MIT Sloan Lecturer in Entrepreneurship Trish Cotter
I have recently been catching up with colleagues from companies past, and when I let them know what I am doing now, I often get the reaction, “Wow! That’s such a cool job.” And it is … I’m fortunate to be the director of delta v, MIT’s student venture accelerator. Each year, we guide a new group of startups through “entrepreneurship boot camp” and help them to launch their startup ventures into the real world. This past summer, I worked with 21 startup teams as they were striving to either gain traction or make the tough decision to regroup. It was an amazing group of students with ideas that address real world problems.
But, I also thought I had a cool job at age 12 when I cleaned up after dogs at a kennel. I had a sense of purpose, got to fulfill a passion of mine by working with animals, and met some great people as well.
The organization I worked at most recently, prior to MIT, was IBM – a company that is trying to bring data analytics insights to companies, so they can address real world problems. The complexity of what both our MIT startups and IBM are doing, albeit in different ways, struck me. Are they so different? I have deep respect for IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, who is moving a company the size of a small nation. However, the leaders of the MIT three-person startups are also scaling difficult challenges and placing bets with tremendous odds of failure.
Joining a family business isn’t for everyone. It’s a risky decision that needs a lot of careful consideration. You might build a successful dynasty that grows into a Fortune 500 company, with generations of family continuing to lead the business. Or, like the vast majority of family businesses in the U.S., your business might not make it to the second or third generation. Even worse, your family dynamics could break down, leaving a legacy of dysfunction that long outlasts the business.
So how do you decide whether to join a family business? The next generation should consider six key issues before diving in:
1. There can only be one CEO Think about where you currently stand in the family and where you can potentially go in the business. If you’re in the second or third generation, there may be siblings and cousins all hoping to take over as CEO. Stop and think about whether your goal is senior leadership. If it is, ask yourself if this is realistic. Who is competing for those positions? Is your cousin the “golden child” of the family? Are you the most qualified? Are there family politics involved?
Gender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.
We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.
This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.
Gender Bias in the Tech Industry
First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”
Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:
being frequently interrupted or talked over;
having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.
Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.
So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?
Small firms and startups are often referred to as the “engine” of the U.S. economy because of their ability to create new jobs. For example, firms with fewer than 500 employees accounted for 63% of net new U.S. jobs created between 1992 and 2013.
Yet despite their importance to the economy, small firms often face difficulties accessing bank financing. These firms are typically opaque — that is, they don’t attract media or analyst attention, or produce lengthy financial reports. As a result, banks cannot rely on public information to assess loan applications from small firms. Instead, the firms must provide the bank with information demonstrating their creditworthiness. This process can be cumbersome and expensive for small firms.
In many cases, a bank can avoid imposing onerous reporting requirements on a firm by relying on its experience lending to similar firms from the industry or community to make loan approval decisions. In theory, this arrangement can make it easier for small firms to get credit.
Yet regulators pressure banks to collect more documentation from their largest exposures — precisely those areas where the bank has the greatest experience — a policy that can work to the disadvantage of small firms.
For example, a bank that has expertise in lending to small manufacturing companies might be the best able to access lending risk, and therefore make the soundest lending decisions on new businesses in this sector. But the bank’s expertise works against it since regulators require banks with heavy concentrations of loans in certain industries to collect even more documentation.
Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center
Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit INTU-0.43%, didn’t come up with his concept for the popular Quicken money management software sitting behind the desk or spit-balling ideas in a brainstorming session. He first conceived of it while watching his wife grow increasingly frustrated preparing the family’s finances. From a single observation, combined with Cook’s understanding of computers, one of the world’s most successful financial software companies was born.
Consider all of the times you’ve asked yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Indeed, the world’s next pioneering innovation could be sitting in plain view for anyone to discover. But what is it that inspires some people to take the next step on something overlooked by others?
Our research of high-impact leaders shows about one-third of them fall into the camp of observers –carefully observing the world around them with all of their senses, and identifying common threads across often unconnected data to provoke unique business ideas. Observation has transformative power. Yet, in today’s 24/7 culture, many of us operate on autopilot, starving our brain’s creative capacity. Here are three ways to tune this critical discovery skill and increase the odds that your next observation adds up to great innovation.
The most obvious way to become a great observer is to actively observe. Take a page from Cook’s book and watch your spouse or child perform a task. Schedule observation excursions; pick a company to follow, or set aside 10 minutes to observe something intensely. Following observation periods, think about how that might lead to a new strategy, product service or production process.