Venture Mentoring, Bay Area

The current generation of MIT entrepreneurs faces an unusually fast-moving and competitive business environment. The speed of technological change, accelerated product cycles, global competition, and sophisticated financing strategies often demand resources and experience beyond the reach of the typical start-up. Nowhere are these forces more visible and dramatic than in the Bay Area. Through its unique mentoring process serving the local MIT community, Venture Mentoring/ Bay Area offers the help that's needed to confront these complexities. If you'd like to receive mentoring assistance, or if you're an experienced entrepreneur or executive who would like to help the next generation of innovators as a mentor, please contact Rolf Brauchler, Director of Venture Mentoring/ Bay Area, at vmsbayarea@gmail.com.

About Bay Area VMS

Venture Mentoring/ Bay Area was established in 2008 to serve the large community of MIT alumni in Northern California.  Starting in the Fall of that year, several mentor/ mentee matching sessions have been scheduled each year. At these sessions, ventures are each paired with several seasoned executives from the pool of mentors (currently numbering over 100 and growing). In its first eight years of operation, VMS/ Bay Area has served over 160 emerging ventures, spanning business concepts from social networking and interactive Web services to medical devices, healthcare IT and energy/cleantech. Teams meet monthly for several hours for as many months as the mentees feel they can benefit.  A team mentoring approach is used, with groups of 3 mentors meeting with entrepreneurs in sessions that provide practical, day-to-day professional advice and coaching. Mentors are selected for their experience in areas relevant to the needs of new entrepreneurs and for their enthusiasm for the program.  Our mentor pool is experienced in a broad range of markets, product categories, and technologies, as well as all key functional disciplines.  Relationships between entrepreneurs and mentors are formed on the basis of entrepreneurs’ stated needs. Assistance is given across a broad range of business functions, including company strategy, product development, marketing, sales channel development, intellectual property law, finance, human resources, and funding/ownership issues. Venture Mentoring, Bay Area is offered without charge to MIT alumni and affiliates in the Bay Area. As an all volunteer-based program and given its educational focus, we stipulate that mentors may not be compensated by or invest in ventures they are actively mentoring unless invited to do so by the mentee.  In such cases, the change in status is subject to approval by the program office and the mentor is recused from further mentoring that venture. Venture Mentoring/ Bay Area expects to grow significantly during the coming years. The next round of mentor/mentee matching is targeted for Spring of 2016. If you’re interested in being involved as either entrepreneur or mentor, please contact Rolf Brauchler ‘69 at vmsbayarea@gmail.com.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Who is eligible to participate?

We offer mentoring services to local MIT alumni who have ideas which they would like to turn into businesses, or who have taken initial steps to create a business. Venture Mentoring is designed as an ongoing, hands-on, face-to-face program, so we currently serve only the MIT community located in the Bay Area.

Are entrepreneurs responsible for any fees or consideration?

Mentoring services are offered free of charge: there are no fees for the service, nor do we ask for any equity.  Mentors, in fact, are precluded from being compensated by or investing in companies they're actively mentoring.

Are there rules entrepreneurs must follow?

Entrepreneurs are expected to commit to a sustained relationship with the program and to be professional, open and responsive to the volunteer mentors who work with them. They are also expected to provide mentors, to the best of their ability, with accurate information about their venture.  Upon being accepted into the program, entrepreneurs are given an in-depth guide to operating principles and rules.

How do I apply?

We request prospective entrepreneurs to provide basic information about themselves and the venture or idea they are pursuing. The venture's business plan executive summary and resumes of MIT-affiliated company principals should be submitted to vmsbayarea@gmail.com. All identified proprietary information provided by applicants will be kept strictly confidential. When accepted for mentoring, you will be asked to sign a form agreeing to abide by our rules and principles.

How does the mentoring process work?

Once you have enrolled, your mentor team will arrange for your first mentoring session. Following that, the scheduling of subsequent meetings, distribution of meeting minutes and other administrative tasks will be your responsibility.  It's important that meetings include your entire mentor team, as well as key members of your venture team.  Meeting frequency is up to you, but monthly sessions, at a minimum, are strongly encouraged.   It's important for participating entrepreneurs to realize that our mentoring services are educational only. All business decisions remain under the full control of the participating entrepreneur. In other words, we are here to help; we cannot do it for you.

How are mentor matches arranged?

The formation of relationships between mentors and entrepreneurs is accomplished at our Matching Sessions, typically held three to four times each year.  During these evening sessions, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to tell their story to attending mentors, in order to attract people best qualified to help.  Mentors volunteer for a specific venture based on their interests, experience and areas of expertise. Though we do our best to match appropriate mentors and entrepreneurs, the decision to form a relationship remains with the prospective mentors and entrepreneur. On occasion, we may not have the appropriate resources and may have to defer or decline a request for assistance. If you have additional questions, please contact vmsbayarea@gmail.com

Entrepreneurs

The program is open to all members of the MIT community in the Bay Area who desire to start a business and have identified a specific product or service targeted at a potential customer base.  As part of the application process, entrepreneurs are asked to provide a business plan executive summary which describes key aspects of their business concept.  We provide an outline/ template which lists important areas to be covered and questions to be answered.  We've found that early mentoring sessions are most productive when the entrepreneur has done a thorough job of addressing the points in this outline.  You can request this document by emailing vmsbayarea@gmail.com. The first key step in our process is the Matching Session, where entrepreneurs have the opportunity to outline their business concept to a group of attending mentors, followed by a brief Q&A (mentors unable to attend in person will also have seen the ventures' exec summaries and may volunteer as well).  The mentors then identify the venture(s) they feel best equipped to advise.  Shortly after the Matching, mentor teams of 2-4 members are finalized and regular in-person meetings begin.  There are normally four Matching Sessions each year, two in the Fall and two in the Spring. Through hands-on mentoring, entrepreneurs learn how to develop their products and services, identify markets, design viable and scalable business models, build business organizations, and seek funding. Whatever their stage of development, all ventures are welcome. Relationships between mentors and potential entrepreneurs are established on the basis of each entrepreneur's needs and preferences, and on the expertise of the available mentors. Entrepreneurs are assured impartial and unbiased advice by a code of ethics to which all mentors must adhere. Central to our operating principles is a commitment to safeguarding the confidentiality of entrepreneurs' business concepts and information.

Apply by sending your business’ executive summary, your resume or bio, and a cover note to vmsbayarea@gmail.com.

Mentors

Venture Mentoring/ Bay Area has attracted a dynamic group of volunteer mentors who give their time so that others may succeed.  The mentor pool consists of highly successful entrepreneurs and executives from both established companies and cutting-edge industry pioneers, as well as seasoned professionals from leading law and venture capital firms.

Mentors join for many reasons, including the intellectual appeal of the work, the collegial team approach used to address each venture's needs, the opportunity to give back to the next generation of MIT entrepreneurs, and the chance to network with other successful MIT alumni in the Bay Area. The mentors have been selected for their expertise in business formation and operations, and for their skills as advisors.

They bring a wide range of experience as company founders, chairmen, CEOs, senior executives and corporate directors. The current roster of mentors includes executives from Google, Apple Computer, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Applied Materials, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, and many other industry leaders.

Become a Mentor

Mentors are recruited not only for their expertise in business formation, strategic planning, organizational management, and specific technical fields, but also for their skills as advisors and their enthusiasm for the mentor role.

Every mentor must sign a statement agreeing to abide by a Statement of Principles that describes the program's organizational structure and operating rules. Two core principles in this statement are in regard to confidentiality and conflict of interest. No volunteer mentor is allowed to invest in or receive compensation from a venture he or she is currently advising, unless invited to do so by the mentee.

By joining our program, you help us achieve our core mission of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial activity within the Bay Area MIT community.

For more information, please forward your bio and cover note to vmsbayarea@gmail.com

Mentee Successes

The first important step in our process is the Matching Session, where ventures are paired with a team of seasoned executives. Teams then meet monthly for 2-3 hours for as many months as the mentees feel they are benefiting.  Matching of entrepreneurs and mentors is driven primarily by entrepreneurs’ stated needs. A team mentoring approach is used, with 3 (typically) mentors meeting with entrepreneurs in sessions that yield practical advice and coaching; a core belief is that the value to mentees is greatly enhanced by having a rich discussion based on multiple points of view. Through hands-on mentoring, entrepreneurs learn how to target their products and services to an identified market, engage early with customers, design viable and scalable business models, build a team, and seek funding.  As in any startup situation, the venture team may make significant "course corrections" in terms of the target market, product or service functionality, pricing model, and other key aspects. Our primary success metric is helping entrepreneurs accelerate their path to success; the execution, however, is completely up to them. Although we strive to help every venture succeed, “success” also comes in the form of helping mentees realize their concept may not have commercial merit, or that a startup is not everyone’s destiny.  In the vernacular of Silicon Valley, “fail early” and avoid wasting time and money. Some of our notable successes to date (founder/mentee and mentor names follow company profiles):

AppJet

The EtherPad product, a Web-based word processor enabling real-time collaboration, caught the attention of Google, who subsequently acquired the company in late 2009, a year after AppJet entered our program.  (Aaron Iba, '05.  Mentors:  Kevin Melia, Ken Ross)

LunchBots

This provider of attractive stainless steel food containers for kids’ school lunches and other food-to-go situations has expanded its product line from two to over twenty; now sells through Amazon, Whole Foods, outlets in Canada, Australia and Europe.  The company has been self-sustaining and cash flow positive since year two.  (Jacqueline Linder, ’90.  Mentors:  Stacey Chang, Clint Ostrander, David Winikoff, Rolf Brauchler)

6dot Innovations

The Braille Labeler embosses onto adhesive labeling tape using a built-in Braille keyboard.  In addition, a USB connection to a QWERTY keyboard provides an alternative typing method for making high-quality labels.  In December 2012, the company announced acquisition by ProxTalker.com, a leader in augmentative and alternative communication devices.  (Karina Pikhart, '09.  Mentors:  Hon Wah Chin, Nadya Direkova, Dave Rothschild, David Winikoff)

Kiverdi

The Carbon Engineering Platform enables conversion of waste carbon into oil-based specialty chemicals and fuels. Series A funding secured from Primera Capital in Jan. 2011 (first mentoring year); recently partnered with a global equipment manufacturing and engineering firm.  Its innovative technology earned Kiverdi a 2012 Edison Award.  (Lisa Dyson, Ph.D. ’04.  Mentors:  Chris Gutek, Larry Kelly, Nelson Lin)

RefleXion Medical

The company is developing the first biologically-guided radiation therapy system for treating solid tumors.  Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET), RefleXion's patented technology uses signals continuously emitted from tumors to guide treatment beam.  Raised seed round from industry luminaries and innovation grant from National Cancer Institute in 2011.  (Akshay Nanduri, MBA ’09.  Mentors:  Chris Gutek, Larry Kelly, Ben Pless)

Sifteo

Sifteo Cubes are a portable interactive game system supporting various tactile video games for kids and adults - think "Nintendo Wii meets dominoes". Awards and honors have been received from Popular Science, Fast Company, Scientific American, NBC’s Today Show. Selling through outlets including Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Toys”R”Us.  (David Merrill, S.M. '04, Ph.D. '09; Jeevan Kalanithi, S.M. '07.  Mentors:  Satchit Dokras, Larry Kelly, Dave Rothschild, Charlie Steinberg)

Flow State Media

This social/ mobile game studio creates high-quality mass-market games for PCs and mobile devices.  Mixing innovation, technology, and analytical rigor, the company's core team of Zynga alumni released the hit word game "Letter UP", which logged over 1.5 million minutes of gameplay in its first few months.  In December 2013, they released their social casino title, "Candy Cane Casino", on Facebook.   (Kahn Jekarl, MBA '07.  Mentors: Madan Venugopal, Sanjay Raman) If you’re interested in being involved in VMS as either entrepreneur or mentor, please contact Rolf Brauchler ‘69 at vmsbayarea@gmail.com.