The startup that not only created itself, but its environment – Georgina Campbell Flatter

Georgina Campbell Flatter, Executive Director at MIT Legatum Center, Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management

From Forbes Mexico

Entrepreneurs are increasingly vital change agents in the developing world. Not only do they take on vexing social challenges like access to better healthcare and cleaner water, they’re also the engine propelling the economy and the potential antidote to a looming jobs crisis.  According to the United Nations, we’ll need 470 million jobs between now and 2030 to support new entries into the labor market. Those jobs won’t come from established companies, but rather entrepreneurs who are creating high-growth businesses.

To build a sustainable and scalable venture, entrepreneurs must innovate to compete within their market, but some will go much further than that to maximize their impact. Some will transform—even help create—the very ecosystem in which they operate.

A great example is Play Business, Mexico’s first equity-based crowdfunding site. The founders were motivated by the knowledge that Mexico was emerging as an innovation hub for Latin America, with up to 110,000 new engineers graduating from colleges every year. Moreover, Mexico’s 4 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) constituted 72% of the country’s new job creation. And yet this critical economic engine had little access to capital—nearly 80% of SMEs were completely self-financed.

This lack of capital meant that potential innovations, which might create jobs and improve lives, were being lost. Play Business, launched in 2014, offered a solution. As Play Business cofounder and MIT Sloan alumna Fernanda de Velasco put it, “We would enable common people to invest in uncommon startups.”

Since there were no laws in Mexico around equity crowdfunding, Play Business was at first able to operate with few restrictions, but the founders also knew this could quickly change, especially as fintech grew and new governments (potentially more aggressive toward the financial industry) were elected. Fernanda’s team decided to be proactive and approach Mexico’s government about creating new regulations. This was a gamble, to say the least. The prevailing wisdom among emerging market entrepreneurs was that it was best to develop your venture while staying under the government’s radar. Concerned naysayers warned Fernanda that working with the government could result in requests for bribes, or worse, a set of intractable regulations that would kill her business.

But the Play Business team had already determined that staying under government’s radar, though it had short-term advantages, would never allow them to achieve their desired impact. “We wanted to fund more than just 10-15 companies,” Fernanda said, “We wanted to fund thousands. Our goal was to systematically create startups in Mexico.” By creating protections for consumers and a set of rules for honest businesses to follow, sensible regulatory laws could effectively create and stabilize the crowdfunding market.

Because Play Business demonstrated transparency at the outset and was able to show that its interests aligned with the government’s, the company was allowed to collaborate in drafting the new legislation. This proved vital when, for example, legislators planned to include a provision that would have forbid Play Business from accepting even a partial equity fee.

Once Fernanda’s team explained how this would render incentive-based models like Play Business’ useless, and would hurt the industry generally, the legislators revised it. The government appreciated that her team was seeking to change the legal system not just to benefit their own business, but to create an entirely new funding stream for entrepreneurs.

After two years, the collaboration between Play Business and the Mexican government finally paid off. Last February, a bill to regulate the fintech sector including crowdfunding was approved by Mexico’s lower house of Congress, the final step in becoming law. It will serve as the industry’s foundation. The benefits include reduced operations risk for businesses, more transparency for digital platforms, higher security and protection for consumers, and increased confidence in alternative financing models. It also reduces uncertainty, which could attract higher capital investments in the sector.

More recently, in recognition of their legislative leadership, Play Business was one of six private sector representatives—and the only startup—invited to join the Mexican government’s newly formed Financial Innovation Group.

Today, Play Business has 55,000 users (adding nearly 1,300 users each month) with 15,000 active investors and 3,500 startups on the platform. Of those startups, 180+ have raised capital and 105 have been successfully funded. This means that $7.5 million in venture investment has been delivered. Play Business has also enabled the formation of over 1,500 new jobs.

According to Fernanda, the new market will certainly create competition, and in fact a few of the startups Play Business has helped fund are potential competitors. Yet that’s all part of the plan, and the Play Business team is confident they are poised to compete in the fair and healthy marketplace they helped create.

The maxim “A rising tide lifts all boats” is often invoked to defend controversial economic policies, but perhaps it’s more aptly applied to the Play Business mindset, and to similar entrepreneurs who actively work to raise the water level even as they build the best boat.

Read the original post at Forbes Mexico.

Georgina Campbell Flatter is Executive Director of The Legatum Center for Entrepreneurship and Development at MIT and a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. She mentored Fernanda de Velasco, who was a Legatum Fellow, during her time as an MBA student at MIT Sloan.

How Educational Accelerators are Aiming to Neutralize Gender Bias for Entrepreneurs – Trish Cotter

MIT Sloan’s Trish Cotter

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?

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The most overrated thing in entrepreneurship — By Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

From The Strathclyde Business School Blog

In 2013, I wrote a light piece for Forbes about the “Six Whopping Lies Told About Entrepreneurs” but in hindsight I left out the biggest myth of all about entrepreneurship itself.  The single most overrated, and yet common, belief about entrepreneurship is that the idea is paramount.

Yes, an idea is necessary, but it is so much less important than the discipline and process with which the idea is pursued. And, interestingly, all of these are even less important than the quality of the founding team.

The belief that the idea is important becomes invalidated when you work with successful entrepreneurs and begin to see a common pattern emerge: how an original idea morphs and evolves over time as the team does primary market research and starts to focus on customer needs, rather than their initial eureka moment. This observation is borne out in recent research by Professor Matt Marx of MIT, summarized in “Shooting for Startup Success? Take a Detour,” showing that for successful entrepreneurs, the idea they originally started out with is rarely the same as what they ended up succeeding with.

AuletEntrepreneurship Success Pie v3

The idea of a better search engine wasn’t novel before Google got started; its value creation was all in the high-quality execution.  Similarly, the concept of an electric car was not new when Elon Musk started Tesla, yet it has experienced unprecedented success while others before and since have failed.  Likewise for the smartphone and Apple.

Image by Marius Ursache

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The roadblock to commercialisation — Thomas Allen and Rory O’Shea

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Allen

MIT Sloan Visiting Asst. Professor Rory O'Shea

MIT Sloan Visiting Asst. Professor Rory O’Shea

From Financial Times

Knowledge and innovation generated at universities can lead to the creation of high-impact spin-off businesses. Whether it is through the licensing of intellectual property, partnerships or other informal arrangements, the tech transfer process can play a critical role in shaping new industries and regional economic development.

Research by Eesley and Miller and Eesley and Roberts has demonstrated the role Stanford University has played in shaping the development of Silicon Valley and MIT’s contribution to building a world-class innovation hub in the Kendall Square district of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While those are examples of successful academic-industry-government ecosystems, the technology transfer system at many universities in the US and Europe is in need of a major overhaul. Its focus is historically rooted in revenue generation rather than in helping innovation. Technology transfer offices in many universities can act as bottlenecks rather than partners in knowledge transfer for economic and societal good.

Read the full post at The Financial Times.

Thomas J. Allen is the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, Emeritus and Professor of Organizations Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Dr Rory O’Shea is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also serves as a faculty member at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD.

How to get employees to be more entrepreneurial — Deborah Ancona

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

From Fortune

Organizational change has never been easy, but in the past it was a little more straightforward. Fifty years ago, companies followed a basic blueprint. They had heroic leaders — a CEO and an elite top layer of management — who had tremendous authority and made all the important decisions. When they wanted to make a change, they set a direction and it cascaded down through the firm.

Today things are different. As companies compete more on speed, agility, and innovation, decision-making needs to get pushed down. Sure, there remain some old-school companies that rely solely on top-down leadership. But in an increasing number of firms, leadership is shared across the organization, often in teams. Command and control is out; collaboration and teamwork are in.

These are positive developments, but they don’t make organizational change any easier to pull off. The key for managers is to create an environment where teams and individuals — even those lower in the organization — have the latitude and autonomy to recommend and try out new ideas, be it a new environmental initiative, a new technology, or a way to seize some new opportunity in a different market. The goal is an entrepreneurial workforce at all levels of the company. Here are some ways to achieve that:

Think beyond the official job title.

Managers tend to put employees into neat little boxes according to their place on the corporate organizational chart. But these boxes make it hard for someone lower down in the organization, without an official title, to vet and test a new idea. There’s a prevailing attitude of: “We need a formal manager to do that.” To combat that tendency when assigning people to projects, consider who has the passion, knowledge, and networks to succeed — independent of that person’s title. If this is not politically possible, then think about creating two-person teams or small groups that include people with the necessary expertise.

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