NYU Stern might not strike you as a business school with a strong component in Entrepreneurship. A month into our Tech MBA program, we were astonished by the amount of resources available on campus for entrepreneurship – it felt a bit overwhelming at some time, in a good way though. Last month we visited the Digital Future Lab in Brooklyn and the Leslie E-lab right next door to Stern. The creativity, collaboration and synergy flowing at these places are amazing.
First, let me tell you a little bit more about these two labs. Digital Future Lab is one of the four future labs started by NYU Tandon school of engineering, the City of New York, NYSERDA, and the New York Economic Development Corporation. With the funding from the city and state government, digital future lab is external facing – helping companies in the NY community by leveraging the resources at NYU. This incubator has various programs that help start-up companies to secure funding and grow to about the size of 50 employees. On the other hand, Leslie E-lab is the internal facing NYU entrepreneur hub – helping current NYU students and faculties across all NYU schools to bring their ideas to real life. The E-lab offers a wide variety of opportunities to foster entrepreneurship and cross-disciplinary collaboration, including startup schools, NYU entrepreneur festival, Healthcare Makerthon, 1-on-1 coaching and mentoring, Startup Sprints and Summer Launchpad, just to name a few.
During our visits to the two labs we met with Craig Wilson, the General Manager of the Digital Future Lab, and Frank Rimalovski, the Executive Director of the Leslie E-lab, together with several founders at these two labs. Through our discussion with these panelists, one important lesson for every start-up or even product development in an established company is the importance of initial customer research. Apparently 75% of the venture capital backed start-up companies ended up failing, mostly because they built something which customers can not benefit from. This tied closely to the design thinking workshop we did with Professor Anne-Laure Fayard a week ago. We got to do some exercise with customer research ourselves during the workshop. There were many assumptions we made during our brain storming session that turned out to be wrong after interviewing potential customers. Extensive customer research at the beginning of a project is something I will definitely apply to our summer project and my future career!
Another thing mentioned repeatedly during the visits was how difficult it is for start-ups to hire the right employee. It is very time consuming and costly to find the right talent. On the flip side, to be able to work at a start-up, you must be very passionate about the mission of the company and be clear about what you can offer the founder: building the product, bringing in funding, or saving time for the founder. If founding a company is not the kind of entrepreneurship experience you desired, maybe joining a start-up as an early member is another way to explore the start-up scene. To foster this match making between early companies and passionate entrepreneurs, there is a bulletin board at Leslie E-lab with postings from companies needing talent or individuals looking to join a start-up. Make sure you check it out next time you pass through the E-lab, just like some of my Tech MBA classmates did!
On top of these two labs we visited, there are many other entrepreneurship resources at NYU to check out: the newly founded Creative Destruction Lab, Berkeley Innovation Lab, and Fubon Center for Technology, Business and Innovation.