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Are you part of a startup that is ready for funding and beginning the pitch process? This event is for YOU!

The RISE Funding Forum is a platform for groups of entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas and get real time feedback from an eminent panel of investors, lawyers and bankers. Here’s how it works:

- Submit your business proposal here by March 7.
- Submit a $150 application fee here.
- Your proposal will be reviewed by the RISE pre-screen committee.
- The top 10 business plans will be invited to participate in the RISE Funding Forum on Monday, March 26.
- The selected businesses will be invited to present your concepts and business plans to leading venture capitalists, bankers, senior industry professionals and angel investors.
- All invited entrepreneurs will gain insight on how to make great pitches and learn what investors are looking for in a business plan.

Apply now - applications are due Wednesday March 7th!

Have you seen Twitter chatter about live Twitter chats? Ever wonder what they were or how to participate? Here’s the scoop:

What is a Live Twitter Chat?
A Live Twitter Chat is a discussion that takes place at a specified time on Twitter. It’s like a conference call or a meeting, but you’ll convene by logging into Twitter.

Why do people use Live Twitter Chats?
Live Twitter Chats can be a great way to discuss a topic or get to know others in your industry or a related field. It can also be a great way for a representative of a company to answer questions from their audience or customers and to gather feedback.

How Do I Participate?
To participate, login to Twitter during the preset time of the chat. Use the hashtag (Twitter keyword) given to you for the Live Tweet Chat. For example, we host one called #RISEWeekChat. Type this into the ‘Search’ box at the top of your Twitter window to see what people are saying in this discussion. Also, add the #+keyword to every Tweet you want to contribute to the conversation. If you don’t, others in the discussion will not see your contributions.

Join our #RISEWeekChat on Wednesday, January 25th at 2 p.m. CST to discuss RISE Week 2012 (3/26-3/30). Don’t forget to use the hashtag! Bring your questions about hosting a session, venues, or come prepared to team up with others if you’d like to host a panel or co-host!

What is the name of your company and what does it do?
Take the Interview is a web-based HR software company that enables employers to ask their most important questions to candidates and receive asynchronous (not-live) video responses back that they can review at their convenience.


What inspired you to start your company (or get involved)?
I was inspired to begin Take the Interview because I recognized a real problem and was able to devise a simple way to solve it.  From my own experiences interviewing candidates, I would often know in the first few minutes that a candidate was a “no” for my organization, but I would still need to interview him or her for 30-minutes to an hour.  Take the Interview very elegantly solved that problem by allowing me to get a sense of who a candidate was and ask them my most important questions prior to an in-person interview.  This cut down the time spent interviewing and conducting phone screens. Take the Interview continues to solve this problem not only for me, but also for the hundreds of companies that use us today.

Additionally, I was inspired to start Take the Interview because it requires recruiters, employers and candidates to consider a new way to leverage technology to streamline the screening process.  I didn’t want to begin a company in the same space as hundreds of other companies or start a company that was only making lives marginally better.  Take the Interview wouldn’t be an interesting company if it didn’t dramatically make the lives of candidates and recruiters better.


What are three tips university entrepreneurs can’t live without?
#1 Find a person you emulate and who inspires you to keep going. 

For me, this was Sheryl Sandberg, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be someone famous or even in your industry.  Sheryl was really important to me because I was fortunate enough to meet her at Facebook’s headquarters in January 2011 before I started my company.  She basically posed a question to all of us, “What would you do for the next 5 years professionally if you knew everything in your personal life would work out?”  If we all trusted our heart and our instincts and didn’t feel the need to conform to societal or external pressures, what would we truly do?  I knew for me it was beginning this venture.

#2 Find a really awesome partner.

First time founders should consider bringing in another person early on..  This person can be a “Co-Founder” or a rock solid #2.  Starting a company can get very lonely and it’s a ton of work.  There are many emotional twists and turns.  Doing it alone makes it more difficult both professionally and personally to sustain a business.

#3 Unfortunately, genius will always be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  Recognize this before you begin your company and vest equity accordingly.

Sleep deprivation and sacrifice are both part of the adventure.  Your family and friends won’t appreciate your new “Missing-in-action” status, but it’s your job to stay focused on the end goal.  Expect long days, little vacation and a limited social schedule.  I don’t think I worked harder in my life trying to get my company off the ground while I was in school.  If you have #2 (see above), you may be able to achieve a slightly better balance, but make sure that your equity vests based on contributed effort and time.


What advantages do you think university entrepreneurs have?
I posed the same exact question to Tom Eisenman, a professor at Harvard Business School right before he advised me to leave school.  Despite the accolades given to dropouts and deferrals, there are clear advantages for university entrepreneurs.  Here are just a few of them from Tom:

#1 While you’re in school, you are considered innocuous.  Student entrepreneurs have the ability to meet with customers, investors, mentors and other professionals to get a company off the ground and can do so under the veil of being a student.  This makes people more likely to meet with you, e-mail you back, advise you and more generally, help you and your company.

#2 Some classes, particularly in schools that have a more entrepreneurship-focused curriculum, may actually help you run your business better.  For me, reading certain cases in my strategy class and learning about the decision-making processes of other successful entrepreneurs helped me make better decisions for my own business.

#3 Access to advisors and thought leaders affiliated with a university can be a huge benefit. While in school, I could have lunch with a successful entrepreneur every month with the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program.  Additionally, some schools provide access to competitions and grant programs that may provide you with the capital to get off the ground.


What is the most challenging lesson you’ve learned as you’ve built your company?
To make equity splits and option pools as fair as possible for all of those involved.  There is no use trying to retain 100% of a company that’s worth little when you can build a team, incentivize the right people and create real value.

Connect with Danielle on Twitter: @Dweinblatt

We were honored to interview Shama Kabani from Marketing Zen Group recentl. She has received so much buzz lately from as one of Brazen Careerist’s 20 Young Professionals to Watch in 2012 and HeraldNet and , we know she will add lots of energy and excitement to our event! Here’s a glimpse of her world:

What is the name of your company and what do you do?
The Marketing Zen Group – A full service web marketing agency. We offer turnkey web marketing and digital PR services to clients around the world. Our clients come to us when they are looking for greater leads, more online visibility, and a stronger online reputation. I am the CEO of the company.

What inspired you to start your company (or get involved)?
I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, when I discovered my passion for social media. This was when social media was at a very nascent stage. Twitter had two thousand users….vs. the 275 million it does now. From an academic standpoint, I could really see the impact this would have on the business world. After approaching 18 companies and being rejected by all on the basis that they felt social media was a fad, I started my own company. We quickly evolved from social media to online consulting to where we stand today – a full service web marketing firm.

What are three tips university entrepreneurs can’t live without?
      1)  All good ideas evolve. Don’t be married to your original idea or plan. If you feel the marketplace wants you to take it in a different direction, go with it.

      2)  Lots of capital doesn’t mean success. Some of the best businesses were bootstrapped. A lack of funding should never stop you from pursuing your goals.

      3)  Stick with it. I know it can be really hard when all your friends are on the corporate interviewing track, and you are trying to launch your new   business. Don’t let it get you down. In a few years, things will look very different.

What advantages do you think university entrepreneurs have?
The resources! I really wish I had made better use of University resources. You are an in environment where everyone wants you to succeed! Leverage professors, libraries, even the free IT services you get as a student.

What is the most challenging lesson you’ve learned as you’ve built your company?
Finding excellent talent is the hardest and most important challenge any company faces. I’ve learned that past performance is the best indicator of future success. Hire people who have the skills, the attitude, and most importantly the fire in them to succeed.

RISE Interview with Erine Gray

Please give us a brief history of Aunt Bertha, why you started it and what you hope the company will achieve.

Aunt Bertha picks up where Uncle Sam leaves off by making it easy to find and apply for food, health, housing and education programs. We take all of the government and charitable assistance program information and put it in one place so that anybody in need can find programs that will help them in seconds. Just type in your zip code and you’ll find programs that serve your area. If you answer a few questions you can also find out which programs you qualify for and how much you may get in benefits.

There are millions of people that receive or apply for these programs every year. There are millions more that either don’t know about these programs, or think the process for getting enrolled is too complicated. Professional and personal experiences showed me that people unnecessarily suffer as a result of a system that is well-meaning, but sometimes costly and inefficient. 

Our mission is to make human service program information more accessible. People shouldn’t miss opportunities to get help because they don’t know about them - and that’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Aunt Bertha’s like the friendly relative we have that gives the right advice at the right time.

Please explain how you “DON’T DO MILD” in your company and what made you apply for the Royitos award 2011?

People should be able to find help available to them just by typing in their zip code. We think we can do this for any zip code in the United States. It means we have to learn about every government program and charity out there. And we have to share that info in such a way that people understand it. That’s our challenge and it’s a big one. But we believe we can do it.

I was inspired by Roy Spence’s video that was on the RISE website last year. He was looking for companies that demonstrated three principles:

• Are you following your passion?
• Does your company have a purpose besides making money?
• Do you have a strategy for success?

I’d always been a sucker for underdogs, and nothing inspires me more than people who overcame something difficult to achieve the American Dream. As a company we believe we can help people by letting them know that there are good people out there ready and willing to help them. And we think we can help the organizations that serve the needy save money on their operating costs.

What are some opportunities that came about as a result of you winning the award?

Prior to winning the Royito’s Don’t do Mild award I had only told a few people about my idea. Although I had been working hard on that idea for several months, I really hadn’t put myself completely out there publicly. Winning the award meant that people would know and expect to see something. I was no longer anonymous. The exposure put the pressure on myself I needed to release our first product. I felt like: “there’s no turning back now!” As Roy says, “Entrepreneurs have to jump off the building and build the wings on the way down.” That’s exactly how it feels.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced in running a start-up?

I was a hard worker before I started Aunt Bertha. But I had no idea just how hard I could work and how hard I needed to work. It means making a lot of sacrifices. It means constantly feeling like you’re behind. There’s no security. The only thing you do have is a feeling in your gut that drives you. You don’t get your direction or motivation from a manager, it comes from that feeling in your gut and you just have to hope it is right. That has been the hardest, but most beautiful thing about the whole experience. We still don’t know how it will play out, but to go through that process is an amazing thing.

What are you reading right now?

• Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value by Thomas Lockwood
• The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
• Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day by Collins & Morduch

What’s next for Aunt Bertha?

We will be launching our program matching service for every zip code in Texas within the next two weeks (central Texas is already live). New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana will follow shortly after.

We’re also building our application processing software for governments and non-profits that provide need-based services this spring. It’s a ridiculously simple way for these organizations to accept applications for help online and we’re looking for a few service providers to join our beta test team this spring. Interested in finding out more? .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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