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Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Notes on Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” Summit (Boston, 16 – 18 October, 2016)
on Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” Summit (Boston, 16 – 18 October, 2016)
three days have been very insightful for me.
am sure that later in time I will have more coherent picture of what had
happened. In this update I just want to offer my brief, mostly chronological
than logical, illustration of the Summit.
you know, I am not really an entrepreneur – not yet. But I will. According to
Jon Nastor (the author of “Hack the Entrepreneur) “We aren’t born
entrepreneurs, we become them”.
I was a student, I saw myself writing papers on condensed matter physics,
publishing books and giving conference talks. Nowadays I am trying to transfer
to people the feeling of urgency and my view on the deepness of the issues in a
science of education (which does not exists yet: http://www.teachology.xyz/30uS.html).
I do have an
entrepreneurial gene, though. If I hadn’t, I would not quit my rising career
back in Russia 14 years ago, and would not move to a different country with only
$300.00 in my pocket, $5000.00 in debt, with no professional network, and no
ability to speak or understand English. And look at me know – teaching physics
to college students, and publishing papers on education!
overcoming the language barrier, reestablishing myself as an educator, it seems
only logical for me to finally move into the next new world – entrepreneurship.
In theory, I know a lot about it (I read now!), but knowing something how to
do, and doing it – makes a big difference (like in physics)! And trust me on
this: I know what to do and I am doing it.
presentations and panel discussions I kept my notes, and here I want to
summarize some of the thoughts. You may find some of the thoughts obvious or
naïve, but I find them uplifting, or informative, or resonating with my own
you want to reach investors, be passionate, not logical, at least at the
beginning. Investors do want to give for a good cause, but they need to feel what
you feel about your project and the goal you want to achieve. Investors do fund
mission driven companies (i.e. ones which make money AND improve a society). Try to make investors to feel compassion to your
cause and to you (BTW: this part of a conversation is usually problematic for
me, because I am a very logical person, and do not have much of experience with
appealing to somebody’s feelings; in fact, I think appealing to feelings might
make more harm than good – a.k.a. Donald Trump).
entrepreneur needs a community of people who have similar views on the social
issues. A path often starts from a discussion of what is wrong with the world and what to do
about it. One needs a team of people who share the vision.
An entrepreneur needs to be ready to describe: What
is the social issue one wants to solve? What can be done to lessen the issue?
Who has to be involved, and what will they do? How to find people with the
right skills? What media or legislative support is needed? In the end, what
social value will be created or strengthen?
of the hardest things to do is to convince other people that the goal is
achievable, that the project is doable. If the current situation has been
around for a long time, if it became a part of the realty, a culture, a norm,
people do not believe it can be changed. What helps is igniting peoples’
imagination and picture the situation when the issue is resolved to contrast it
with the current situation.
matter how hard it can be to find people who can believe in you, “if you need
to walk the walk you have to start walking”. Do not wait until your plans will
be 100 % clear to you, start acting, “launch and iterate”. It takes time to
achieve the critical mass of supporters and collaborators. Corrections can be
done on the way.
panel had a very vibrant discussion about sexism in general and in business in
particular. It is very difficult to change the perception of women which had
been a part of a culture for centuries. I thought that in the business of
startups there is also a culture of ageism – if you are already older than 30
no venture capitalist will talk to you. Talking about changes in education we
run into a similar problem: i.e. for centuries education has been seen as arts
and crafts and anybody can do it. This perception still dominates in culture,
but it is wrong (everybody can cook, but not everyone can be a chef – same with
education, everybody can talk and tell what to do, but not everyone can be a
medicine collecting and storing reliable data is still a problem. But even
bigger problem is sharing the data with a patient. To make a transition from
collecting data to sharing data many different parties have to agree on common
protocols - i.e. common language to describe events and processes, common list
of measurable parameters, common set of values for the parameters, common procedures
for measuring parameters – this is EXACTLY what makes any science to be a
science, hence, to make a transition from collecting data to sharing data
people active in the field have to start developing a science of the field
(plus other issues have to resolved, like legal status of data, policies). A
very similar situation is true for education (science of education does not yet
investor assesses a project via: good cause v. achievable cause; scope of the
problem v. scope of proposed solution; local solution v. scalable solution.
every education-related project an investor should know: how does the
proposed solution affect teachers (the issues of a shortage of high quality
teachers; is the solution helps teachers to grow professionally or “replaces”
teachers with new tools; how is this project different from just giving to school
students missing resources like textbooks – when I was listening to judges who
would select the winner of the Forbes 1 million contest I thought that even
some investors may not know what exactly should they ask about an
every project an investor should know: how does the proposed solution
helps to increase social mobility of students (people of a certain group)?
listening to the discussions on the stage, I formulated some questions to which
I did not hear an answer.
is the difference between making an impact via investments, and making an
impact via charitable donations?
most of the impact projects aim at solving a specific social issue (e.g.
absences of access to learning computer coding, absence of access to teaching
materials like textbooks or supplemental texts, absence of access to high
quality teaching mathematics, absence of shoes, or food), and they are limited
by a local area (a district, a city). These projects solve social problems here
and now. How to present a project which aims at making a systemic change on a
large scale and in a relatively distant future (for example, mine)?
thing left me disappointed. Organizers had managed to build a glass wall
between the people on the stage and the audience. There were no open
microphones for questions, not even an option to pass a note. It was literally
staged like a theatrical play with a very expensive tickets (not as expensive as
the “Hamilton”, though). I saw and heard many people, and I would really like to meet some them (for example, see below my tweet to Ms. Linda Pizzuti Henry).
the very end of the event I had an interesting encounter. When I went back to
the Village (a.k.a. City Hall Plaza) I met a lady from Forbes, one of the
organizers. It happened in the Idea tent, where entrepreneurs were pitching
their ideas to the crowd. I asked the lady how could I get to the stage to
pitch my idea? When she realized that I was older than the title of the Summit,
she started looking for something in her bag, then she fished out her phone and
started talking (I didn’t hear the phone ringing, but it could have been in a
vibrate mode), then she turned around and started waving her hand (I did not
see anyone waving back), then she turned to a guy on her side and started
walking around him until she finally went away saying to my nothing, even not
looking at me at all. To this moment I do not know if she really got a call and
need to see someone, or she just faked it to avoid talking to me.