New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Entrepreneur boot camp inspires next generation of innovators

Over 200 former and current NYU students gathered at the Stern School of Business on Sunday for the Entrepreneurs Challenge Boot Camp  organized by the Berkley Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The event featured innovation consultant guru Bob Dorf lecturing the attendants on customer discovery and development. Dorf, who has been part of seven start-ups over the past 22 years  and co-authored “The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company,”  identified the primary stages of business development — identifying the product, identifying the market and figuring out if there is an actual connection between the two — as the most integral of each startup.

“Most business fail because they assume they know what problem they must solve and exactly what they need to offer to do so,” Dorf said. “In reality, you have no idea by definition who your customers will be on day one. The only way to find out is to get out of the building and start talking to people.”

Teams have little more than two weeks left to develop their ideas before the submissions are due on Oct. 17, and most of the attendants see the event as acrucial tool to help them sharpen their focus. Dorf’s emphasis on doing market research in an environment relative to the contestants’ respective focus area struck a chord with a majority of the attendants. Among them is Ali Al-Ebrahim, an NYU-Poly junior and mechanical
engineering major.

“Listening to Dorf, most people probably feel their ideas are under attack,” Al-Ebrahim said. “‘I don’t have to talk to people.’ But it’s all about finding the demand and finding the market.”

Also present at the event was Luke Williams, newly appointed executive director of the Berkley Center,  who voiced his vision about teaching entrepreneurship to students as a way of thinking rather than an individual skill.

“What they really gain through this process is creative confidence,” Williams said. “The confidence to know that they have the mindblowing creative insights to come up with game-changing ideas and see those through. The competition, and the prize money, is just a vehicle for people to learn how to be an innovator and entrepreneur.”

Erike J. Mayo, NYU alumus and founder of Enigma Canon, a New York-based firm helping entrepreneurs to found smarter start-ups,  applauded the bottom-up approach of the boot camp but said the camraderie and exchange of ideas were even more valuable.

“Each of us helping each other is far more valuable than what you’re going to learn in a textbook,” Mayo said. “But that only goes to a point. At the end of the day, it’s all business.”

Al-Ebrahim, who was surprised about the 200 people who attended the events, agreed.

“It’s a competition, right?” Al-Ebrahim said. “And they basically teach you how to compete. Why would you want to miss that?”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Anders Melin is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]

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