Travelogue – Boston and Babson College

By Lars Henrik Hafstad Karlsson, Nord University

I am Lars Henrik Hafstad Karlsson, a third year economy student at Nord University. I have a passion for entrepreneurship and for me it’s not about if I should start a company but rather when I am going to start my first. With this as a backdrop, I started taking several courses in the entrepreneurship field as a part of my educational  profile, international entrepreneurship. I participated in 2018 Venture Cup where I went to the regional finale. With the same business idea I applied to join a trip to Boston and Babson College. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity – to travel to such a prestigious entrepreneurship school to work with my business idea. I wanted to learn and learn from the best.

Before travelling we had to do two things; read a couple of articles and prepare a five minute presentation. All participants had to some degree presented business ideas earlier, but few had done so in English. For several of us this was outside our comfort zone, including me. I was however very excited to challenge myself and prepared well in advance.

Saturday the 6th of April at 6.30 in the morning we met at the airport and were ready for departure. First we flew from Bodø to Oslo, from Oslo to Reykjavik and lastly from Reykjavik  to Boston. The total travel time was about 19 hours including the waiting time. We landed in Boston in the evening and had a meal at the hotel restaurant. Already there we got our first experience with the american unfamiliar tax system. We still don’t understand it. Essentially the prices on the menu are not the same as are on the receipts.

Lars Henrik

We had a few days without a  program at Babson College, but we still managed to keep busy. On Sunday most of us travelled to Wrentham Village Premium Outlets while the rest wanted to explore the city. The Outlet is a small village with different stores consisting of rather expensive designer clothing but with reduced prices. At that point the US tax system seemed even less understandable, but the shopping experience itself was delightful. Even though none of us is that interested  in basketball we still made our way to watch Boston Celtics meet Orlando Magic in the NBA. It was a great experience I would recommend everyone who visit the US. The day after, monday the 8th of April we visited Boston Consulting Group, one of the world’s largest consultancy companies. We met one of the project managers at BCG, Ezra Ok, who told us in a very interesting and engaging manner what their company did. The high point of the meet was when some founders in my travel group got consulting from Okon himself and advice on how to analyze demand, financing, competition and resources. A very meaningful meeting for everyone.

The BCG office

After the meet with BCG we got to meet two local venture capitalists, Tom Lazay and Kristoffer Landmark Maroe from Companyon Ventures. We got deep insights in how the VC-system works in the US. We heard their story and got to learn how to address  and build trust with investors. The two most important advices we learned from them were to do your due diligence before meeting investors. A lot of investors want to limit themselves to certain industries or geographical locations. By addressing a VC who mainly wants to operate in Silicon Valley and you have a health-tech innovation in Norway it would be a waste of both your and the VCs time to set up a meeting. The other important advice was reaching out to investors early, preferably already in the idea phase. Then you can tell about your idea when you begin and report on your progress to the investor regularly . Then you can show that you can develop the concept down the correct lane and the investor will feel a connection with the concept. Trust isn’t built in a day so you should begin with building trust  well in advance of needing financial capital.

The 9th of April it was time for our first day at Babson College. We started out with a lecture and the entrepreneur Sid Vedula gave us insights into his thoughts on entrepreneurial mindsets. We learned that there are two ways of thinking. The first is about trying to predict the future, for example when planning. The other one is about being more creating, taking things more as they come and being impulsive. Most people tend to plan but you have to be more creative . The next thing on the schedule were the presentations of our own business ideas. We presented in front of our entire group, Vedula and Andrew Zacharakis or “Zach” for short. Zach is the director of Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference and the author of several books in addition to being an acknowledged VC. What an opportunity!

The whole group did excellent when presenting our projects  We got both questions and feedback from the two professors. Some were harsh, but constructive and meant to improve the ideas and the individual entrepreneur.

Even though I sometimes feel analfabetic when it comes to the English language I was happy with my presentation. This was fun! After our successful presentations it was time for lunch. A surrealistic experience. You pay $ 9,50 and can eat for as long as you want and as much as you want.  There was an enormous selection of food. A buffet that seemed to reach the horizon with all kinds of dishes. Hamburgers, french fries, onion rings, nuggets, pizza, sandwiches, waffles. They had healthy foods too, but I really can’t say anything about that. The focus wasn’t on that part of the buffet. Luckily we were only at the campus for three days, or else it would have gone badly for some of us. I think the students could see that we were foreigners. After an intensive lunch it was time for another lecture, this time from Victor Seidel, a renowned technology and innovation management professor. It was filled with content and practicality. The subject was design based market survey techniques. We went through methods like observation, interviews and prototyping for experiments. It gave us lots of thoughts on how to think when researching market potential for our business idea. The last lecture of the day by Zach was on how to evaluate opportunities. He presented five factors of success : knowledge, network, energy, passion and involvement

The second day of Babson College on the 10th of April started out with a lecture by professor Bradley George on alternative business models. He gave us an introduction to how you could have alternative revenue streams in your business . You have so many possibilities/opportunities  when it comes to revenue and you really have to take a close look at your business ideas. The second lecture was from Yasuhiro “Dr. Failure” Yamakawa. He was the first lecturer who talked about himself and his achievements. His lack of modesty really inspired us. His nickname, Dr. Failure, comes from the fact that he is world known for talking about companies that fail and why. I have missed that sort of approach from the subject of entrepreneurship in Norway. Everyone keeps talking about their success story but I personally believe that one can learn more from entrepreneurs who fail.

Lars Henrik in action

After another interval training in the cafeteria we once again had a lecture from Zach. He lectured on how  to finance new venture and we got an introduction to how you should value your company before you get an external investor. In the end it all depends on how much an investor puts on the table and how many stocks he or she gets in the negotiations. In the end of the day professor and author Danna Greenberg who talked about looking at yourself from an outside perspective. We did a quick test based on how we acted and split ourselves in different categories. Me and three others were in the “driver” category. We were more structured, time effective and result oriented. Another big part of the class were “influencers”. They were more result oriented but more creative and impulsive than the rest. I felt that my category matched quite well, but nothing is black and white and the reality is that I probably matched more categories.

The last day at Babson College, the 11th of April, started with a lecture with the researcher and professor Lauren Beitelspacher with a lecture in value proposition. She gave us an introduction to how you should tell a good story. Good histories are authentic, trustworthy and catching. Good storytellers are empathic, experts and problem solvers. You can build a value proposal based on what your business does or you can tell about the inception and story of your business. The last hours of Babson we held a new presentation based on what we had learned. This time for eight minutes. People had changed their  ideas and presentation,and I myself presented something very new with a different angel . This time we presented in front the entire group, again with Zach and now Brad. I had prepared well in advance for the presentation but this time I met an unexpected problem. As I faced some technical problems I could not use the prepared Power Point . Even though I was not satisfied with the presentation I was proud that I had gone through it anyway. Unpredictable events happen in the life of entrepreneurs and I will take it as an experience for the future.

The trip in total was above all expectations. There was a wide spectre of different backgrounds amongst us that travelled –  we had students of economy, HR, biology, personal training, staff at Engage and Spir. Together we were connected with a burning passion for entrepreneurship. This creates a great bond between us and at the same time we have a fantastic learning environment. The gifted personalities we met gave us great food for thought that we can build on and I appreciate the experience I got. I recommend everyone to apply for the next trip to Boston. One thing is for certain; I am going to make my own startup. I have never been so motivated and inspired. Perhaps something will happen in the near future?

Thanks for reading!

Behind from the left: Marilena Frye, Martin Nikolaisen, Ole Albrekt Egeland, Anna Tótth-Szamosi, Valter Bullvåg.

In front from the left: Emilie Nicholls, Stina Skånhoff, Lars Henrik Hafstad Karlsson, Marianne Arntzen-Nordqvist, Michal Meyer Nilssen.