IEEE members are not new to entrepreneurship. After all, several of them founded some of the world’s largest tech companies, like Hewlett-Packard and Medtronic. Others are in various stages of growing their ventures. But instead of working alone out of their garage or home office, IEEE wants to bring them together through its new Entrepreneurship community.
The IEEE Entrepreneurship community offers online and in-person events for people to meet and support one another. It also provides startups with chances to connect with venture capitalists and others who might help them get their companies off the ground.
Although pockets of activities for budding entrepreneurs already exist within IEEE societies and affinity groups, the community aims to bring them all under one roof. To do that, the group revamped its Web portal, got the word out at large tech conferences, and organized sessions to teach members how to start and grow a business.
“We want entrepreneurs to feel they have a home in IEEE,” says Randi Sumner, who leads the effort as senior director of IEEE strategy and entrepreneurship, in Piscataway, N.J. For IEEE to be competitive in the technology startup space, Sumner says, it must provide tech entrepreneurs with the tools and connections for accomplishing their goals.
The newly redesigned portal provides links to communities serving entrepreneurs. The IEEE Entrepreneurship Exchange online community on IEEE Collabratec, for example, already has some 7,000 members, who share articles and information about upcoming events and discuss topics reported in the news media, such as how Brexit could affect tech companies. It also offers advice on topics such as balancing a day job while building a business and on making the transition from employee to entrepreneur. Other communities, such as the IEEE Boston Section Entrepreneurs’ Network, hold in-person meetings on such topics as protecting intellectual property and hiring the right members for your team.
Also on the IEEE Entrepreneurship site are blog posts and videotaped interviews with entrepreneurs who provide guidance on running a new business. The site also links to the Starting Your Start-Up e-book series. Published by IEEE-USA, the series covers pricing strategies, developing a business plan, and similar topics.
IEEE has also scheduled two more N3XT events for 2016. Introduced last year in Toronto, N3XT brings together successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to share their know-how. The next one will be in Austin, Texas, on 17 September and the other in Toronto on 1 October. Speaking at both events will be Michael Hyatt, a venture capitalist featured on the TV show “Dragon’s Den,” in which budding entrepreneurs pitch their companies in hopes of gaining investors. And IEEE Member Allan Tear, cofounder of Betaspring, who has invested in more than 90 companies and raised more than US $65 million in venture capital will be among the speakers in Toronto.
The IEEE Entrepreneurship staff and volunteers provide IEEE sections and societies with support for startup-related activities and events.
“Entrepreneurs in each community have different needs,” Sumner says. In many areas of the world starting your own company can be crucial to finding employment. Starting a company is sometimes the only way to get a job, so organizing local entrepreneurial events is important, says Parsh Bavishi, product specialist for IEEE Young Professionals, in Piscataway, N.J., The IEEE Young Professionals community is one of the most active in the IEEE Entrepreneurship community.
Another reason for offering entrepreneurial events is that large companies in India, like Amazon, for example, only hire graduates from the country’s top universities. Starting their own businesses is a way for other college graduates to stand out, Bavishi says.
No matter where you’re from, it takes more than being a brilliant engineer to launch a business, notes Lisa Delventhal, program manager of IEEE Students and Young Professionals. “These events can help people network and meet the right people to get their ideas off the ground,” Delventhal says. A team is needed, she continues, that understands not just technology but finance, sales, and marketing; and entrepreneurs need access to venture capitalists or other sources of funds.
The IEEE Entrepreneurship community is running virtual events through Google Hangouts that can be viewed via its IEEE.tv channel. Once a month the group interviews entrepreneurs to learn how they launched their ventures; viewers can submit questions.
Last month, for example, Sumner hosted “Leaping From Employee to Founder.” She interviewed Ziversity founder Stefan Palios and IEEE Member Arjan Pillai, founder of Profoundis. Ziversity is a recruitment startup specializing in helping a company hire a more diverse workforce. Profoundis develops software that collects information on individuals from, for example, social media and articles in which their names are mentioned. Profoundis software is particularly useful for employers who want in-depth profiles of their job candidates.
Palios and Pillai discussed some of the challenges of being one’s own boss. “Be realistic,” Palios said. “You need to be able to support yourself, whether that means taking a part-time job or using your savings. Take risks, but don’t leave yourself in ruins.” Profits could be more than five years away, if the company even lasts that long.
Pillai says it’s important to become an entrepreneur for the right reasons. “It shouldn’t be for the money or to be your own boss,” he says. “You should find a pressing need or problem that you can solve that will have a postivie affect on people’s lives.” He also advises not to stubbornly hang on to your “own sweet idea”—meaning you should be open to what customers want and what the market needs.
Other interviews available for viewing include those that Sumner conducted at the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference, South by Southwest, and IEEE N3XT.