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"Serial Entrepreneur" Jason Ma Writes About Future Business Leaders At Elite Universities

Jason Ma, ThreeEQ, Founder , 18 July 2013


Jason Ma, who has written before for WealthBriefingAsia, writes about the issue of student entrepreneurship at top universities. Such people are the likely wealth management clients of the future, so getting a handle on what makes such people tick is well worth studying.

Across the Bay

Across the Bay and down the peninsula, Stanford University has continued to be the elite of elite universities when it comes to tech entrepreneurship. At Stanford, I have participated as a new mentor at StartX (including the last two StartX Demo Day events), an observer at the Startup Weekend at Stanford, a judge at the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students’ BASES 150k Challenge and a guest speaker at other occasions.

What strikes me are the consistency and cohesiveness of the high energies, enthusiasm and innovative ideas of the student teams, as well as the enthused staff everywhere I go. These typically reflect cultures and leadership that have been working. Or could this partially reflect the Stanford Duck Syndrome - students appearing to glide easily above water but beneath the surface they are paddling like hell to stay afloat? I contend that at all reputable elite universities, it takes focused and sustained hard work–whether gracious on the surface or not - for students, including entrepreneurial souls, to do well.

StartX is a Stanford-affiliated non-profit that accelerates the development of Stanford’s top entrepreneurs through experiential education and collective intelligence. Based on research of hundreds of Stanford alumni entrepreneurs whose companies are able to deliver nearly $3 trillion of economic impact every year, StartX has built an organised ecosystem and training program to create highly effective entrepreneurs. Their model focuses on developing start-up founders’ core skills while building their companies and providing them access to key people including mentors, industry experts and Silicon Valley’s top investors.

StartX founder and CEO Cameron Teitelman comments: “To date, StartX-backed founders have raised over $100 million, with an average funding rate of $1.5 million. Over 85 per cent of our companies have raised money and we have four acquisitions to date. For all of this, StartX charges nothing and takes no equity. We are able to support founders in every industry.” I have learned that over 50 per cent of the entrepreneurs at StartX have PhDs, with the rest being a mix of medical, business and engineering masters and undergrads, and that 10 per cent of the founders are current and former professors.

At the recent BASES E-Challenge competition, a team reports that 10-40 per cent of all food purchased by a restaurant ends up getting dumped at the end of the day. Their idea is to connect the excess supply of wasted but still good food at restaurants with the demand of hungry consumers interested in discounts, like some college students. The idea is extremely hard to execute and scale (i.e. unfundable) unless there will be a convincing story on how to sustainably and cost-effectively incentivise and perfect setups and execution on the supply and demand sides. Unlike two of my fellow judges who were VCs assigned with metrics from their firms, I praised the kids on their genuinely good thought in trying to solve a real problem and thanked them for not presenting another try-to-get-rich-quick-but-not-much-substance Web service firm.

Other Stanford entrepreneurship programs and initiatives include the mature Stanford Technology Ventures Program (which has attracted a wide spectrum of the most successful founders, CEOs, venture capitalists and other industry luminaries as guest speakers), the Stanford Entrepreneurship Network (SEN) and the Stanford GSB Entrepreneur Club (E-Club). Stanford enjoys a sustainable competitive advantage–location at the epicentre of global Silicon Valley.

More and more top colleges and universities are working hard on providing entrepreneurship education, if not also incubation or acceleration of actual start-up ideas and companies. This includes some of the small liberal arts colleges. The STEM-focused Harvey Mudd College in Southern California has been all over it, including the HMC Entrepreneurial Network (HMCEN). And my recent visit to The Juilliard School in New York City shows that even this elite performance arts school has actively begun offering entrepreneurship education.

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