MIT $50K Judges Give Top 10 Recommendations for Start-ups

Cambridge, Mass., May 14, 2003 — As a start-up business you couldn't pick a better advisory panel than the group of judges that preside over the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition. More than 75 companies have been started over this student business plan competition's 14 years. So what is the best advice of this group of veteran venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and lawyers for fledgling businesses?

“Don't be deterred by the current economic climate,” said $50K Judge Jon Gworek, partner at the law firm Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, P.C. “Good news comes with the bad. Money may be difficult to come by, but other resources are very much available. Seasoned executive level people who are in-between opportunities and can be added to your team, real estate is cheaper than it has been in years, and lawyers, accountants and others are much more accessible.”

“While many students find it useful to first cut their teeth in an established company before starting their own venture, there's no doubt that entrepreneurs who are waiting for a better economy are losing out on crucial start-up time,” said Richard Schmalensee, dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management. “If this is the right market timing for your idea, get moving.”

The judges' tips showed a heavy dose of “mind your market.” Here, in no particular order, are the MIT $50K judges' top 10 pieces of advice for start-ups.

  • Know your customers and your customers' pain instinctively. Be absolutely clear about how you can uniquely mitigate their pain. (Mike Grandinetti, veteran entrepreneur and MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer)
  • It's customer, customer, customer. Find a customer for whom your product or service is a “must have” and who will buy again. (Joe Hadzima, Main Street Partners LLC and MIT Sloan lecturer)
  • Clearly articulate your intellectual property strategy. Without that you won't get any money. (Joe Capraro, partner at Testa, Hurwitz, Thibeault)
  • If you can avoid raising venture capital, do so. If you need venture capital, raise more than you think you need. Either way, focus on sales and conserve cash. (Rich Kivel, CEO MolecularWare)
  • It's all about cash and cash management these days, as opposed to metrics like eyeballs or number of users. You have to know you're going to make money today and not try and figure it out later. (Dan Roach, Brown & Brown, veteran entrepreneur)
  • Know your competition and find examples of companies that have succeeded doing something similar to what you propose. Do this before writing a plan or trying to raise money. (David Stone, Managing Director, Flagship Ventures)
  • Focus on your sustainable advantage: how you'll respond to competition. That's what gives a company life for the longer term. (Michael Feinstein, Senior Principal at Atlas Venture)
  • Surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs. Don't get caught up in control issues. (Jon Gworek, partner at Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton)
  • Put your heart behind what you're doing. If you believe in your product and its value to consumers, down to your soul, you can move people to action. (Dan Hart, CEO, Echo)

And as one judge said,

  • You'll be facing significant challenges. Get as much qualified advice as you can. (Bob Curtis, president & CEO, Histometrix)

With this list, you're on your way.

The MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition's mission is to produce tomorrow's leading firms. It will hold its final awards on May 14 at 7pm in Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On that evening, a grand prize winner and 2 runners up will be chosen out of a field of 118 entering teams. The winning teams will split the $50,000 prize which they can use to launch their new companies. Successful alumni companies include: Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM), Direct Hit Technologies (acquired by Ask Jeeves), Lexicus (acquired by Motorola), Sensable Technologies, Webline Communications, NetGenesis (acquired by SPSS), Silicon Spice (acquired by Broadcom), and Harmonix.

Contacts for Media:

Armina Karapetyan, $50K Communications Lead

Kathleen Rowe, MIT Sloan Media Relations

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