By Manoj Saxena
General manager, IBM Watson Solutions
When IBM’s Watson computer defeated two all-time champions of the Jeopardy! TV quiz show one year ago (Feb. 14-16), it was the culmination of an intensive four-year research effort by a team of IBM scientists. At the same time, it was the beginning of another quest—a campaign to turn the breakthrough technology into commercial offerings that have the potential to transform whole industries. (Suggestions? Tweet to #WhatShouldWatsonDoNext?)
I feel incredibly fortunate that I got the assignment of heading up the new business, called IBM Watson Solutions. That’s because I’m a serial entrepreneur at heart. Over the past 15 years, I started two software companies and later sold them—the second one to IBM. I stuck with Big Blue after the sale but dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur again some day. Now, my wish has come true—just not in the way I expected.
As general manager of IBM Watson Solutions, I’m running what is essentially a startup within IBM and, at the same time, my little company-within-a-company gets the benefit of IBM’s resources and patient investment philosophy.
Today marks the culmination of the IBM SmartCamp global entrepreneur competition. Nine startups from around the globe have spent the past three days in San Francisco learning from venture capital and business leaders, honing their VC pitches, getting feedback from mentors and networking with one another. Today, at the Bently Reserve, they made their final pitches and listened to speeches by government and business leaders.
The winner is….
Profitero, from Ireland (by way of Ukraine and Belarus), is the winner of the IBM Global Enterpreneur of the Year award.
The People’s Vote Award Winner is….
IDXP, from Brazil, won the popular vote with 845 votes of a total of 2537 votes cast. Profitero came in second, and C-B4 came in third.
Back in 1992, when I was the technology editor at the San Jose Mercury News, I wrote in a note attached to the annual Silicon Valley 100 report that Silicon Valley was “a state of mind” rather than a narrow geography. I was thinking that it was a San Francisco Bay Area thing rather than exclusively a Santa Clara Valley thing. Well, today, it’s a global thing.
That reality hit home with me today at the IBM SmartCamp Finals in San Francisco. The winners of nine regional contests conducted last year have gathered here to compete this week to be the global winner of the contest, which offers participants loads of advice from venture capital and business experts and a shot at media attention. These companies came from all over: India, Romania, Israel, Ireland, Spain, China, Brazil, and, yes, the United States–including an outfit, SecureWaters, from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. Which helps prove my point. These days, a Silicon Valley experience can happen practically anywhere. (Oh, by the way. The “Irish” company is led by a guy from the Ukraine and two guys from Belarus.)
The way IBM SmartCamp works is the startup entrepreneurs make their pitches to venture capitalists, get feedback on the pitches, get deep advice on their business plans, and pitch again. The best pitch wins.
Today, the entrepreneurs took turn giving their first round of pitches. So, lots of PowerPoint presentations. Some nervous CEOs. Others sounding calm and collected. Here’s Ronald Zhang, president of Palmap, a Shanghai startup focusing on collecting and integrating data for indoor mobility mapping apps–for use in shopping malls, airports, schools and the like. He spoke before making his pitch to the VCs.
(L to R) Mark Fernandes, managing director, Sierra Ventures; Mark Gorenberg, managing director, Hummer-Winblad Venture Partners; Don Wood, managing director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson; Promod Haque, managing partner, Norwest Venture Partners.
Q: What captures your attention?
Fernandes: Like any sales call, you have to go in with a referral from somebody I know and trust. I don’t go into a meeting without looking into somebody’s LinkedIn profile.
Gorenberg: We do take some meetings over the transom, but it has to be a big idea. It has to be transformational.
Wood: Be sure to get in front of the investor in person. Don’t talk by phone. We look for the magnetism and the spark of the entrepreneur. That carries the day.
Haque: Sometimes the referrals come from customers. We maintain relationships with a lot of CIOs. We want to talk to entrepreneurs who have at least validated their ideas with potential customers.
Here’s Don Wood of DFJ, talking about that his firm looks for in an entrepreneur:
Bill Reichert, managing director, Garage Technology Ventures
Fundraising in a New Ear of Venture Capital
“The good news is given where you are now your odds of raising capital have been raised dramatically. Being in SmartCamp raises your profile. The bad news is it’s a very very hard environment for raising capital.”
Gerry Mooney, General Manager, IBM Global Smarter Cities
Smarter Cities 2.0: The Next Wave.
Much of the growth in new markets comes from the entrepreneurial companies who are building the new applications.
IBM is an integrator. In the Smarter Planet sphere, the integrator can take new technologies and services to market more quickly than the startups can. So IBM has a strategy of forming partnerships with innovative startups, and, in some cases, buying them.
By Bill Reichert
Garage Technology Ventures
Editor’s note: Bill Reichert is one of a group of venture capitalists, business leaders and entrepreneurs who will be participating in the IBM SmartCamp competition world finals this week (Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and 2) in San Francisco. Nine startups from around the world will compete for fame and expert advice. To follow the event virtually, return to A Smarter Planet for liveblogging, view livestreaming video and follow the Twitter hashtags #IBM SmartCamp and #startups.
If you have only a few seconds to communicate the essence of your company to a potential investor, what do you say? Continue Reading »