eBay Startup Cup by Kari Nelson, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

Starting a new company is inherently risky, but recently a new methodology called the “lean start-up” has been gaining traction and may help mitigate the risks associated with start-ups. This methodology emphasizes quick business development and testing ideas and products with real customers as soon as possible to get important feedback. The Harvard Business Review has written about these sorts of techniques as the new big thing business schools are beginning to teach and notes that they believe this methodology will help increase growth in the number of start-ups (https://hbr.org/2013/05/why-the-lean-start-up-changes-everything).

One approach to the lean start-up is called the Business Model Scorecard (BMSC) (pictured above), and it’s designed to help entrepreneurs build a viable business model and get products to market to start generating revenue much quicker than more traditional approaches. Last weekend (June 3-4), 111 start-ups got together at in3, a community space and incubator located near Howard University in Washington, D.C., to workshop their business models using the BMSC at the DC eBay StartUp Cup Extreme Build-A-Business Weekend. This was the kickoff event to a competition over the next several months, culminating in cash prizes for the winning start-ups.

This 48-hour high-intensity event involved eBay employees and other volunteers with relevant experience mentoring early stage entrepreneurs on how to think through and refine their business models for 10-15 minutes at a time. After talking with the entrepreneurs, the mentors would then judge the start-up.

I shadowed mentors during both days of this event and talked to some very interesting entrepreneurs. From what I saw this was a great event because it really forced the entrepreneurs to think critically about their business and take action steps toward making their ideas a reality. And despite the fact that the mentors pushed the entrepreneurs, there was a friendly vibe to the mentor-mentee conversations, and the mentors presented their critiques in a “tough love” way – which was encouraged by GriffinWorx (the host of the event).

Another positive attribute was that this event was very inclusive, involving a very diverse group of entrepreneurs from many different backgrounds. GriffinWorx and the eBay Foundation started this event as a way to help “anyone, regardless of background or circumstance, realize their dreams of building a business,” according to Amy Millington, President of eBay Foundation, the charitable arm of eBay. The first step to fulfilling that goal is to attract a diverse group of entrepreneurs, and from what I saw GriffinWorx and the eBay Foundation succeeded in that regard.

At the end of the weekend, 26 incredible entrepreneurs were chosen to continue in the competition and will receive further support and coaching. There are a few that I will definitely be keeping tabs on and awaiting their success.​​

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