Techiepalooza helps shape startups to prepare for launch
Phoenix-area “techies” seeking opportunities and venture founders looking for startup support gathered at Techiepalooza, a special event to help get startups off the ground.
The event built on last year’s inaugural event that brought together a growing community of techies and entrepreneurs among Arizona State University students, alumni and community members after a similarly-styled event of the same name in 2012.
Hool Coury Law Professor of Entrepreneurship Brent Sebold, a faculty member in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, hosted the gathering, helping to inspire everyone to get into the entrepreneurial mindset and to think like a startup founder. He says the best way to learn how to think like a founder is to jump in and start working with one.
Sebold, director of Entrepreneurship + Innovation at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and director for ASU’s transdisciplinary Master of Science in Innovation and Venture Development program, says Techiepalooza is designed to help launch such collaborations. Startup founders get involved with the hope of finding prospective partners with the technical know-how needed to strengthen their startup team by filling the talent and skill gaps the founders may discover as they get their ventures off the ground.
“One of the things we’ve been working on for the past decade is bringing together technical folks with venture leaders and startup founders,” Sebold says. “And we see a lot of those folks coming from not only engineering but also from the W. P. Carey School of Business and many of the schools at ASU. They are coming together to form really impactful startup founding teams.”
Launching a startup as a student
Jasmine Amoako-Agyei, a senior business major with a focus on sustainability in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, was among the startup founders at the recent Techiepalooza. Amoako-Agyei’s venture is Countdown: Circular Economy Solutions, a social startup taking a community-centered approach to tackling the global plastic pollution challenge.
Amoako-Agyei, who is also a participant in Venture Devils and has worked in The Luminosity Lab and with the Engineering Projects in Community Service program, better known as EPICS, says that events like Techiepalooza are great ways to share what ventures like the Countdown startup are about and to spread the word about ASU’s entrepreneurial community.
“Though I am not an engineering major, I have been fortunate to have previous professional experience leading engineering projects with a specific focus on technology and sustainable product design in the United States and in Ghana,” Amoako-Agyei says. “My experiences working within Luminosity Lab and EPICS have both been fantastic.”
Through The Luminosity Lab, Amoako-Agyei got involved with interdisciplinary teams, engaged in rapid prototyping sprints and worked under the guidance of industry professionals who mentored her throughout the process.
In her EPICS project, she had the opportunity to lead and guide a team of talented ASU students whose studies spanned across several engineering disciplines.
“As a team, we have been able to cultivate an enthusiastic, welcoming and supportive culture where we prioritize having fun while learning at every step of the process,” Amoako-Agyei says. “We have grown alongside each other and I am forever grateful for their contributions and commitment to Countdown.”
Amoako-Agyei says that she loves networking with other founders to learn more about their processes.
“I believe the most valuable takeaway was the chance to meet new students who were eager to learn more about our process and operations,” she says. “There are some who are particularly interested in certain projects we have going on and I look forward to potentially working with them.”
Amoako-Agyei says learning about the support and growth of the startup ecosystem in Arizona was invaluable for student founders like her.
“The speakers at this event emphasized taking advantage of the abundance of investors and funding capital available to those willing to pitch,” Amoako-Agyei says. “Knowing that there is a whole ecosystem that is growing out here in Arizona is incredibly exciting as we take steps to join in and share our business ideas with the world.”
Wisdom and guidance to create successful startups
Michael Hool, the founder and managing partner of Hool Coury Law and an associate professor in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, started the 2022 Techiepalooza event by talking about the purpose of the event and the history of the entrepreneurial mindset at ASU.
“You should be encouraged if you’re just starting out, or if you have an idea and you’re kind of trying to figure out how to put a team together,” Hool said. “This event is designed so the engineering and technical students can mix with business folks, giving students opportunities to meet each other and potentially form teams and, who knows, maybe grow some companies.”
Hool encouraged the participants, telling them that it is possible to build a successful startup at ASU.
“We’ve launched a lot of companies out of here,” Hool said. “So think about the future, not just right now. Think about where you’re going and where you can be because you can do it from here. We can help you, and all the programs and entrepreneurship opportunities that are at ASU will come alongside you.”
One of those opportunities is the Fulton Schools Hool Coury Law Tech Venture Challenge. The challenge is open to select entrepreneurial teams that have at least one founder affiliated with a startup-focused course or program within ASU’s Fulton Schools and is a biannual competition that aims to strategically launch early stage technology ventures that solve a problem in the marketplace.
“I will say to all of you here who are trying to find that marriage between a founder who understands the space and someone who has that technical resource — that marriage is so important because I really understood the market and I understood the customer, but where I had huge blind spots is on the technical side,” Stewart said during the event’s opening remarks.
Finding the right connection between the two is “extremely powerful” according to Stewart, “especially if you have them as a cofounder, because then you know that they’re totally invested in the success of the company as well.”
Techiepalooza speakers emphasized that the world of startups is a marathon and not a sprint. As a founder and entrepreneur, they said, you need a lot of emotional resilience and a lot of grit.
“I was one of those people who always liked big challenges,” Stewart says. “But you will discover it’s a roller coaster. Some days you just think like there’s no stopping us and there’s nothing that’s going to get in our way of just being wildly successful. And five days later, you’re like, oh my gosh, we’re going to fail. That is the entrepreneur startup founder journey, so you have to be prepared to have some emotional resilience, something that keeps you high when things are low.”
Instilling investor confidence to back student founders
One thing Brockwell emphasized is making sure startup founders, specifically those who are current students, are fully prepared for what level of commitment they need to make their ventures successful and to appeal to venture capitalists.
“One thing investors look for and have to decide is whether or not the student is going to continue with this long term,” Brockwell said to the Techiepalooza attendees. “That’s the biggest fear that an investor has in student-led startups. Ultimately, we’re betting on you guys.”
Brockwell explained that he’s had at least a dozen conversations in which someone pitches him their entire business plan, but that as an investor, it was too soon in the process for them to invest in the venture. So they then ask for an internship or a job.
“It’s one of these things that every single time kind of just like shocks me,” Brockwell said. “They are asking for our capital support, but at the same time, they’re willing to jump ship if another opportunity presented itself. Be ready to prove to your investors that you are in for the long haul.”
Hool also talked about some founders who started out winning a few thousand dollars at startup competitions, but went on to make millions.
“If you are committed, then that’s where you will end up. You’ll have a lot of naysayers telling you things that you can’t do,” Hool said. “But the reality is, yes, you can do it. The resources that are here and people who are like-minded, like me and Brent (Sebold), will come alongside you and will help you.”