Simon Entrepreneurs Association

By: Jonathan Markowicz

Several weeks ago, the Simon Entrepreneurs Association invited its members to High Tech Rochester, “whose mission is to be a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development.”  High Tech Rochester is also the site of the business incubator for the University of Rochester and the Simon Graduate School of Business.  Unlike many other university incubators, this unique environment is an active hub in which reside many professional entrepreneurs all working diligently on their ideas (including Simon alum!).  With the incubator’s assistance, fresh ideas are prepared and polished for presentation to angel investors and VCs.  The University has answered the call of its entrepreneurs and provided the structure for invention and innovation.  In fact, I’ll share a little later the soup-to-nuts start-up environment Simon has created.
My own approach for developing new ideas is to start with the business model; from the business model, I develop applications.  Currently, I am looking at business models in financial services, classical music, and news media.  As a military participant in humanitarian relief efforts, I am also looking at business models in communication networks and medical services, especially during rapid deployments to tactical environments.  It’s hard to hide the entrepreneurial spirit; especially now that so many of my colleagues are coming out of their shells and sharing their ideas, creations, and discoveries.  I am hearing new ideas discussed regularly around the tables in the coffee shop and between classes.  In fact, I invited many of my fellow 1st-year entrepreneurs to my house this weekend to discuss our ideas and create new synergies.
Synergy could be one of the most important tools in an entrepreneur’s toolbox.  A classmate became interested in my news media business model.  She’s a software developer whose company in China produced gaming applications for Apple products.  Her technical expertise in software development sparked a conversation between us to possibly look at my media idea and create a software platform (like Amazon’s platform business model).  As you know, my background is not very technical.  I would have never thought of this.  However, as we scribbled the idea out on the back of a homework assignment, with her knowledge of software development and my concept of the model, we revealed a new business design much more powerful than either of us originally intended.
You see, first-time entrepreneurs can be a shy group.  Unsure of whether an idea will stick and be a raging success or slip and be an utter failure, the entrepreneur determines that the safest route, at least for the ego, is to remain relatively mum.  Do I have the next Facebook?  I shouldn’t jinx it.  One classmate started his own business in the oil industry.  A friend in the blue cohort is investigating dating sites; while yet another friend in gold is taking a closer look at breaking into the restaurant industry.  Plus, one of my friends is looking at for-profit business model applications for non-profit ventures; he, like many of my other classmates, is interested in the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship.
Most exciting, however, is what Simon is doing to promote entrepreneurism.  Well beyond the incubator, Simon is embracing this creativity and offering a variety of mechanisms and opportunities: from scholarships for students who want to work on their ideas over the summer to workshops with Simon’s vast network of active entrepreneurs.  Simon offers the Mark Ain Business Model Competition, supports the Rochester Regional Business Plan Competition, and provides opportunities with the Technology Development Fund (which offers monetary awards to promising UR technologies that can be transferred and translated into commercial applications).  Simon is even working on creating its own Venture Capital Fund for start-ups generated at Simon, which will help strengthen our ties with strategic partners like the Rochester Angel Network and Exell Partners.
It is time to erase my dry erase board in preparation for this weekend.  I think stir-fry is on the menu.


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