Ann Arbor Entrepreneurs Make a Statement

The largest business plan competition, Accelerate Michigan, had just completed its main award ($500,000) a week before.  This week, however, a dozen startups gathered in the basement of Ann Arbor SPARK  to give their pitch after weeks of hard work not for prize money but for the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to take their idea forward.

These Ann Arbor entrepreneurs had just completed a revamped boot camp program that fully embraced the customer development and lean startup methodologies which are widely being used by the leading startup hubs in the world including Silicon Valley. The key part of this process is that the emphasis is on collecting hard data outside of the building from real customers instead of focusing on business plans, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.

The results were…. Impressive!

Unlike typical business plan competitions the entrepreneurs in this program presented their results with significant real world data that backed up their claims.

Usually when I push an entrepreneur during these types of presentations for why they choose a particular approach or how  they come up with a specific pricing model the typical response is “we believe the market wants…”.  Pure guessing.

These entrepreneurs however, like many who fully embrace customer development methodologies, had DATA.  Instead of the typical response from an entrepreneur presenting being: “We believe …”.   The typical response from the SPARK boot camp presenters was: “Of the X customers we spoke to Y% stated…”.  Love it!

More importantly, the ideas that entrepreneurs had started with when they entered the competition had significantly changed (pivoted), which is what you expect to happen when you start trying to validate your hypotheses.  Its amazing to me that we still hold events that reward people’s guesses instead of the behavior we want all entrepreneurs to learn.

At the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship we worked hard for the last four years pushing modern entrepreneurial curriculum into the class room and ultimately the fabric of startup activity on campus for both students and researchers but I had not seen it permeating off campus events until this one.

Congratulations to Bill Mayer and Viktor Brandtneris for all their hard work in revamping SPARK’s boot camp program.  Most of all, congratulations to the entrepreneurs who got out of the building and learned so much about what it will really take to build their company!

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