Higher Ed To Career Tech Startup Funded With Competitions, Incubators And Angels


Written by  Moira Vetter | As appeared in Forbes.

Moira Vetter, Founder & CEO Modo Modo Agency, Forbes Contributor

Patrick Jones, the Founder and CEO of Vocatio, has been on a tear. A graduate of Leadership Atlanta, Jones was exposed to the challenges of developing leaders by bringing college graduates into the workplace. Jones saw an opportunity to develop a technology solution that could bridge the gap between higher education and higher pursuits in employment. Thus Vocatio—which Jones call the GPS for your career journey—was born…but growing it would take a lot more financial creativity and a varied approach to fundraising.

The PeopleOps Innovation Challenge

Jones, a successful executive who had participated in growing a large firm to exit, got to work on his startup. He first connected with a consortium lead by a Nebraska firm called VentureTech. He found them the old-fashioned way… on Twitter. Vocatio and 160 other companies applied for the PeopleOps Innovation Challenge, a competition intended to help non-technical founders rapidly prototype ideas and get them market-test ready.’ Jones landed in the final four, went through an interview process and two week later was informed he’d won complete with $50k and technology services support.

What Can A Competition Do For You?

For those interested in competing for capital and support, it’s important tot remember that not all competitions are created equally. As Jones pointed out, VentureTech brought something even more valuable than capital to the table—they brought 5 beta customers. With those beta customers, Jones was able to get his idea closer to market.

Are incubators the next best step to find capital and your market entry?

Jones at this point applied to several accelerators in Palo Alto and Florida. But Jones cautions that as much as you want to get capital and find believers you have to guard against the hype. In his case he was able to find some amazing mentors when he was accepted to the Global Silicon Valley Labs incubator that helped broaden his network of advisors and potential investors.

Watch out for two kinds of people drawn to incubators and accelerators.

With the amount of popularity and attention that exists with accelerators there are two kinds of people to guard against. The first are the blind believers that love every idea they see. These people don’t have the critical eye or likely the connections to help you develop your idea.

But, according to Jones, and his advisor Ellen Leanse from Stanford, the more dangerous group are those that are there to deconstruct your idea, your ambition and water your concept down in to something they like. It can feel like a process of downloading critical intellectual property repeatedly that is not heading toward capital. This is where great advisors come in handy because entrepreneurs need people to check their enthusiasm and run critical assessments… but killing the concept or the entrepreneur serves no one.

So maybe Angel capital is the path to launch.

After several rounds trying to pitch, convince and advance his idea with accelerators, Jones decided to approach select Angel investors. Jones, connected with Mark Rampolla, founder of ZICO Coconut water, out of Los Angeles. With Angel capital, Jones was able to test not only his technical concept, but build the brand concept. User experience design testing and real-world research with potential users are critical to helping build the business case for a launch. Also, when considering who your lead investor is, consider how active they are. Mark Rampolla makes 10 to 15 investments a year and brings much more to the table for Vocatio than simply capital. He is a great barometer of the investment marketplace and the deals that are likely to grow in the near-term.

The next steps for a startup entrepreneur

Jones is about to close a $250k round of investment and is closer to entering the public market. He is preparing for a major milestone at the ASU GSV Summit. This is a huge summit for the investor community and Jones has already been selected as a presenter at the April conference in San Diego.

He has gotten an impressive management team pulled together, something critical at this phase to future growth and future capital. That team needs to complement Jones. According to Jones, he has a tendency is to approach opportunities cognitively—with the brain. Logic won’t always rule the success of the business and the success of their capital strategies. At the end of the day, the best high-raise returns come from entrepreneurs that demonstrate a strong emotional quotient (EQ) and where investors feel you’re up to something big.

While you are spending a lot of time on the ‘what you do’ and ‘how you do it,’ this won’t likely be what draws in employees, investors and customers. Be sure you’re expressing the ‘why’ you do what you do in the spirit of Simon Sinek.

This is particularly important for someone like Jones to keep in mind as Vocatio grows. For his company to be a success, he needs to help individuals move from what they will do in their careers and how. The most powerful hook in navigating the GPS of career will likely start with ‘why’ people follow a particular vocation. Whether it’s the team, the investors or the customers, be sure your branding and messaging answer the ‘why’ question.

How are you performing as an entrepreneur answering the ‘why question’ while you’re sorting out the ‘what’ and ‘how’?

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Source: Higher Ed To Career Tech Startup Funded With Competitions, Incubators And Angels – Forbes