Just before I left Sprint, the company held a “Startup Sprint” event at the Sprint Accelerator. Using the Startup Weekend methodology, about 50 Sprint employees spent 3 days forming into 11 startup teams, developing a value proposition, getting out of the building to talk to customers, and, at the end of the event, presenting to a panel of judges. Three finalists were recognized.
A couple of weeks later, those three finalists, plus the finalists from a Startup Sprint event earlier in the year, presented to a collection of Sprint and SoftBank executives. Amongst the SoftBank executives was Fumihiro Aono, SoftBank’s Senior Vice President for Personnel. Amongst other things, Aono-san champions SoftBank’s InnoVenture program, where employees are given the opportunity to present their innovative ideas and potentially launch new businesses. Two of the teams were identified as potentially being candidates for InnoVenture.
When I left Sprint, I had shared with the Sprint Accelerator team that I was interested in volunteer opportunities to learn more about the latest entrepreneurship tools and approaches. The six Startup Sprint finalists were invited to participate in a Startup NEXT program and I was asked to serve as facilitator. I said “sure,” but since I’d never even heard of Startup Next, I was a bit nervous about taking on the role. Thankfully, that very week, UP Global (the parent of Startup Weekend and Startup Next) had an event in Kansas City and I was able to meet with Dave Parker (Sr. VP of Programs and Products – including Startup NEXT) and Matt French (Director of the NEXT program). They made me feel much more capable of stepping into the role. Ari Kern, UP Global’s local senior manager, and Tina Peterson, the manager of the Sprint Accelerator, were also a huge blessing in getting ready for the program and for each week.
Of the six finalists, four regularly participated in the program, including the two with high potential. Each week we had a guest expert speaker on the topic for the week, had mentors from both inside of Sprint and the local startup community, coached the four teams, and closed each session with pitch practice. Sprint Vice President Kevin McGinnis owned the overall process and invited me to participate in calls and in-person review sessions with Sprint and SoftBank executives. At the end of the process, one of the teams, MegaMobil, was chosen to fly to Tokyo to compete in the InnoVenture competition. That is where all the hard work that we’d put in, preparing them to deliver a knock-em-dead pitch would be tested by fire. (Sorry, I can’t tell you much about MegaMobil’s business concept. I think it’s a winner, especially for helping mobile operators in countries where smartphone adoption is just now starting to take off. If you fit that category, I’d be happy to introduce you.)
Only 13 teams from around the world were invited to Tokyo for this competition. MegaMobile really wowed SoftBank Chairman Masa Son and was given the green light to pursue building the business over the next 3-6 months. They already have strong interest from a mobile operator in India as their first big customer. Congratulations team!
After the event, the leader of the team sent me an e-mail saying “Once again, thanks for all that you did to help us Russ – your coaching, feedback and insight was priceless.”
It was my pleasure!