BASES hosts entrepreneurship conference for start-ups

April 11, 2011, 2:36 a.m.

One hundred students, hailing from 26 different universities, arrived on the Farm on Thursday to attend a four-day entrepreneurship conference called E-Bootcamp, which was organized through a partnership between student business associations at Stanford and Princeton.

Throughout the conference, students attended talks from influential Silicon Valley power players like Google vice president Marissa Mayer ’97 M.S. ’99, TiVo co-founder Jim Barton and Elad Gil, director of corporate strategy for Twitter. They also participated in workshops that walked them through the process of creating a company, from brainstorming to user testing to fundraising.

On Saturday night, the event culminated with a pitch competition where students had seven minutes to sell their start-up ideas to venture capitalists. The prize was two hours with Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm that has funded companies like Apple, Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Cisco Systems.

According to Ruby Lee ‘13, one of the conference’s co-directors, the goal of the program is for attendees to “learn how to turn their start-up idea into a successful venture,” and to meet others who share their same entrepreneurial mindset.

“Maybe they’ll meet their co-founders at this conference and learn from each other and not just the speakers and workshop leaders,” she said.

The Business Association for Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) began hosting the event four years ago. The first conference was much smaller in scale. It lasted only two days and was limited to Stanford students.

But last year, BASES decided to team up with Princeton’s Business Today (BT), a student organization that had already been hosting annual student business conferences, to bring the event onto a bigger platform.

“They wanted something on the West Coast and then we wanted more of a national reach,” Lee said. “It was a good match between us.”

The program received 283 applications this year for 100 spots; 50 were reserved for Stanford students and 50 for non-Stanford students. Applicants had to write a detailed analysis and description of a start-up idea that they were working on.

“This year, all the students who are coming are actually working [on a] start-up at this moment,” Lee said. “Previously, we were just looking for students who had the potential to pursue a start-up.

“I think the conference will be much more cohesive as a result, because everyone will be working on developing their idea and getting to the level where they can present it at the end of the conference.”

Peter Pelberg, a senior at Emory University, said he heard about E-Bootcamp from the president of Emory’s undergraduate business school, who knew he had been working on a start-up idea. Pelberg described the conference as a “nonstop fire hose of knowledge.”

“It’s really nice because they put in front of you some success stories that make it seem as if anybody can do this,” Pelberg said. “When you come to Silicon Valley, you hear about all these people who have built these great companies, and it’s hard to imagine yourself in that position, but this kind of breaks down the trepidation.”

This idea was emphasized in the opening keynote on Thursday, given by Roelof Botha MBA ’00, a partner at Sequoia Capital. He said the goal of his talk was “to strip away any intimidation you might have as you begin your own entrepreneurial ventures.” He did so by showing now-and-then pictures of some of the most successful Silicon Valley companies.

When asked about whether adult supervision was needed in pursuit of a start-up, Botha said youth, rather than being a detriment, is often an advantage.

“You have to be naïve enough to start a company and smart enough, like the people in this room, to beat the odds and the challenges to be a success,” he said. “The problem is that when people are adults, they fear failure and don’t have the same fresh perspective.”

The following morning, Barton addressed many of these themes when he spoke about co-founding TiVo with Mike Ramsey. He said they were driving down Highway 101 when he first said, “You know, I think we really got something here.”

“The problem was we couldn’t get a lot of people to agree with us,” Barton said.

He told attendees to not be afraid of big corporations, noting that they often get so invested in their business and product development models that they are not able to easily change course and compete with start-ups. Start-ups, he noted, can more quickly adapt to different market conditions.

“I have no fear of big companies these days,” Barton said. “In fact, I’d love to compete with them — they’re slower.”

On Saturday, Mayer spoke about the need to work with the smartest people one can find and to take on things that one is not ready to do. These two ideas ended up being the criteria she used when she decided to work at Google after graduating from Stanford in 1999.

“Most of the start-ups that I talked to I gave a .02 percent chance of succeeding,” Mayer said. “I gave Google about a 2 percent chance, but I realized I would probably learn more failing at Google, even if we did fail, than I would by succeeding someplace else.”

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