ENGINEERING NEWS

Entrepreneur@NU Conference Explores Future of Entrepreneurship

Keynote presentations from Ben Parr and Norbert Riedel highlight the characteristics of successful startups

As much as Ben Parr (WCAS ’08) enjoyed penning stories of entrepreneurship and innovation as the editor-at-large at Mashable, he hungered for something different – a chance to work alongside entrepreneurs and help them build businesses of value.

That self-awareness compelled Parr to leave journalism behind to launch the DominateFund, a two-year-old, California-based venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage tech investment and offers specific expertise in press and marketing.

“I like being part of the actual story rather than just writing the story,” Parr said.

The experience of first covering entrepreneurial ventures and now assessing dreamy-eyed entrepreneurs hunting for capital and coaching affords Parr a dynamic perspective into the startup world. Parr shared his insights during his keynote presentation at the fourth annual Entrepreneur@NU conference on April 25, which brought together faculty, staff, and students to explore the “next frontiers” of entrepreneurship.

Ben ParrAs an investor, Parr seeks founders who can scale and lead their companies well into the future, particularly those who pair technical and product knowledge with a demonstrated ability to roll in marketing, sales, and recruiting skills as the company evolves. He also favors entrepreneurs willing to listen to investors and employees as well as leaders who absorb criticism and use it to improve their enterprise. Parr said these founder characteristics are clearly identifiable traits that have helped the DominateFund team develop an internal model for predicting the success of early-stage ventures.

Parr’s afternoon keynote served an ideal follow-up to the morning keynote offered by Norbert Riedel, president and CEO of the upstart, privately held biotechnology company Naurex. Riedel stressed the importance of building a core team of people who understand critical business areas, such as regulations and marketing.

“With the best talent, you can create winning teams and become a showcase in any industry,” Riedel said, words Parr echoed during his program.

Norbert RiedelIn creating new products and services, Riedel urged entrepreneurs to understand strengths and weaknesses along the value chain and to explore opportunities to be synergistic and collaborative.

“If you pursue an idea and respect your core mission … then you can facilitate change,” said Riedel, whom McCormick Dean Julio M. Ottino described as “the ideal person to lead something that, if all bets are correct, will be transformative.”

Riedel also discussed Chicago’s occasionally maligned entrepreneurial culture, specifically with respect to life sciences. Rather than hustling to the coasts, Riedel touted Chicago’s “fantastic assets,” including the United States’ largest cluster of healthcare companies as well as academic and medical centers of excellence, including those carrying the Northwestern name.

“Now, it’s a matter of increasing our density,” Riedel said.

That density was something Riedel tried to push during his tenure as the chief science and innovative officer at suburban Chicago-based Baxter International, where he led a $200 million internal venture capital fund that incubated new ideas and fostered a sustainable pipeline of innovation for the healthcare conglomerate.

“If you have a genuine curiosity about innovation, then you will go seek and find it,” Riedel said.