Every Thursday night a group of energized, passionate, young entrepreneurs gather at a local bar for an event called Pokin’ Holes. The set-up is simple: a young entrepreneur gives a pitch of their company and describes what stage they’re in and problems they’re facing right now. Cort Johnson, the host of Pokin’ Holes, then leads a 3 person panel (also filled with young entrepreneurs) to discuss what they see as both key problems and solutions for the start-up. When the panel discussion is finished, the audience is asked for their feedback as well.
Before attending an event, I was skeptical. I thought, “How much could a few young entrepreneurs do to help and why would I want to attend this?” One word can explain it all: community.
Yes, a key part of the weekly events are the panelists discussing a fellow young entrepreneur’s start-up, but Pokin’ Holes doesn’t end when the camera stops recording (as I mistakenly thought). Everyone is involved in the discussion, asking both tough questions and helping come up with possible solutions. The diversity of backgrounds in the audience provides incredible insight as everyone looks at the companies through a different lense.
A great example of this was the week Schedr was the featured start-up (see video here). Schedr is an online course registration application designed by UMass Amherst student Tom Petr. The panel was made up of people with backgrounds in front end programming, back end programming and marketing, which were exactly the areas he needed advice on. It became an even bigger help for Tom when Cort opened the discussion to the audience as others weighed in with perspectives as fellow students (his customers), RAs (a potential sales channel), and working with school administration (he needs access to the registrar). By the end of the night, Tom had a laundry list of ideas and people to speak to that will make a huge impact on the development of his business.
The Schedr panel and audience was not the exception; there was no magical coincidence that the room was filled with the right people. The following week, LaunchIntoBoston was the featured company, and similar results occurred (see video here). Launch Into Boston is a company serving those transitioning from college to the working world in Boston. They help you find an apartment, a job and discover socializing opportunities in the city. Obviously, it couldn’t be more different from an online scheduling tool and yet, the panel again provided essential feedback and the audience reinforced and added many more ideas. By the end of the night, founder Stephanie Smith had a new perspective on where to focus her business and make the most effective, immediate improvements.
Helping these companies is great, but when the camera shuts off and the audience feedback wraps up, the real power of DartBoston begins. Everyone sticks together after the event to talk about their passions, ideas and new ventures. This is invigorating and exciting; everyone seems to feed off of one another, energizing us to all keep pursuing our goals. The beauty is that the room is truly flat; none of the panelists or audience members are untouchable CEOs of major companies that are anxious to get back to their Blackberry or afraid to hear another pitch. It is this openness and welcoming nature that keeps people coming back and leads to the community that is so powerful in helping the companies featured each week and also leads to help occurring off camera too.
The community is what makes DartBoston great and so unique. If you know of another collection of such energized, ambitious, young entrepreneurs, I think we’d all like to know about it.
I’ll close this with a quote from an episode of Hubspot.tv a few weeks ago that I believe embodies what DartBoston means to the young entrepreneur community:
“If you have a great idea and are passionate about it, just go for it and surround yourself with people that believe in you and will offer guidance and help” – Leah Busque, Founder of RunMyErrand.com