Recently I slipped the gentle bonds of silicon valley research and attended the University Of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School Of Business annual Entrepreneurial Conference in Center City, Philadelphia. Now in its 16th successful year, this student organized and run conference is a proven business accelerator and brings together the brightest and bravest: those folks who have or are in the process of starting their own businesses, and members of the venture capital, professional services and academic communities whose passion for the entrepreneurial spirit makes gatherings like this one possible.
For those of you who have been following the latest goings on in the technology sector in the City of Brotherly love, you’ll have come to realize that there’s more here now than Biotech. Sure, the wonderful location and access to such a great collection of post-secondary institutions in and around the city has made Philadelphia a mecca for biotech and pharmaceuticals, but the buds of a renewed focus on the lean start-up have begun to blossom here on the shores of the Delaware River, and with such a well trained work force, access to capital and low cost of doing business, I predict Philadelphia will continue to attract and nurture innovation and entrepreneurial adventure.
Of the many fine things I learned during the one day conference, perhaps the most striking to me was the “Six Points of Risk” every start up business and Venture Capitalist needs to identify and understand. An afternoon session called “VC Confessions, Why We Funded, Why We Passed” was moderated by Steven Cohen, a Partner and Co-Manager of the emerging businesses practice at Law firm Morgan Lewis, and included Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital, Rob Conerbeer of Shasta Ventures, Gil Beyda from Genacast Ventures and Entrepreneur Joe Cohen who founded and is CEO of Coursekit.
The Six Points of Risk Are:
- Market Risk: Is the market for your product or service big enough?
- Penetration Risk: What’s your market share, and how are you going to get it?
- Capital Risk: How much do you need, and how long will it last?
- Management Risk: Who is on the team, what strengths do they have and what skills are you missing?
- Technology Risk: How unique, how scalable, and can it easily be replicated? (Barriers to entry?)
- Competitive Risk: What is the landscape? Who are your competitors and why are you better?
Despite the relative simplicity of the list, the panelists relayed how common it was for entrepreneurs seeking capital to be unaware of or unprepared for one or more of them in presentations to potential investors. In general it was agreed that if each of these risks has been carefully considered and the entrepreneur is confident in his or her ability to face them, then the battle has almost been won. Only execution remains, and companies with a handle on these six risks are considered much safer bets.
Whether starting a new business, expanding an existing one, or launching new products or services, one would do well to consider the advice I head that day. Do your research. Know your risks. You’ll have a shorter path to success.