Need Some Input: Coffee Connect with a VC?

I’m helping the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA).  They lowered the bar, and I’m now on the Board. I’d like to come up with some events that entrepreneurs will find helpful.

For me, the criteria are: open and inclusive, and helpful to the entrepreneur. Ideally, an entrepreneur spear-heads this, but I’m happy to do the coordinating to get it started.

I’ve been to a number of events at Voltage Coffee in Cambridge and found them fun and productive, particularly one that Scott Kirsner organized. I think the folks at Spark have been organizing coffees for some time.

How about this idea: an informal coffee featuring a VC and involving a meaningful topic? I thought a good series of topics could be on “How to Raise VC Money?,” such as how to come up with a short list of VCs, how to get the meeting, how to pitch, etc. (here’s a blog series on that).

We’d cobble together some tables in a corner of the coffee shop, all would be welcome, and have a cool discussion. Every topic, we’d have a new VC involved. In that way, you as the entrepreneur get to meet a bunch of folks over time, as well as engage with peers and a VC on relevant topics.

Thoughts?  Comment below or email me.

10 thoughts on “Need Some Input: Coffee Connect with a VC?

  1. Skillshare classes can be a good venue/outlet for the entrepreneurial community, especially interested college entrepreneurs. In London (Passion Capital), we’ve held open hours with other organizations – gave folks the chance to come in and see our space, interact with some portfolio companies (via the co-working space White Bear Yard), and generally a bit more inclusive than a coffee shop.

    If the end goal is the beginning of meaningful relationships, consider doing something like a communal dinner (a la Dart Boston), but with more focus around a topic.

  2. Finding co-founders and employees would be an interesting topic. While there are a few academic institutions that apparently are producing thousands of skilled workers to workforce, virtually every startup has a challenge to find the right employees and newbie entrepreneurs finding the right co-founders.

    Any tips and discussions on what works and what does would be super helpful.

  3. To the extent that VC’s would be willing to share this, I think a deeper dive into interesting trends and the rationale behind them would be a great topic. Rather than “we’re interested in mobile”, “we’re interested in the intersection of mobile and daily deal to the extent that it allows people to discover local shopping opportunities, wherever they are, socially”.

    Of course a little of this is discovery (here’s a startup that figured out something we haven’t thought of), but any good investor will have theses themselves.

  4. I think the events can also be organized along the lines of helping entrepreneurs to focus on the “right” opportunities.

    A “right” opportunity, as I define it, would obviously not only include a solution to a substantial customer pain, large market potential, scalable business model, product/market fit, IP differentiation, or other forms of protection, but also the “fundability”. In the past I would focus on the idea/technology only to find out weeks later that the VC is not interested in funding it because the multiple of the EBITDA upon the exit is not large enough or to find out that VCs think the space is crowded, or the sector is out of favor, etc. etc. The time to learn these things can be significantly reduced. Also, this can help an entrepreneur to focus on the right opportunity a VC would want to finance, b/c in my mind VC is also a customer.

    Therefore, I propose events that would include

    1) Focus groups consisting of an entrepreneur, an industry representative with a significant problem he/she trying to solve and hopefully with the authority to make a buying decision, and a VC.

    2) Focus groups consisting of a CEO/entrepreneur currently running his/her company, but who has startup ideas, an entrepreneur, and a VC.

    3) Focus groups consisting of a technologist, entrepreneur, industry rep, and a VC. In this case a technology is invented and participants can brainstorm about the potential high value applications in the industry.

    Of course, there will need to be a way to manage confidentiality concerns, but I think these groups can help generate ideas that are actually needed in the market as well as assess the viability of those ideas.

    Again, I think if an entrepreneur focuses on the right opportunity to begin with and creates the right product for customers who would want to buy it and that VCs would want to finance, then it should make it easier later to look for funding, build team, etc. etc. Perhaps, this way venture creation can happen in a more structured and participatory way where everyone is “tuned in to the same frequency” and the entire process is more effective and efficient for all parties. Entrepreneurs get to work on the right problems creating the right products, customers get their problems solved, and VCs get higher quality deal flow.

  5. My 2 cents based on active networking with entrepreneurs and VCs over last 60 days…

    I think a hybrid format consisting of a) group meeting with defined promoted-in-advance topic followed up by b) speed-dating style appts with various VCs in attendance would yield optimal blend of shared group best practices combined with some 1X1 customization. One of the biggest complaints I hear from entrepreneurs at such events is that there are too many people (and too many disparate people), too little time to network with the “pros,” and no real mechanism to guage who is who/who is willing to share ideas on what topics/and how to engage.

    So basically if you combined the Kirsner coffee scene with your rotating topic idea followed by a Venture Cafe type appt booking forum, I think you’d have something really valuable!

  6. Congrats on becoming a board member.

    Rather than a coffee shop, I suggest a more formal setting. I’ve been to a few meetups at Voltage. They are great for networking but not great for speeches/discussions. I’m confident we could cobble together free space at schools across Boston. Happy to help you reserve space at either MIT or Northeastern.

    Second, I would love to use this opportunity to meaningfully help entrepreneurs. What if, entrepreneurs submitted “case studies”; think 1 to 2 page stories in the vein of HBR. Each month, one case is chosen and it is distributed ahead of time to attendees. Then, during the meeting the group discusses the case and provides feedback/advice to the entrepreneur. This approach requires an investment on the part of the organizers and attendees, but I believe the outcome would be a highly engaged discussion.

  7. Hi Joe,
    If you are serious about this, please email me.

    Frankly, all of the above ideas are conventional wisdom and very low return on investment for all of the participants.

    I am scheduled for your Thursday event, and can email you a one-pager before then for your review. BBJ wrote up something on this (but not really getting it straight…):
    http://www.masshightech.com/stories/2011/01/24/daily31-Who-needs-VC-H-Combine-plots-wiki-for-bootstrappers.html

    Maybe this is something we could talk about on our Thursday slot.

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