I’ve been spending a lot of time at venture conferences this year. And while my stated goal of attending was to meet potential clients, I’ve actually come away with more insights than business cards.
If you’ve never attended a venture conference, it’s sort of a huge speed dating event with bright enthusiastic entrepreneurs on one side and savvy, sometimes skeptical, investors on the other. The main events are presentations, where entrepreneurs have seven to 10 minutes to summarize their organization, technology and market potential into a convincing “ask” of millions of dollars. It’s like American Idol without snarky judges and text voting.
These conferences usually feature keynote addresses by entrepreneurs and innovators, many of whom are legendary. At February’s Southeast Venture Conference (SEVC), I heard Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales one day and Google’s Chief Evangelist Vint Cerf (also known as the Father of the Internet) the next. Hearing them talk about the future of their companies is like traveling to the future itself. While I’m excited about Google Earth, they’ve moved onto Google Mars. Think Wikipedia is a great open source encyclopedia? That’s so 2009. Wikia is the latest thing. And are you worried about bit rot? Well, you should be.
I return from venture conferences rejuvenated and inspired, and not just by the celebrity speakers. I’ve met amazing people with tremendous ideas—from medical technology that detects cancer sooner to solar technology that powers roadside lighting with asphalt paint to my own client, Todd Pope of TransEnterix, whose innovative surgical device will change minimally invasive surgery around the world.
In the recent economic downturn, we’ve seen traditional industries struggle and sometimes collapse—from homebuilders to banks to big box retailers. Venture conferences remind me that innovation will lead us out of this recession. (In fact, you could say recessions inspire innovation.) Either way, spending time around people with big ideas and big dreams is a great catalyst for generating your own big ideas and dreams. Or, in our case, helping clients spark theirs.