Blog
Mar 23

6 Key Considerations for Sourcing

The goal of InSITE projects is to help build promising young companies while giving our outstanding Fellows valuable startup experience. Each selected company is assigned a team of 3 to 5 Fellows at the top of their field from various disciplines. The team of Fellows will meet with the company for a minimum of five meetings as they work towards the agreed upon deliverable, which may range from a pitch deck to A/B testing new sales strategies. By closely working together, companies receive the help of great minds with fresh eyes to evaluate their business and strategies, [while] students get to work with promising start-ups and gain insight into the challenges that entrepreneurs face. With that in mind, here are the 6 key considerations we walk through to best approximate a company’s potential success and compatibility with InSITE.

Market:
Our foremost goal is to work on compelling projects. We are not afraid to fight uphill battles with our companies! Although we do exclusively work with technology companies, there is no market or sector that we explicitly shy away from. In fact, we actively pursue cleantech and biotech projects. Both markets are notoriously competitive and come with daunting pipelines and sales cycles.

Product:
While I have never asked to see a line of code or brought a hardware product home overnight, I like to conduct as lengthy a demo as reasonably possible.

For software and internet companies I look for the following:
• Clean interface
• Intuitive user experience
• Does it include everything that was promised? If not, why?
• Who are the users? How many are there? What do they say?

For hardware companies:
• Aesthetics
• Patent situation
• Durability and/or longevity?
• Who are the users? How many are there? What do they say?

Value Proposition:
When I took Lean Launchpad with Steve Blank this past January, I watched him endlessly barrage teams by asking, “which customer need or problem are you solving!?” While I am not a lean startup zealot (prefer the term “enthusiast”), I think Steve hit this point on the head. At InSITE, we like to see a well-thought-out business model that brings something new to the market landscape. The value proposition does not need to be written in stone, but we do look for a focused and differentiated strategy.

Team:
Almost every early-stage venture capitalist that I know has told me that the “team” is the most critical factor in their decision to invest. InSITE is a career-long community, therefore it is paramount that the team is comprised of individuals with whom we want to work, co-promote, and build. Some specific factors we look for in the founding team:

• Domain expertise
• Team dynamic
• Clear roles
• Company culture
• How the team will contribute to the InSITE community

Project Details:
While VCs require a strong team with a great product in a breachable market, at InSITE we have an additional requirement: an organized and attentive executive team that is able to put together a well-structured and worthwhile project for our Fellows. InSITE has become one of the most sought-after fellowships by giving graduate students the opportunity to work on cutting-edge projects for the most promising companies. We do not want to expend our manpower on iterative cold calls, even if it is for the most talent team. While some projects, such as market research, customer acquisition strategy, and capital raise support, fall more directly within our wheelhouse, we are a dynamic group of individuals unafraid of getting our hands dirty.

Stage of Development:
We do not explicitly look for teams at a certain development stage, but there is a general goldilocks equilibrium that is typically just right for us. It is important that the company is developed enough that it can structure a good project, but not too developed that our fellows are far removed from the organization’s leadership. The company may be too underdeveloped if the product is still in the conceptual stages, the team is not full-time, or if they are still unsure of their value proposition. Companies may be too developed if they have more than 20 employees, project implementation would take longer than 3 months, and company executives are not able to dedicate focused time to the InSITE project. Large companies can still qualify for InSITE Special Projects on a limited basis. Recent past special projects include Common Bond, Microsoft, and Sony.

Nolan Walsh is a first-year MBA student (2015) at Columbia Business School.

About The Author

The InSITE Fellowship is a highly competitive leadership development program comprised of exceptional graduate students at top universities. InSITE Fellows and alumni make up a global network of entrepreneurs and leaders in technology and venture capital.

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