Giving entrepreneurs a common platform to discuss their business ventures and challenges they had faced, was the idea behind the Innovation Seminar held by The Enterprise Development Unit (EDU) last Thursday (7 June 2018).
The guest speakers at the event were the husband and wife duo, Mark Pougnet (COO and CFO to fast growing technology companies in the United States) and Angela Roberts (CPA/Managing Director/Founder at Aclivity, a Denver Executive Recruiting, Staffing and Consulting Firm in United States).
Welcoming the delegates and guest speakers was Dr Surendra Thakur, Director of the KZN e-skills CoLab, whose role is to help and nurture entrepreneurs, to build their business skills, by providing business development experts to chat to entrepreneurs on their Startup companies. He (Dr Thakur) is also working on e-participation system using mobile platforms as a form of government-community engagement in support of joint decision-making that mitigates adversarial situations, particularly where funding is limited.
“When talking about the notion of an incubator, it means to nurture and what I aim to do from this event is to open robust conversations about their startup company business ventures,” said Dr Thakur.
Giving more insight into startup companies, Pougnet spoke about his own personal experiences with his seven startup companies, early in his career.
“I know a fair amount about early stage companies and want to help you (entrepreneurs), particularly those that are implementing new strategies and entering new markets. I like figuring out things as I have spent 26 years involved in several different technology initiatives. I am interested in helping entrepreneurs get the most out of technology, and for me, personally, I have been fortunate that five out of seven of my companies that I had started were successful. Thankfully, the two that I had failed in happened early in my career and fast. So, the need to talk about failure from an early stage is vital. In the United States, if you fail it is seen as a learning curve and one needs to articulate the key mistakes that are made,” he added.
Furthermore, he also spoke on the issue of picking the right-co-founders who have the right ability, expertise and skills. He spoke of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine leaning which is better, faster and cheaper. “Everything that involves a non-human is technology. The early stage technology companies are hard and it certainly has its ups and downs but the good thing is that small technology companies are doing great things,” he said.
Pougnet added that entrepreneurs needed to ask themselves certain questions before embarking on a business venture and the four common questions to ask were the problem one’s business is trying to solve, the secret sauce to one’s business, how one’s business propriety is different from another competitor business and what is the market opposition. He also stressed that user interface and user experience needed to be excellent and feedback from online users was necessary. “You don’t have to take it or agree with it but own it,” he stressed.
From a branding perspective, Roberts said entrepreneurs must start by googling themselves and ascertaining what digital footprint they have in terms of their startup business. “You have to put together these relationships online and build your credibility and reputation. Whether you have a website, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, refining your personal brand, can open doors and build lasting opportunities. Your personal brand is a combination of the personal values, attributes, skills, and qualities that sets you (entrepreneurs) apart from someone else. Think of your brand like your own trademark. If you want to be successful, you have to pull the right people around you,” she said.
She added that one’s largest audience is online because it does not matter where one is, if one is not online, entrepreneurs won’t be found.
“Business is out there on your computer. Be clear, direct and let people know who you are. I encourage all of you to set up a goal towards marketing and surround yourself with a good team. Have a roundtable and be a thought leader in your space,” she said.
The seminar concluded with a question and answer session and a networking session.
Pictured: Mark Pougnet, Angela Roberts and Dr Surendra Thakur, at the seminar.