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Victor Hwang, the Vice President of Entrepreneurship at The Kauffman Foundation, attended his first ever Pipeline Entrepreneur Innovators Awards as a judge. He said he was impressed with what he saw.
“There were some really great companies there and a lot of energy and entrepreneurial passion and that came through,” said Hwang.
The Kauffman Foundation was founded by Ewing Marion Kauffman who believed that education and entrepreneurship were the tools for economic empowerment and economic independence.
“At [the] core, he believed that anyone who really cared about trying to make their own future could do it, and that if we can encourage entrepreneurs, that we should,” said Hwang.
The Kauffman Foundation has had a huge impact on entrepreneurship in the Midwest.
“The entrepreneurship stuff is focused on national entrepreneurship with Kansas City and the heartland as our backyard laboratory, then with global impact and reach from there,” said Hwang
From the valley to the prairie
Before moving to the Midwest and joining The Kauffman Foundation, Hwang worked for a decade in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur and investor. He has written two books about how to scale up entrepreneurship in entire communities, and how to replicate the underlying fabric of Silicon Valley in any community.
Last fall he took a tour of Midwestern cities to meet entrepreneurs in the heartland and to get a feel for its entrepreneurial climate.
“The Midwest is starting to happen and people are starting to notice,” said Hwang. “The tools of innovation are being democratized so you can have access to information and ideas [in] the Midwest at the same time as everyone else has it.”
Keeping the momentum going in the next 3-5 years is going to be important for the community’s growth. Hwang thinks that when it comes to the long-term time investment needed to build those communities, the Midwest has what it takes to make that happen.
“I think that’s where the Midwest has a really strong competitive advantage. It’s got patience, it’s got the willingness to look at the long haul,” said Hwang.
Expert advice on pitches
Hwang’s work with large and small companies makes him a great resource for young entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to pitches.
“Pitches are a great way to learn to hone a business idea down and to get feedback and engage with an audience,” said Hwang.
One common mistake he’s seen in pitches is when presenters conflate the pitch with the company itself. He also said that the ability to communicate is key, and getting value proposition down is vital.
He also noted that it’s important not to just think about the presentation, but how the actual end product.
“I think when people pitch, they often get focused on big, abstract concepts and the markets,” said Hwang. “Whereas ultimately, [the question is] is there a great product-to-service and do customers really love it and are willing to jump into it and buy it early,” said Hwang.
Community is key
When it comes to starting a business, finding a place to start can be tough and mistakes will be made. Hwang said that it can be a lonely place to be in, but there are always other people who have been through it and can provide helpful knowledge, access and resources.
“Be very open-minded to where you can get ideas and support from. Entrepreneurship is both a solo sport and a community sport at the same time,” he said.
His time spent in Silicon Valley showed him the value in relationship building.
“One of the key lessons people take out of the valley is the speed of trust,” said Hwang. “Innovation and enterprise building comes at the ability to build good relationships, bonded relationships, to align people around problem solving.”
He emphasized that relationships are necessary in all steps of business building, whether it’s employees or consultants, channel partners or supply chain partners.
“You cannot do this alone,” said Hwang. “You’re trying to go from an idea to a full-fledged enterprise, and a full-fledged enterprise involves lots of people, not just in the enterprise but all around the enterprise.”
“It’s that linkaging of people that is absolutely key.”