Entrepreneurship and mentoring

The Duke of York launched an accelerated version of his Pitch@Palace initiative at Cambridge Judge Business School.

HRH Duke of York, KG

HRH The Duke of York, KG launched a new accelerated version of his Pitch@Palace initiative for entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge Business School, which focused on speed mentoring and speed pitching.

The Duke of York is patron of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge, which hosted the 11 July event at the School. He urged young ventures to get involved in as many networking programmes as they can.

“The more you take part in, the more opportunity you have to talk to people, the more opportunity you have to interact with people, the more opportunity there is for somebody to say to you: ‘I’ve got an idea that you might like to listen to’ or ‘I’ve got someone you need to see because I can get you into a supply chain,’” the Duke of York said in his introductory remarks. He also emphasized how “serendipity” through chance meetings can help new ventures develop contacts and markets.

The Pitch@Palace event at Cambridge Judge included tips on effective pitching of ventures in short time frames, offering feedback to entrepreneurs who presented a one-minute pitch of their ideas.

It also featured a panel of alumni of previous Pitch@Palace events hosted at St. James’s Palace, who said the connections gained through Pitch@Palace have proved very important in gaining investment and other traction for their ventures.

The panel included Tim Guilliams of Healx, which repurposes drugs to fight rare diseases; Raoul-Gabriel Urma of Cambridge Coding Academy, a computer coding community venture; Hannah Harvey of health app firm Ask the Midwife; and Rebekah Scheuerle of JustMilk, which delivers nutrients and medicine to breastfeeding babies through a silicon device. JustMilk won top prize in the first biotech-themed Pitch@Palace, run in partnership with Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, in March 2016.

The Pitch@Palace event at Cambridge Judge Business School concluded with remarks about entrepreneurship by Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra beer and chairman of the Advisory Board of the School.

Successful tech firms are often discovered and not planned. The tech landscape is lush with entrepreneurs whose success blossomed only after the founders had modified or even abandoned their original vision. Facebook became something quite different from the Harvard-specific social connection site created by Mark Zuckerberg. Airbnb? That short-term housing rental juggernaut started as a way for people to find roommates. What eventually became the ride-sharing app Lyft originally offered carpooling software for large companies.

Entrepreneurs who were willing to adapt their vision and products to find the right market often did the best. Those who followed the herd into perceived hot markets, or consensus entrants, were less viable in the long run than those who made non-consensus choices by defying common wisdom and entering markets that were tainted by failures and thus regarded as riskier.

As social beings, we want to resolve uncertainty. We do that not by doing objective research but by looking at each other. That has clear implications for business leaders. They need to ask if the people who report to them are being quiet about their non-consensus ideas. If the answer is yes, then a leader has to wonder what that says about their leadership if people are afraid to suggest counterintuitive strategies.

Many of the tech world’s most historic success stories can be traced back to entrepreneurs who pursued a vision that ran counter to accepted wisdom. If you want to find a unicorn, listen for the buzz and run the other way.

For example, Apple continued to pursue handheld technology despite the failure of the Apple Newton, a balky handwriting-recognition device that was released in 1993 to general mockery, including in cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip. The Newton’s failure quickly stigmatized the market for smart, handheld devices, making similar innovations taboo for a number of years. Apple’s Steve Jobs killed the Newton in 1998 but saw potential in the concept, which eventually led to the 2007 introduction of the industry-changing iPhone and the 2010 introduction of the iPad.

Of course, when non-consensus ideas fail, they often fail spectacularly, which in turn can inhibit risk-taking by others. The fear of being a fool is stronger than the hope of being a genius. So we tend to shy away from non-consensus moves, because we understand the world will look at our errors as if we’re a complete idiot. But if humans are bad at predicting, we’re great at retrospectively rationalizing to explain why a business or product succeeded or failed. Jobs was particularly good at this, saying you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward.

Nearly every move Jobs made at Apple turned out to be different from what he intended. These geniuses — we think they knew, but they didn’t. One thing that wildly successful entrepreneurs like Jobs and Zuckerberg did understand is how to put together systems that could discover the future, that allowed for uncertainty, that ferreted out possibilities. Then they doubled down on those discoveries.

Many people define entrepreneurship as building your own business, but not every creative thinker wants to do that – you can be a successful entrepreneur within the heart of an organization.

In fact, rather than being afraid of new thinking, businesses should embrace internal entrepreneurs – intrapreneurs – before they leave and take their great ideas elsewhere. Seeing an opportunity, evaluating how viable it is, persuading others to buy in to it, the skills to take innovation forward, encouraging people to go with that creative mindset – every organization needs someone with those tools.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s