Einstein Alley Entrepreneurs: What Next?

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Ed Zschau’s ears must have been burning this week. He chaired a Keller Center panel on technology transfer on Tuesday afternoon and was being talked about on Wednesday, both morning and evening. In his high tech entrepreneurship classes, and his mentoring of companies, Zschau has had a huge influence.

At the Princeton Chamber breakfast on Wednesday morning, Darren Hammel told how, when he and his buddies took Zschau’s high class, Zschau encouraged them to turn their term project into a business, which has grown to be Princeton Power Systems.

At Einstein Alley Entrepreneurs Collaborative on Wednesday evening, Steven Georges said that Zschau operates in an idea factory – to listen, coach, criticize. He quoted Zschau as saying, “Always be on a horse worth riding in a race worth winning.”

Georges (far left) was on a panel, along with (continuing left to right) John Romanowich, Jeremy Kestler, and moderator Eric Kutner. On the theme “What Next?” each brought books to recommend, and some of their remarks verged on the spiritual, perhaps appropriate for the day some celebrate as Ash Wednesday.

Summarize your life in 10 words, in order to contemplate your inner essence, as in Allan Cox’s “Your Inner CEO.” Don’t look at what you are saying. Look at what you are doing. If you are not getting the result you want, it is because of your actions. John Romanowich.

Mesh your worlds. If your job doesn’t relate to what you enjoy in life, you have a problem. Live an entrepreneur’s life if only by living your big company job in an entrepreneurial way. As in Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek’s “Life Entrepreneurs.” Eric Kutner.

Have faith in your purpose in life. “Each of us has a mission and a plan. After a transition in which I lost my job, my father, and the lease on my house in one year – I now embrace transitions as opportunities. You need to know who you are. I know I’m not the idea guy, I’m the project manager.” Steven Georges.

Leave a footprint on the world. If someone helped you, pay it forward as in Marc Freedman’s “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life” and in Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s “The Third Chapter.” Steven Georges.

Have faith in your hunches. Make good or bad decisions quickly – you won’t know which is right until you do it. And if you listen to your feelings, your gut, you will know what is right. John Romanowich.

And then they had practical advice.

On Careers: Consistent job searching is the new reality, so do market research on yourself, as in the article Tom Peters wrote for Fast Company, “The Brand Called You.” Kestler.

On Selling Tech Products. Don’t go for the mass market. Find the early adaptor, the company with a problem that makes it worth the risk to try your product or service. As in Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers.” Kutner.

On Market research reports. They are backward looking, in contrast to innovation, which is disruptive. If you can market research your idea in a report somewhat else wrote, you are probably 5-10 years too late. Don’t charge off into an industry when you don’t have deep technical expertise. Romanowich.

On Funding: If you have a deal that’s going to happen, you almost can’t kill it. If you have a deal that’s not going to happen, you almost can’t revive it. So don’t put so much energy into the difficult deals. Romanowich.

On Employees. In a downturn, you can get good people you wouldn’t otherwise get. What kind of employee you need depends on where you are in the product cycle. Some are risk averse; some don’t like the monotony of late in the product cycle. Romanowich.

On Business Ideas:: You want to solve a problem that somebody will pay you for. Kutner.

On operating in the new economy. Let people know what is going on. Have ambassadors and keep them up to date with what you are doing so they can help get your message out there. Kestler.

All liked bootstrapping as a practical way to stay on target. “What does not kill you makes you stronger,” said Romanowich. By having to work faster, better, cheaper – rather than spend someone else’s money – you create a better company.

Zschau is slated to speak at a Princeton Chamber breakfast on Wednesday, April 21, and there is another Keller Center lecture on Friday, February 26, at 2 p.m.

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