Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Week with Astia, London: Entrepreneur Boot Camp

A few posts ago, I announced the weeklong conference at Astia's London base.

Since then, I had the privilege to attend most of the sessions. At the risk of sounding like I work on their marketing department, it must be said that the meeting was one of the most remarkable I've ever attended.

And I've been to a lot of conferences.

One Weak Spot

If there was a weakness to the conference, it was the way in which the volunteers were organized. This doesn't seem serious because the participants didn't seem to notice -- and because this was the first London event, the rough patches will probably be ironed out next year.

The rest was pure gold.

Where To Start?

Astia claims it offers three kinds of support for entrepreneurs:
--In accessing capital.
--In achieving and sustain high-growth.
--In developing the executive leadership of the founding team.

This is not empty talk. 60% of the start-ups chosen by Astia get funding.

What Else is Different?

Another of Astia's distinguishing characteristics is its dedication to supporting women in business. There were as many men at the conference as women, and in these cases, there was encouragement to put remarkable women into executive roles where currently there are none.

This is not your ordinary affirmative action, and again, it isn't empty talk. Astia offers to find extraordinary women for start-ups who could really use their talents.

Why Support Astia?

There were quite a few exceptional things about the week, not least of which was the intimate feel of each meeting. Astia brings together selected entrepreneurs and experts in finance, pitching, marketing, and everything else a start-up needs to succeed.

There were never more people in the room than could fit around a conference table, and all stake-holders seemed genuinely interested in understanding what everyone had to offer.

The feeling was more mentor/protégé than expert/novice. I've rarely seen anything like the straightforward way in which panelists and conference members interacted -- and in which CEO Sharon Vosmek facilitated conversations.

Even university seminars feel more political.

How it Was Organized

Evie Mulberry did an exceptional job of both securing top-notch speakers but of also combining high-level these experts in panels to complement each other’s professional strengths and personalities.

For a complete range of topics and speakers, check out their website. It's worth visiting anyway.

But Wait, There's (Always) More

At the end of the week, after tremendous knowledge exchange, practice at pitching, and honing of financial models, the entrepreneurs were given a real opportunity to pitch their cases before investors.

The funding opportunity is two-fold:
First, the start-ups could secure funding at the May pitch.

Second, the strongest pitches are selected, and their CEOs are offered mentoring for a month and a bigger funding opportunity in June.

When the winners are announced, I'll let you know.

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