Mentoring Tomorrow’s Business Leaders Today
Altitude Marketing has a long-standing partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) and we’ve seen the benefits of the organization’s technology-based economic development process.
BFTP, one of the nation’s longest-running technology-based economic development programs, provides early-stage and established companies with funding, business and technical expertise and access to a network of innovative, expert resources. The organization believes that by getting involved early in a company’s development – with financial, business and technical assistance – the entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities for success are able to thrive.
One of the tools BFTP uses to get involved early is what they call a “Tiger Session.” Tiger Sessions bring together an expert panel of practicing professionals from a range of industries to provide feedback and suggestions for business-plan refinement to new entrepreneurs for consideration. The sessions provide what’s been described as a “year’s worth of mentoring in a few hours.”
I am a firm believer in nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit by sharing Altitude Marketing’s experiences, as well as my personal expertise in marketing, promotion, social media, competitive review and go-to market strategy.
So, when BFTP recently invited me to serve on a panel for one of their Tiger Sessions, I was happy to accept. And I was even more thrilled to be a part of the session after learning that it would be for a group of Lehigh University students. I earned my MBA from Lehigh and feel that the experience afforded me so much opportunity and helped, in part, enable my success as an entrepreneur.
On Monday, I fulfilled my commitment and served on a panel along with three other regional professionals – an accountant, venture/CEO advisor and small business mentor.
This particular Tiger Session was for a group of students participating in Lehigh’s nationally acclaimed Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) honors program (http://www.lehigh.edu/~inibep/), where cross-disciplinary teams of engineering and business students develop and bring a product to market.
The company we were tasked to review was Perfect Stroke and the product they are aiming to launch is CatchCoach, an individualized feedback-training tool for competitive rowers that would identify when these athletes commit the most common stroke error in the sport – missing the catch. “Missing the catch” occurs when a rower begins a stroke by pushing himself back with his legs before the oar blade has fully entered the water. The result is that the rower’s leg strength isn’t being used to fully optimize the power in the stroke.
Often, the difference between winning and not securing a podium spot in competitive rowing is a matter of hundredths of a second. So, minimizing the number of times an individual on the team misses the catch maximizes efficiency and improves times.
CatchCoach is designed to provide feedback to rowers about his quality of the catch. The device is placed on the rower’s oar and uses an accelerometer and an infrared distance sensor to determine the effectiveness of individual strokes.
The four-member expert panel listened attentively to the student group’s impressive, in-depth presentation about the product, its design, potential competition in the marketplace, target markets and business plans.
We then provided an intense but helpful critique. We offered detailed insight and challenged assumptions on product development cycle, marketing, promotion, pricing, branding, sales channel strategy and more during the two-hour session.
It was an intense morning for all involved, but in the end, I’m sure the students – as well as my peers on the panel – learned a few take-home lessons from the experience.
For the students, they walked away armed with a toolbox of ready-to-use marketing, business planning and product development advice that they can consider as they move forward.
And, while I can’t speak for my co-panelists, I always learn something from these kinds of opportunities. This time around, the effectiveness of Tiger Sessions was brought to life and reinforced my belief that giving back in this way is important, effective and necessary.