Entrepreneur “Plans” Bright Future With Innovative Google Program

By Lawrence Specker
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Thkisha “DeDe” Sanogo hopes her startup “Panoptic” helps educate current and future project managers on what it takes to avoid the major pitfalls of project planning.

Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

A Daphne entrepreneur’s plan to help the “accidental project managers” of the world has earned her an invitation to take part in an extremely selective Google development campaign.

Thkisha “DeDe” Sanogo will spend the week of Sept. 23-28 in Durham, N.C., developing her startup — Panoptic Project Solutions — with support from Google for Entrepreneurs.

The potential benefits are vast. She won’t just get mentoring and training on exactly what it takes to pull in seed funding: She and the other participants will get the opportunity to pitch their projects directly to investors, in a setting where more than half the past participants have won capital investment.

She goes in with a slogan that’s as encouraging to someone panicking over a local fundraiser as it is to a corporate worker who’s just been volun-told to handle something big and potentially messy: “Never Start A Project From Scratch Again.”

Google for Entrepreneurs is an international campaign by Google to help innovators “build the future, grow your economies, and launch the next generation of innovative companies.”

If they happen to use Google products along the way, so much the better.

The program is active in 125 countries, according to promotional information, and is heavily involved with 10 “startup communities” in the United States.

The third annual Google For Entrepreneurs Exchange for Black Founders will take place at the American Underground startup community campus in Durham. It’s described as “a week-long immersion program focused on addressing the funding gap for startups led by Black Founders,” and an attempt to “move the needle on diversity.”

This is no come-as-you-are convention for dreamers short on specifics. Panoptic is one of 10 teams chosen. Sanogo said the application process was “intense.” Your concept had to be well along the way to market-ready, for example with a beta version operating. And Sanogo said that as the finalists were narrowed down, their founders were vetted for the depth of their business knowledge as well.

Just being selected is a big deal. “I was very emotional when I heard the news,” Sanogo said.

Sanogo said she’s been working for several years to develop Panoptic. She’s a certified project management professional, and her background includes a job at a large Mobile institution where she found herself with a big role helping organize a major shift to a new data-handling system.

While that experience taught her that she had a love of project management, she freely admits that it was a bumpy ride that also showed her the need for a handy way for newcomers to educate themselves on what it takes to avoid the major pitfalls of project planning.

One of the most common mistakes she sees is that “they don’t spend enough time in the pre-planning phase,” she said. If you dive in without figuring out what resources you’ll really need, you may find yourself stuck mid-project with too little money or not enough helpers.

If that sounds painfully familiar, the help you’ll find at www.panopticprojectsolutions.com (which is free, for now) starts with milestone lists for similar or identical projects. There’s also a “smart tool” that helps you keep track of the next milestones and celebrate the ones ahead.

If that were it, Panoptic would be a pretty passive affair — a service you’d visit only to download what you need, when you need it.

But Sanogo’s vision is to use a range of social-media tools to make it a community experience. Among these aspects is a series of videos in which Sanogo interviews various people, such as a short film maker, about their experiences.

It’s a level of content that can help pull people in and keep them coming back. In the long run, Sanogo envisions a reward system in which people who contribute their expertise to the Panoptic resource library then earn commissions when other people use their project plans.

“Now people can get paid for content they’re creating all the time,” she said.

As she’s recruited early adopters, she said, she’s found interest from teachers and school systems. How to organize a STEM research project, for example, is something that’s been of interest. But that’s in keeping with what Sanogo sees as her target audience.

There are project planning tools out there for professionals, she said. She wants to help the amateurs. Projects such as weddings, funerals and community fundraisers are all fair game.

Ironically, her biggest competitor might be Google itself. After all, she has to convince potential clients that signing up at Panoptic is better than just punching “How do I plan my family reunion” into a search engine.
She thinks it is.

“You get a million hits” that way, she said, and you have to evaluate which information is relevant and solid, then synthesize your own plan. “When you’re in Panoptic, you get right to the source,” she said. The milestone lists will be provided by people who’ve done what you’re trying to do, and you’ll be able to see which plans have proven popular with other users.

Helping one-time and occasional project managers still could add up to a lucrative market niche. But getting the startup to that point Sanogo envisions will require investment. The Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange is all about helping creators position themselves to win that investment, and even introducing them to investors who might provide it.

An important distinction is that while the program targets black founders, it doesn’t support only projects tailored for a minority audience. Most of the ten finalists, like Panoptic, do not. They involve topics such as solar power, communication between teachers and parents, an app to handle payments from parents to kids for household chores.

“Google does this for everybody,” Sanogo said. But this particular program exists in part because of studies that show startups founded by minority entrepreneurs draw less investment than the average. That creates a vicious cycle: it makes ventures less likely to succeed, but it means founders may trade away more equity to get funding and end up with less ownership of the ones that do succeed. “It shouldn’t just be about the face,” said Sanogo.

“But sometimes it is.”

Simply being picked as one of the 10 finalists provides some significant validation, she said. “Being female in tech, generally, it’s very hard.”

If she succeeds in Durham, she said, she wants to share that validation with Mobile’s whole startup community.
“It’s hard to establish a network here in Mobile, when everyone’s in Silicon Valley,” she said. “I want to bring it back here … I want to provide some kind of resource here, to say we’re starting something.”

It won’t take long to find out how Sanogo fares in Durham. Naturally, she plans to funnel her upcoming Google experience into the social side of Panoptic. Look for updates at www.instagram.com/gurldede.

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