Anyone can come up with a business idea, but it takes a lot more than pure ambition to see those ideas come into fruition. To help budding businesspeople "bridge the gap between concept and reality," Boston University’s Entrepreneurial Management Institute (EMI) hosts Business Plan BootCamp, where entrepreneurs of all ages learn from successful venture capitalists.
Carrie McIndoe, who produces BootCamp, said the program is different from other business seminars because of its interactivity. "BootCamp exposes entrepreneurs to local professionals who can become part of the entrepreneur’s network," McIndoe explained.
"Too often," she continued, "entrepreneurs discover that building a real business is not the same as acing a case study in college or business school. Entrepreneurs need to know what help to ask for, and who to go to for help. Business Plan BootCamp puts them in touch with professionals who can help them, in the classroom and in the boardroom."
BootCamp participant Gong Ke Shen agreed. "I found my attorney in one of the guest speakers on legal issues," she said. "He has been a great advisor and resource in getting Ping Ping Chai [her herbal tea café business] started."
Fresh from the computer science Master’s program the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shen said her idea for a café was just coming into focus early last year. She enrolled in Business Plan BootCamp, and since then, Ping Ping Chai has opened two locations in Cambridge, Mass, and expanded into catering for corporate events.
Shen remembered one of the most valuable lessons from BootCamp, which was "to just do it. One can plan indefinitely, but without action, a plan is worthless. So after the camp, I jumped both feet first into doing the things that needed to get done to start Ping Ping Chai."
Other participants in the 30-hour BootCamp have gone on to compete in EMI’s $30K Business Plan Competition, which gives three finalists the chance to present to a panel of potential investors who judge the plans.
Timothy Coleman, who won first place in the 2003 Business Plan Competition, said the contest "is evolving into a great platform for new businesses. They’re given access to a venture capitalist, a consultant, and some legal help, so in terms of access [to potential funding], it’s wonderful."
With the help of advisors at BU, Coleman’s plans for a breast cancer and ovarian cancer vaccines evolved from "more of a technical document to more of a marketing document. We learned to articulately show where our value added points were."
The first place winner for 2004, John Liddicoat, also stressed the importance of presentation. "Conveying the message and being able to present in a logical format is probably the most important skill," said the BU grad.
His other advice? Surround yourself with people who can play to your weaknesses. "I’ve been always been able to work with people, like engineers, whose skill sets are complementary to mine," he explained. "They shore up my weaknesses."
Whether creating new medical technology, like Liddicoat and Coleman, or marketing a new café, like Shen, the same rules apply. BootCamp teaches these four key concepts for business success:
- Feasibility – Proof that there is a market for the product or service
- Business Plan – Written documentation for each stage of funding
- Ah-Ha! Concept – A powerful oral presentation that captures the audience’s attention
- Networking – The ability to make connections to the people who can fund the business
Though Business Plan BootCamp is designed for "entrepreneurs of all ages and stages from start-up through early growth," Boston University also holds two mini-BootCamps per year. Specifically designed for students, these one-day sessions serve as a "’crash-course’ in business plan preparation," according to McIndoe.
"Starting a company out of a garage or out of a dorm room can initially be fun," she said. "However, it’s the rare individual who can take that internal drive and make it really happen."
With the help of experts at Business Plan BootCamp, new entrepreneurs find the drive and the capital to build successful businesses.
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