UPDATE: So the BIG news I had was about Gramercy Private Equity’s prize offer. See below the fold for details.
Google is rolling out its experimental Gigabit Broadband Fiber networks across the country in lab like experiments. One of the early locations is Kansas City and Think Big Partners, a local Incubator that has sponsored a Business Plan competition worth $100,000K. The Gigabit Challenge.
I’m honored to be a part of the judging panel with some very esteemed folks from both local KC Enterprises like the Kauffman Foundation, and National players like Silicon Valley Bank.
I happened to be visiting KC for 2 weeks a few months back and thought: “Surely there’s a co-working space in town, or maybe even an incubator.” After all, I’ve recently discovered very vibrant startup scenes and incubators popping up in various parts of the Midwest and hinterlands of America. (Take Note Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, Silicon Beach there is an engine of innovation and aspiration all across this great big country). I stumbled upon Think Big via their relationship with Startup Weekend.
The first week, I ended up working with a resident freelance designer on several projects and eventually spent some time talking with Herb Sih (SUPER COOL & INSPIRING guy), managing partner and co-founder of the incubator. He turned me on to just how involved and important these local incubators can be to local business and entrepreneur communities. While Tech Stars really has changed the way everything in Boulder Colorado works, I can’t say that YC or 500Startups have had much impact on their local communities. That’s not part of their mission. But when you’re dealing with cities that are more regional and less “National” cities, the impact can be huge, and the presence, strength or lack thereof for a Local Incubator can make an enormous difference in a community’s business culture, economic health, and overall quality of life. I have a lot to say on this subject, but this post is actually about the Gigabit Challenge and not local Incubators.
I have 10 of the 100+ entries to score and I’m both delighted and disappointed.
Of the 10 I’m scoring, only 1 really focused on the Network, and what opportunities Google’s Fiber creates. Of course, I’ve advised startups to enter as many competitions as they can in their early development phase so I suspect many of the entries are just entering a Startup Contest, and not really thinking about the specifics of this challenge, and how they can take advantage of new capabilities and access to consumers/businesses via the Hi Speed network. I was also disappointed to see that a number of local startups are suffering from the same Think Small mentality that seems to be frothing the pool of Tech Crunch lately. Little Bets! Build a feature/app that makes only incremental changes and keep iterating until you go viral. Hooey, Hogwash. That may be a successful project management strategy but it is fundamentally incompatible with Vision.
Kansas City has been known for 2 major technical areas, healthcare IT and Telecommunications. I was excited to come across several companies working in Medical Data (I don’t think I can talk about the companies until after the competition) and it’s companies dealing with Medical Data that have the strongest fit for doing something interesting with Really Fast broadband. update: after finishing my judging scorecards, I have to amend my excitement to Super Excited. There were at least 4 companies in my batch that really targeted the opportunities for extra bandwidth. 2 were in municipal and government services arena. 2 were in medical data/video/imaging, and I’m really hoping these 4 companies make it to the semi-finals, and regardless of whether they do or don’t I’ll be writing more about them, and their community changing vision(s).
To any panel judge I’ve ever slagged or insulted for being clue-less in the past, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize Judging Startups and Business Plans is hard work, and trying to find a way to provide meaningful critique without being a jerk requires a lot of effort.
Best of luck to all the entrants, I look forward to getting a sneak peek at the Semifinalists to be announced next week.
One of the reasons I encourage startups to enter as many “contest” environments as they can comes down to the “Take it where you can get it” philosophy I have about bootstrapping. Any amount of ‘extra’ runway you can get is usually worth it, and Gramercy Private Equity from SF has really jumped in here to lend a hand to whichever startup survives the semi-finals and wins the Gigabit Challenge. They’ve announced a 250k convertible for the winners.