Our people at the Mass Challenge
Last week, a delegation of the Moscow State University Science Park returned to Moscow from a trip to the Boston Mass Challenge, an annual startup competition.
The Boston MassChallenge is one of the largest startup events in the world. This is a project competition, which takes place over two months, for which participants must develop and launch a project, after which the competition committee distributes one million dollars among the best projects.
I invited one of the delegation’s members, Webils project director Vladimir Shcherbakov ( donline ), to talk about how startups work in America and which of these useful experiences we can bring to Russia.
One of the first questions I had was why Boston? It is believed that the center of Internet business in America is the Silicon valley, and it would seem that such events should be held there. But Boston is the capital of Massachusetts, and this is where the world famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as Harvard University are located. Recognizing his role and importance as one of the world-class intellectual centers, the Boston leadership strongly supports such projects, and the Mass Challenge is supported by the governor of the state (in the photo above, one of the representatives of the Moscow State University delegation “feeds” the Governor of Massachusetts).
Readers of Habr are familiar with the concept of elevator pitch- A short presentation, which should interest the interlocutor for those half minutes that the elevator rises. So, in the States everyone is fed. One of the fundamental features of business communication there is to sell yourself every minute. The competition is so high that if you don’t talk about your project everywhere, with everyone, then you will constantly miss some opportunities. This is not accepted in our business culture - even in such a seemingly open business as the Internet, people behave quite closed, and it’s not even a matter of preserving some kind of secret. It’s just “not convenient”, “they don’t understand”, etc. Even at special events, people often walk past each other than engage in communication. In America, the opposite. Mass Challenge opportunities to get acquainted, introduce themselves and sell themselves, find partners, use to the fullest.
According to Shcherbakov, “the most striking thing was that there was an opportunity to meet with absolutely all
representatives of the venture business and to each individually communicate, talk about the project,
get feedback, know about market trends and sometimes hear very valuable advice. This is a
huge difference between Western innovation and ours. ”
There is even a special event dedicated entirely to the process of exchanging business cards - Unconference, which lasts only one day and attracts hundreds of people every year, both investors and startups. Non-conference participants gather in one big room and just get to know each other. This year it coincided with the Mass Challenge, so our guys visited there. Entrance costs from $ 100 to $ 400.
Another interesting project dedicated to making money and projects find each other is the Angel List . In Russia, there is a similar project - StartupPoint, but it is far from being developed as much as the Angel List, where only through positive recommendations on the site you can raise money without ever meeting an investor.
By the way, startups in the USA are a separate interesting topic. After events like the Mass Challenge, it may seem like startups are doing absolutely everything there. donlinetold how one day in a restaurant, having heard their conversation, the waiter turned to them and talked about making his startup ordering tables. He made a system that throws you an SMS on the phone when your table is free, and a convenient interface for managing this service, and installed it already in his bar, and now he is trying to sell it to other bars.
This is by the way that everyone is fed. Can you imagine a waiter with us who tells the visitor about his projects? "Inconveniently." However, what am I talking about. Can you imagine our waiter who has his own startup? We still have strong class stereotypes that determine the "sort" of people by the prestige of his work. Startups are white bone, waiters are black bone, and the idea of how it can be combined in one person breaks the patterns. However, the situation is changing, and it is purely logically easy to reason that a person who is ready to do hard work for the sake of future success will win in life sooner than those who are concerned only with the status of their occupation. However, this is lyrics. Back to the story about the Mass Challenge.
The format of this event implies that startups will be created right during the event: participants submit applications and then work on their projects for two months. Applications are submitted both by the formed teams and by individuals who have only an idea in their heads. On the spot, you can already find partners or get people to the team, get feedback and recommendations from other participants, and launch a startup.
During the Mass Challenge, participants constantly meet with experts, conduct pitches and develop projects. Everyone sits in a skyscraper that is provided free of charge by the city, an entire floor overlooking Boston. In the final, 5-minute pitch presentations of projects are held, according to the results of which a group of experts determines the winners, among which the prize million is distributed - the first 3 prizes of 100 thousand and 14 of 50 each, after which the projects continue to work independently. But, in a sense, everyone wins, because a huge number of investors and angels gather at the final performances, so that each project can find partners and money.
Our in the city
MSU Science Park is a business incubator (and for some time, after the opening of the Fund, also an investor), which brings together 50 technology companies and more than 100 startups.
MC members do not have to be Americans, but they create businesses that will operate in Boston. So if you want to open a startup in the USA - welcome to the Mass Challenge next year. In other cases, foreigners come there as guests, people to see and show themselves. This is a great way to clean your brains and see what your project is worth. And, at best, even find partners to enter international markets. Shcherbakov said that he and the team will digest received flattering reviews and criticism of Webils for some time .: “We would like to recommend the projects that are currently at the stage of active development, be sure to go to the USA, since this market is really worth orienting. This trip helped us to set our priorities very well. ” Many of the program participants from the Science Park received invitations from venture funds and angels to continue discussions on investments in their companies.
Photos from the meeting: a souvenir from the trip - a sweatshirt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Another interesting aspect of Internet business in the USA is the importance of lawyers. In fact, this is the third party in the investor-startup relationship, fulfilling its very important role. Law firms actively participate in events such as the Mass Challenge, choosing interesting projects and often offer startups to take them to service for the first time for free - of course, counting on long-term cooperation in the future. Legal services in the USA are very expensive, so this is a good help for startups, while lawyers get promising clients.
There is no doubt that in Russia, as the market grows and develops, their role will increase - formalization of relations is a payment for civilization. And that means that such interaction formats will also be in demand.
PS About Hub Meetings
Welcome meetings are weekly gatherings that we spend in one of Moscow cafes. This is an informal event, such an offline version of the chatter in the comments. But sometimes we communicate on serious topics, as this time.
We meet every Thursday at 20 o’clock. Tomorrow is the eighth meeting, come: the Mart cafe , the hall with arches. Announcements of meetings are also published on the blog " Events " (enter, it is closed), on LiveJournal and on Twitter using the hashtag #habraparty .
I plan to continue to invite interesting people who will tell really interesting things. If you also have something to offer - welcome, I have all the contacts for contacting me in my profile. You can send questions to Vladimir Shcherbakov in a donline message or ask in the comments.