By Carolyn Said
San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) San Francisco’s new Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is ready and waiting to help launch that next great idea. For women who are focused on female business ownership, this is a place you need to know about. The center offers all kinds of entrepreneurs, free classes, mentorship, media coaching, meeting space and other support… And it’s not just for techies…whether your launching a taco truck or the next Google you’re welcome. The best part…it’s all FREE!
San Francisco Chronicle
When most people hear Nasdaq, they think “hot tech companies.” So it’s natural to think that San Francisco’s new Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, which sprawls over 13,000 square feet in a prime SoMa location, would cater exclusively to up-and-coming tech startups.
In fact, all kind of entrepreneurs, whether they’re launching a taco truck or the next Google, can plug into the center for free classes, mentorship, media coaching, meeting space and other support. The nonprofit center, located near the future Transbay Transit Center, is backed by $10 million from the Nasdaq Educational Foundation, the stock exchange’s 22-year-old philanthropy arm. Other corporate sponsors include Wilson Sonsini, KPMG and Thomson Reuters.
“Our mission is to educate and support entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and industries,” said executive director Nicola Corzine. “We do it all pro bono. There’s no charge for classes or resources.”
Instead of paying money, entrepreneurs are encouraged to “pay it forward” by committing to share what they learn with at least five others.
Outside 505 Howard St., a Times-Square-style electronic ticker scrolls promotions for events and logos of corporate sponsors. Inside, the expansive ground-floor space is divided into various functional areas: a state-of-the-art broadcast studio where budding Jack Dorseys or Marissa Mayers can learn how to handle on-camera interviews; classrooms that can accommodate dozens of people for hands-on trainings; a cafe and meeting space for collaborations; and a big lobby that serves double duty as space for pop-up shops to test products and ideas.
Eduardo Umana stumbled across the center in December because he lives nearby. The recent college grad knocked on the door, showed off his fledgling product-design studio’s first product, a wristwatch, and was invited to have a three-week pop-up store on site.
“It was the absolute best way I could have launched my brand,” said Umana, whose company, Classic Engineering, is now working on a sculpture-like lamp that turns on and off in response to whistling. He’s become a regular at center classes, learning how to meditate at a stress-relief workshop with a Tibetan monk, for instance.
Some 1,250 startups have used the center since it opened Sept. 24; it expects to serve about 2,000 entrepreneurs a year. About a quarter of them aren’t tech startups. About half have some seed funding, averaging about $1.5 million.
Applying is simple: Young companies only need two references, which could be their lawyer and bookkeeper, for instance, or seed-stage funders — or even their next-door neighbors.
“We aren’t gatekeepers,” Corzine said. “Everyone who applies gets in.”
Unlike business accelerators, the center doesn’t provide working space. Most entrepreneurs might come by two or three hours a month for classes or an occasional meeting.
Unlike incubators with structured programs for specific time periods, the center’s courses are all open enrollment. It now offers about 20 to 30 classes and workshops a month, most of which draw 40 to 60 students. There are deep dives into topics like company formation, business mechanics, understanding intellectual property and data security, among others.
Teachers range from executives of major companies to former students of the center itself. Guy Kawasaki taught the art of pitching. Mark Cooper Smith taught “The Other ‘F’ Word” based on his book about failure being a strategic resource.
“Building buzz and excitement around your brand is really an art,” said Alexa Fleischman, CEO and co-founder of Savvy Society, which lets girls design and purchase custom 3-D-printed fashion accessories. Classes at the center “gave concrete, relatable steps to tell your story,” she said. “They talked about adding comedy; crafting your genesis story; pitching media.”
The center showcased Savvy Society’s products at a pop-up shop in December, and now is providing mentorship as well as classes. “It’s almost like a concierge service, with an amazing network of people saying, ‘How can we support you?’ I haven’t come across anything like it anywhere else,” Fleischman said.
Classes evolve in response to trends. Now that venture funding is tighter, it will offer tips on how to weather this period with alternative financing strategies, for instance.
Corzine said the center complements incubators. “Not all startups graduate with the same level of success,” she said. “To have a landing spot where they can work with other peers going through similar challenges, whether it’s fundraising or figuring out their target model, is helpful.”
Rusty Greiff, managing director of 1776, which has incubators in campuses around the world, said the Nasdaq center was an invaluable partner. The center hosted a two-day regional workshop for 1776’s Challenge Cup startup contest and helped it identify interesting entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches and local experts. “It was a nice example of how different organizations can collaborate in the spirit of identifying and supporting dynamic, talented entrepreneurs,” he said.
Next up, the center will host tryouts for ABC’s “Shark Tank” on May 26. In preparation, it’s preparing a public tool kit for startups seeking funding.
The San Francisco location is also a testbed for future Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Centers worldwide.
“We are delivering the operating manual for curriculum that could unfold in many places across the globe,” Corzine said.