Innovation Fair

Panelists and Start-ups Offer Advice at Innovation Fair
January 12, 2014

If you ever wondered what it really takes to bring your great idea to market, you need to reserve a spot at the Venture Forum’s Innovation Fair on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The fair kicks off with networking and appetizers at 5:30pm in the Rubin Campus Center, and offers three hours of information including presentations by innovative companies, advice and talks by seasoned entrepreneurial pros, and opportunities to interact with all levels of fellow innovators and entrepreneurs.

Students from all disciplines will walk away with new knowledge about what it takes to bring a great idea to a marketable level. And everyone who attends will gain some business insights, says Gina Betti, associate director of WPI’s Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“What is innovation? It’s a different perspective on an existing problem.”

International students can observe the business customs and the networking approaches of both the business owners and the presenters, says Betti. Students with a humanities or arts background, but little exposure to business nomenclature, she says, can ask questions directly of the owners of companies marketing products as varied as skin creams or disease-resistant lobsters.

The Venture Forum began at WPI in 1990 as a program for entrepreneurs looking to start or grow a technology-based business, says Betti. In 2012 it became an independent group that supports entrepreneurs in all stages of developing or investing in a business so they can connect with each other. The Venture Forum reaches out to students by bringing various programs like the Innovation Fair to the consortium colleges in Worcester throughout the year. It returns again to WPI on March 11 with the Five-Minute Pitch Contest.

According to George Burdick, the Venture Forum’s co-chair and moderator of this year’s Innovation Fair, the night will be packed with information and opportunities. More than a dozen companies will offer exhibits or demonstrations about their business. Students will have a chance to vote on who they think will be most likely to get funding based on the project and the information given. Each company will explain its stage of development and give a brief description of the company and the funding needed.

A panel of two keynote speakers and two presenters will then offer their own perceptions into entrepreneurship and business ventures. The talk will be followed by a question and answer period where attendees can find out more information.

Keynote speakers include Nicholas Belsito, CEO of Beeline, Inc., a mobile concierge, and George Kenney, president of EntraTympanic, the company behind the Etoscope, a device that aims to reduce the use of systemic antibiotics for ear infections. Panelists include Annette Reynolds, executive director of the networking 128 Innovation Capital Group, which often hosts Piranha Pond pitch sessions similar to CNBC’s Shark Tank television show, and Jerry Bird, president of Mass Ventures, a venture capital firm that funds start-ups.

Kenney says he is excited to share his experience with the students and to demonstrate how everything from identifying a problem to finding funding takes a new approach. “To me it all comes down to perspective,” he says. “What is innovation? It’s a different perspective on an existing problem.” But Kenney says students need to not only identify a problem, but understand it and then step back and see how others are looking at the same thing. “Then try to resist the temptation to follow the crowd,” he says.

The students who attend have a great chance to learn from a wide range of experience, says Burdick. The panelists all have experience with entrepreneurship and come with different approaches and backgrounds. And the new companies who will be demonstrating their innovations are firsthand examples of the personality and business knowledge needed to get a company from concept to product stage.

Although walk-ins are okay, coordinators are asking anyone who is interested in going to register here for the event (free to the WPI community).

By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil