Company Logo Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Get high-tech ideas off launching pad, urges MIT director

Christian Aagaard, RECORD STAFF

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A man often described as a "serial entrepreneur'' suggests people should forget about the ice age following the technology bust two years ago.

"The first message I hope to bring today is that it's a great time to be starting a company,'' Kenneth Morse told about 300 people who gathered for a high-tech entrepreneurship conference in Waterloo yesterday.

"(Investors) expectations and time horizons are realistic. There are a lot of good people who are unemployed and there is a lot of office space available.''

Morse is the senior lecturer and managing director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Five of six startup companies he helped launch have been successful.

Morse was the lead speaker at Inspiration: From Concept to Commercialization, an afternoon conference on getting technology ideas off paper and into startup companies.

A would-be entrepreneur, he advised, needs to find not just any money but smart money -- investors who know what it means to do business in the field at which an idea is aimed.

Morse also said:

  • Entrepreneurs "should be impatient, twitching.'' It shows they won't settle for the status quo.
  • Investors expect detailed business plans, in which the proponents demonstrate that they know who their customers will be and that they have done their homework on the competition.
    "If you're under 30,'' Morse said, "you better get some experienced advisers who have grey hair or no hair.''
  • People with entrepreneurial dreams should spend several years with a well-managed business before launching a startup company of their own.
  • Investors will shy away from start-up executives who act with anything less than full integrity.

"The reason to start a company is not to make money -- it takes too long,'' Morse said. "I think you have to really want to deliver value to customers and you've got to really want to have fun.''

The Communitech Technology Association sponsored Inspiration with the federal government, Tech Capital Partners -- a venture capital company -- and CFO 2 GO Inc., which provides chief financial officer services to small- and medium-sized companies.

Larger companies are focusing on their core businesses, said Andrew Abouchar of Tech Capital Parnters . But they will eventually want new technology.

Startups that are working on new ideas now, he added, will be well positioned to provide products when the demand returns.

"What we are trying to do here is show people that the markets aren't dead, that opportunities aren't dead,'' Abouchar said. "Venture capitalists are out there (looking) for compelling ideas. It's a fabulous opportunity for us to take advantage of.''

The conference included a talk by Marc Morin, one of the founders of Sandvine Inc., a Waterloo company that started with a handful of people in August 2001 and now employs about 75. Sandvine develops products that help Internet service providers manage high volumes of peer-to-peer files.

A panel discussion in which executives shared their own entrepreneurial lessons closed the conference. Planning for a second forum in the new year is under way.

Morse also encouraged Waterloo's university community to establish a competition for business plans. An annual competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created 60 companies, which employ a total of around 2,000 people.

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