center.
With over 15 years of strategic business development experience and thought leadership in entrepreneurship, Nicola oversees strategic and operational leadership at the Center. She works closely with the organization's President and Board of Directors to drive and implement program planning, business operations and fundraising.
She is also a Partner in the 2009 Acorn Fund which includes investments in Niveus Medical, Practice Fusion, CrowdOptic, Materna, and Flywheel, one of the biggest names in the E-hailing industry.
What was your involvement as founding Executive Director?
As founding Executive Director I was fortunate to help frame the strategy of the Center to be the hub for inspiring founders of all backgrounds to have a welcome and safe learning environment to access quality education and resources that advance their definition of success.
Because of their support of entrepreneurship and financial education, Nasdaq and the Nasdaq Educational Foundation conceived the idea of the Center and are proud to have provided the start-up funding to initiate the reach to more than 2,000 founders per year.
What is the Center's relationship with Berkeley Law?
Thanks to our great Board member and founding partner of the Center, Steve Bochner of WSGR, the Center was able to design and provide quality legal tools for founders that enable them to gain insights into critical business formation issues and deep dive legal topics relating to such matters as IP and cyber security. The continued faculty support has empowered more than 200 founders to have guidance on matters most often foreign and confusing for founders to navigate.
Please tell me about the Center's other partnerships.
The Center has partnered with a host of remarkable universities, such as Fordham and UC Berkeley, as well as leading accelerators, including 1776 and Sup46 -- to help support their curriculum and training. All of this is underwritten by our remarkable partners including, KPMG, WSGR, GE Ventures, Thomson Reuters, University of Melbourne, Citi Foundation and Nasdaq amongst many more.
Why is there such an emphasis on mastering the pitch?
Most founders struggle with the art of storytelling. Yet, intrinsically storytelling is critical to their success - in fundraising, closing the first reference customer, or convincing a team member to join you absent a healthy balance sheet. Learning how to lead with the "customer" in mind (whoever that person may be) is not a skill that's often taught. Helping founders succeed with confidence to move forward in their ladders of progression is a critical part to what we believe in at the Center.
What's the definition of a good pitch?
A good pitch is learned, designed, refreshed and reviewed. It begins with clearly identifying what the customer needs to make a next step; a one size fits all approach never works. It must be credible; it must be in your voice and connect you to the value and belief of what makes this an unforgettable opportunity.
There is always an ask and there is always a summary of takeaways. Practically speaking, you must understand the "consuming" part of the pitch; is it presented, is it left behind? Tactically this will have a major impact on how you design and choose what stays and what gets left out.
We were fortunate to have Guy Kawasaki teach at the Center earlier this year and he is a master of design rules for pitches - all entrepreneurs should read and review the 10/20/30 rule even if you're not trying to convince someone to give you funding!
What are the most common mistakes in pitching?
Leading with an intense description of features not reason (I.e. Is it an elephant or what?). Forgetting that it's always personal and an engaged audience wants to connect with you. Exaggerating can lose your credibility - never to be regained - and often times founders forget to define the summary and call to action for next steps.
Who commits to becoming a mentor at the Center?
We have an amazing base of mentors who share best practices and lessons learned at the Center. Starting with our fireside chats led by the Center's President of the Board and Vice-chairman of Nasdaq, Bruce Aust. Already this year we've learned about leadership from David Cush and John Chambers who have helped inspire the next generation of great innovators on what it takes to succeed.
We have also provided mentorship through our Open a Door campaign, supported by investors, founders, and executives who are committed to pulling forward a diverse base of women and minority entrepreneurs. In addition to this, our Board, Young Executive Advisors and extended faculty, have helped provide more than 350 hours of mentoring to date.
What are best practices for mentors?
There are some great examples of strong mentoring programs out there ranging from best practices inside angel groups to think tanks like Kauffman fellows, Gallup and MIT's forum amongst many more. Ultimately to increase the rewards for both parties who are giving up valuable time and resource allocation, measuring and managing expectations is key. Rarely are job reqs, timelines, and KPIs talked about amongst mentor and mentee.
While it should never be rigid in design, a good mentor knows when to step it up and when to pass the baton. All too often in my past as an investor I'd talk about a founder being "the right CEO" for a certain period of time and, yet, I'd often lament that I found myself wondering if the same was needed to be said of me as a mentor at times. Framework is needed for mentors as is a support system designed for their success; both of which we're committed to fostering at the Center.
Which industries are represented at the Center & in what percentage?
The Center is industry and stage agnostic; 48% of the 1200+ entrepreneurs served to date are non-traditional tech. Of this, our greatest makeup are social impact and education founders, accounting for nearly 20% of all attendees.
Are there any efforts to cross-pollinate industries?
By applying an interdisciplinary approach to founder education, we find that defenses tend to be lowered and sharing of support occurs faster on a peer-to-peer level. Instead of focusing on an industry nuance, we change the conversation to business challenges which enables more conversations to be started in a trusted environment. Frequently you'll hear founders offering insights and tips to one another from tech to non-traditional tech as a result.
Please tell me about the Center's original, actionable research.
We believe in the importance of providing tools for founders that help them measure and enhance their journey as a founder. Our first piece of research is focused on providing a diagnostic tool for founders that enables them to allocate time and resources to improve the skills that they need the most help in improving. This Entrepreneur Health Score is meant to be a landing spot to come back to in their journey that helps them identify what classes, events, programs or types of mentors they should seek out. Phase 1 of the study is complete and focused on identifying the top attributes for success as an entrepreneur based on published works, academic findings and public data on entrepreneurship. This helped build the initial model so that in Phase 2 (currently underway) we can focus on core findings of our survey and in-person analysis. The full findings of this report will be made available close to our 1 year anniversary this September and will hopefully lead to the classification diagnostic tool before the end of the year.
How does the Center redefine perceptions of entrepreneurship in the public imagination?
Entrepreneurs are understood to be the cornerstone of what makes this country so great. They do not, however, come in a one-size fits all approach and success is measured in moments with many detours along the path. This is very rarely the perfect picture of "up and to the right" in a typical hockey stick approach. While unicorns do exist, they are not the only type of remarkable entrepreneur that improves the lives of individuals, communities, ecosystems and countries and it is our opportunity to highlight the richness of such talent in all shapes and sizes through our work and education at the Center.
We believe that hubs of entrepreneurs are best served by connecting nodes together to learn and foster best practices amongst those who have been there before them. Entrepreneurship is a continued learning and evolving field; it never stays static and neither do the founders themselves. It is our fortune and responsibility to design the classes, education and resources they need for the marathon ahead and focus on building great founders without limiting ourselves to just the immediate company or project of the moment. That way, regardless of pivots, market nuances, or economic factors, we are building great innovators who can best solve and create solutions to the greatest challenges - and opportunities - that lie ahead.