Spherik Demo Day – reflections

                    See the Demo Day pitches at:  YouTube – Spherik Demo Day Pitches

Demo Day 2015, Spherik’s inaugural Demo Day, marked an important milestone not only for our teams, but for Spherik.  Bringing together more than 100 people, from business and tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors, community members, and more, the day was a testament to what is possible with hard work, dedication, and risk taking.  I am especially proud of all our teams, who pitched their start-ups exceptionally well, and our mentors, who helped us come so far.

But finally, a Demo Day is merely a milestone–a the time to bring together the people who have helped the teams get this far, as well as those who can help them go further.  After Demo Day, things don’t end—we will be working hard to bring more opportunities to the teams.  The teams are already right back to work preparing documents to send to regional and international players who could not come, but are eager to see what they’ve got.

The day was as much a celebration of our teams and our mentors as a statement about our vision for Spherik.  With thought-provoking presentations from Irina Albu, Executive Director of Tech Angels; Mary Andronic co-founder of Venture Connect; Dan Sturza from Fribourg Capital; and  Leontin Toderici, COO of Banca Transilvania, we sought to provide value not just for our teams, but also for our mentors, supporters, and community.  Each time a mentor comes to us, we want them to find value—by meeting eager and hardworking teams, meeting interesting people and networking, and by learning through teaching.  This is what we want to create here—a community of value created by sharing not only hard work (and trust us, both the teams and mentors have been working hard) but also sharing opportunities and sharing success.

What does sharing success mean?  It means focusing on what we can build together—which I believe is quite a lot.  It means thinking about how you can share your opportunities and resources, rather than worrying that by doing so you will lose.  It also means sharing the hard and grunt work.

Demo Day was a fantastic event showcasing the teams, complete with fancy wine and much applause.  But the work leading up to it was often difficult, painful, and unglamorous.  For a week in a row our teams, staff, and mentors didn’t leave Spherik before midnight—the record being 03:30.  Over the course of the program the teams suffered blunt criticism, hard questions, and harsh assessments in order to grow and improve.  We all know how hard it is to receive criticism—but what about giving it?  It would have been easier for the mentors to give weak platitudes and praises to avoid the hard work of critical assessment and risk and pain that comes with upsetting people.

This unglamorous and sometimes painful work is the truth of entrepreneurship—the fancy events with the pitches and the wine and the applause are a pleasant reward along the way for some lucky start-ups.  In order for the fancy event to be anything more than a fancy event, the unglamorous work must be diligently, relentlessly, even ruthlessly undertaken.  This is what we need more of here.  If we can do this, then we have a real chance to build this “ecosystem” into something great.  But it wont be Silicon Valley—and that is good.  Cluj and Romania both have their own unique culture, history, strengths, challenges, and opportunities.  We have to build on these, and dedicate ourselves to making us a better Cluj and a better Romania, rather than emulating another city as if it has all the answers for us.  “Be yourself—everyone else is already taken.”  No one achieves greatness trying to copy someone else.

We have to deal with the local realities, try to solve our own problems, and grow in a way that makes sense for us.  Dismissing entrepreneurs who are trying to solve local problems because they won’t go global or be unicorns is destructive and delusional.   We must support entrepreneurs who are addressing local problems—nobody will solve these for us.  At the same time, we must embrace a more global mentality, taking the time to really understand and explore other cultures and systems.  This means more than watching “Silicon Valley” on HBO and visiting the city once, then coming back and evangelizing its merits blithely ignorant of or ignoring the facts that aren’t congruent with some idealized technological Utopian meritocracy.  After all, perhaps we can aspire higher than a city where more than half of workers don’t make enough to support a family and homelessness and income disparity soar .  Yes, the nightlife scene is great and the parties are posh—if you can afford them.  But a good party is more about the people than the scene, and we have good people here—along with our own problems to solve.  We must consider the best practices of tech hubs around the global—including Silicon Valley, Boston, Berlin, London, etc. and even emerging hubs like Santiago and Pune.  We must observe, learn, and consider, without trying to copy/paste.  We must consider what our vision for our ecosystem is and how to achieve it, dedicate ourselves to working harder and setting the bar higher–and moving it higher each time we reach that mark.  We can (and should) be proud of our accomplishments–but we should never be satisfied.

Demo Day was somehow bittersweet for me.  There were many accolades and congratulations, but somehow they stung a bit.  Don’t get me wrong—it was a great event, and I am proud of our teams, our mentors, and our progress so far.  But I am not satisfied—satisfaction implies completion, and this was merely a good step in the right direction.  There is so much yet to do and so much more potential to be realized.  After Demo Day we get back to the demanding and often ambiguous work of pushing these start-ups further through networking, meetings, investor connections, paperwork, long hours, and critical feedback.  But for those who are passionate, dedicated, and serious, this unglamerous work is actually fun and fulfilling.  This is especially true when you’re as privileged as I have been to work with such great teams, mentors, and supporters.

In truth I am a rather introverted person.  I much prefer to be getting my hands dirty to standing all polished under a spotlight.  Looking back, the accomplishments I feel the most professional pride in are times when I set up a stage and helped someone achieve more than they thought possible, when I was able to shine a light on someone and help them grow.  On Demo Day, I was so proud to see all our teams shining.  It is amazing what people are capable of when you make it clear that you expect a lot from them and don’t patronize them.  The advice I would leave to our teams and mentors alike is:

“You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”
― Edward O. Wilson

The weeks leading up to Demo Day were exhausting–for me, our teams, and our mentors.  16+ hour days, crazy work, and crazy people.  But it was intensely rewarding.  Some snapshots from one of the best weeks of my life:

poza 1

 

poza 2

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