As I stepped off the plane and made my way through San Francisco International Airport for the first time, I had no idea what to expect, and I certainly had no idea I was going to leave that airport one week later with a different view and value of who I am as a musician. As one of the 20 fortunate students to explore Silicon Valley with Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) this winter break, I was in for quite the adventure.
BerkleeICE (Page 1 of 4)
My internship at The Capital Network didn’t go without a few challenges.
First was combining classes with full time work. By taking a part time course load I managed to make myself a pretty hectic schedule. Some days I would have to run between downtown office and classrooms in Back Bay. In addition sitting in a classroom after an office was quite the cultural shock. I was surprised to find my classmates and lectures both soporific. Coming from the fast pace of the office to the classroom was like hitting a wall. I had to fire an espresso and keep my laptop in my bag in order to stay focus during (almost) the entire class.
Another challenge was dealing with criticism. It took me a while getting used to constant iteration requests on a project that lasted sometimes over a week. These requests were diverse. Eg if a marketing message sounded right in my head people who worked here for a while had a different idea of the right tone to address customers. I sometimes would have to change up to a word in a tweet. (DJ Khaled would say – Major Key Alert: Pay attention to details.) Additionally as I designed marketing materials and digital content it was often hard to agree on a visual or branding aspect before many iterations and figuring out every option. One thing I learned when doing creative work for someone else is to let any personal taste aside and make multiple suggestions until it aligns with the company’s vision. It’s harder than it sounds.
Challenge #3: explaining who you are and why you are here. At TCN we had regular affiliate meetings with big lawyers, bankers, accountants etc who sponsor the organization. My first affiliate meeting was rather interesting. In a big corporate conference room everyone was wearing a suite except me (We don’t wear suits at the office and my coworkers are all females so it was ok for them). Then I had to introduce myself to the table. I had to introduce myself countless times in work settings of this internship and I got to learn how important it is. In fact, it usually is that first impression people get out of you and you don’t get another shot if you introduce yourself in front of multiple people. They rarely change their mind after that first impression but the worst thing that can happen is not making an impression at all. I found that this happens you become invisible: people ignore you, forget about you or just don’t care at all. Reasons for that to happen are shaky introductions, lack of self confidence, inadequate body language or irrelevant introduction (when what you say about yourself doesn’t interest them at all). Obviously I got to make them up a few times. Therefore I simply made sure I always knew who I was meeting (by name), how to make myself interesting and show I wanted to be there with them.
After learning about all the operations of the organization I was able to put my marketing skills at work and started with small tasks. I learned the organization’s tone for communication and was put in charge of social media (Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn) and newsletter crafting. That allowed me to get a better understanding of who our customers were, how to reach them and talk to them. I was brought in event programming later on. Some events were part of an already established curriculum we just had to follow. Others we brainstormed and improved based on demand and feedback. Thus we had to bring speakers together in respect to a selected topic and coordinate date, venue and other logistical elements. Once the plan was laid out and agreed upon we would open registration and create content for promotion. We had to create a new page on the website using WordPress, make an Eventbrite occurrence and design flyers and visuals. I took the opportunity to learn new skills and improve my knowledge of graphic design and page layout softwares (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign).
It got a bit dull and repetitive however as I got better at WordPress I was put in charge of a new project: redesigning the website. It had been on the map for more than a year now though the team never found the time or people to do it. As a result, I came in just in time to jump start it. It significantly improved my skills in WordPress, html and CSS. My supervisor signed me up as well for google analytics workshops which taught me a lot about leveraging users data to make marketing decisions.
During the internship, I looked at every learning opportunity through the eyes of a startup founder as I wanted to get more out of it than writing great newsletters and tweets. I attended countless events sometimes up to 3 per week and learned about the whole TCN curriculum. I interacted with successful entrepreneurs from famous and less famous companies in all fields. I made invaluable connections with investors and mentors events after events. My most memorable event was probably during my first few weeks and regarded unicorn companies. I met the founders of Draft Kings and SevOne who gave incredible advice about starting high growth startups and making them into billion dollar companies. The founders started from nothing, failed many times and faced great challenges before getting there.
In addition, I was fortunate to attend pitch workshops with one their sponsor, Silicon Valley Bank and learned how to improve my own pitch. I then was offered to pitch my own startup in front of the board of advisors who gave me feedback. Through that experience I met an entrepreneur who introduced me to John Fanning, founder of Napster who is currently mentoring me on how raising capital. I am also getting advice from a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners one of the biggest VC firms in Boston.
The organization operates from a startup co-working space/incubator based in Boston named LearnLaunch. The accelerator focuses on EdTech so we share the space with other startups in that field. TCN employees are usually here from 9-4 Monday to Friday however we move around a lot. On Monday we are often at Boston University’s startup space they named Buzz Lab as some of their interns help us run Greenhorn Connect – a more student focused part of TCN. As our events are hosted at different spaces around Boston we usually work from there on the days they happen to limit travels. Throughout my internship I was able to visit some of the coolest Boston offices where we hosted our events: Cooley’s, Google, Bessemer Venture Partners, The Hatch Fenway, Nutter McKlennen & Fish LLP, the CIC, Morgan Lewis, Wolf & CO and more.
The organization is managed by Meredith Sanford who – active in this ecosystem for many years – knows the startup journey inside out. Meredith is the managing director and is helped by event programer Marie Meslin to coordinates educative and networking events for entrepreneurs. TCN functions on a cycle basis with events based on different topics which logically follow each others in parallel with the fundraising process. A diversity of investors eager to give back rotate throughout the cycle to teach entrepreneurs about their experience on the topics. Entrepreneurs can jump in those events at any time during the cycle based on what is most relevant to their stage. The events vary in formats and sizes too to accommodate all types of entrepreneurs. There are lunch roundtables, panel discussions, evening talks, full day conferences with attendance ranging from 15 to 100. Entrepreneurs pay small fees which cover the logistics to attend. In addition, there is a membership providing access to those events for free as well as other special events and more interactions with mentors, investors and successful entrepreneurs. However, most of TCN’s capital comes from sponsorship. Indeed, huge law firms, banks, accountants and other service providers are always needed and get a lot of business from startups. As a result, TCN would not exist without funding from those companies.
My supervisor is Meredith Sandiford and I work directly under her with Marie Meslin. As Managing Director Meredith leads the global vision for the organization and manages relationships with sponsors, the board of directors and the board of advisors. The board of directors is made of very successful members of the Boston innovation ecosystem who want to increase value and wealth in the community and create a better life within the city of Boston. They have a fiduciary duty towards TCN and meet once a month to steer the organization in the right direction and make sure it fulfills its goal. The board of advisors is made of influential members of the community as well but with a smaller implication in operations. There are many advisors on the board who help create the required connections, come to speak during events and take advantage of it to meet new entrepreneurs and invest in exciting opportunities.
The Capital Network (TCN) is a non-profit organisation focused on educating entrepreneurs about the fundraising process. It is directed by some of Boston’s most influential investors who populate its board of directors and board of advisors. As early age startups progress in Boston’s ecosystem, TCN teaches founders about every aspects of funding to prepare them before they meet investors and try to raise capital. Moreover, the organization fosters a very active community of innovators and enables connections and networking for new entrepreneurs.
Boston’s innovative ecosystem is powered by its concentration of top universities, research organizations and technology focused companies. A lot of up and coming entrepreneurs emanate from those places with a desire to leverage what they learned and solve new problems through fast paced execution fueled by smart influx of capital. Most of them fail along the way and pivot towards something else. Those who succeed eventually earn massive returns they may reinject in new companies becoming investors and advisors themselves. TCN helps talented self starters to navigate this cycle.
I was quite excited about getting to know more about the company on my first day. I felt I really needed to understand why it existed in order to bring my best contribution. Hence we had many meetings to explore what I could do to help out. I started collaborating with the event programer to organize educational events for startup founders. I also had to create social media and marketing content to promote those events and foster the TCN community. Moreover, I talked with my supervisor about designing a new brand for the organization and build a website with new content to support that brand. I also had to go to many other external events to network and build relationships within the ecosystem.
I found out about The Capital Network through my involvement with Berklee ICE. When the institute was founded during my first semester at Berklee I immediately reached out to founding managing dir. Panos Panay to find out how I could get involved and learn more about entrepreneurship. I got impassioned and excited by the new vision centered around creative entrepreneurship. But I knew nothing. So Panos sent me to attend a TCN event and I was hooked. I started a venture while taking a Berklee ICE class titled Startup Lab and was selected to be incubated by the institute. This is how I started my journey as a student entrepreneur. I failed and pivoted many times until finding the right mission at the beginning of last summer. As I neared completion of my degree I was left with a required practicum from my business major and decided to pick an internship. I then had to find the right internship that would compliment my mission as an entrepreneur and help me move my venture forward. Therefore I applied to The Capital Network.
This is an intro to my internship at TCN, read on the next post to learn more about my experience working at this organization and how I leveraged my Berklee education in this unusual field. Hope you enjoy reading!