Finding inspiration at the MIT Enterprise Forum

What do gene expressions, small rock bands, DNA molecules, user generated content, and the yellow brick road all have in common? Absolutely nothing, unless you attended the last MIT Enterprise Forum, held in Manchester.

This was only my third forum, and the last one was so interesting I decided to bring two business colleagues with me. One is a retired Texas Instruments engineer, entrepreneur and angel investor. The other, a global marketing guru.

After a little mingling, the show kicked off with ZS Genetics’ president and founder, William Glover. Glover was seeking feedback from the panel of experts about his go-to-market strategy and technology as the company seeks its next round of funding.

Whoever found this amazing panel gets a drink on me next time. We had the pleasure of hearing from the chairman of MSM Protein Technologies, a senior scientist from Evogene Inc., the managing partner of Still River Funds and a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. You can only imagine the layers of questions and comments they fired at Glover after his 20-minute comprehensive presentation.

Glover and his team have figured out a way to make genetic analysis more accurate by counting and analyzing our individual DNA molecules. One aspect of the proprietary offering is called Gene Expression and the other is DNA Sequencing. Today, it’s cost-prohibitive to have our genes analyzed as part of our standard health evaluation. Gene Expression changes all of that by offering a cost-effective option. In fact, rather than taking a large sample of human tissue to analyze, surgeons would only have to take a few cells.

ZS Genetics is the only company in the world that can count individual molecules from a single cell. What might be a technical challenge is the clock speed of the digital camera that’s used to capture the image of the molecules that the algorithm runs against.

On the business side, Glover was advised to clarify how the offering would be priced, packaged, distributed, marketed and sold. It’s clear that Glover has thought through the technology, down to counting molecules, but needed some pointers on how to target this to research labs and articulate a solid sell-through model.

One question was, how many would a research lab need to purchase? How can they be packaged, given that part of the solution is using standard equipment that a lab may already own? Who can you align with in this elephant market?

I’m sure Glover will find the right sales and marketing people to help him sort this out. When the Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School says that he would pay to have his genes sequenced to figure out what type of diseases he might be susceptible to, that says it all.

The next presenter was Gary Wheeler, president and CEO of Yellow Brick Road Entertainment. This presentation was radically different from the first. Gary streamed video clips off the Web of emerging rock bands playing music, being interviewed, and showing us life backstage for these potential rock stars. Watching the camera follow one of these headbangers from the stage to a party was fun. We got to meet his friends, watch them drink beer and throw Frisbees outside. Cool.

So what’s the concept here? Gary has figured out with a solid business plan and through research that UGC rocks (user generated content). UGC is what Internet media companies are capitalizing on. His offering is called BandDigs. It’s just like a reality show, but on the Internet with artists. Fans of bands want to be able to watch concerts via live webcasts, get to know the stars individually, watch them interact with fans, listen to formal interviews, and talk in a one-on-one in a video session.

Users can watch free live video broadcasts, see behind the scenes, go backstage via video content and interviews, download video clips or concert clips, upload concert footage they want to contribute, and be able to meet and greet the music community. They’re already accustomed to MySpace, YouTube, Yahoo Music and other portals, so BandDigs is a natural.

How can Yellow Brick Road Entertainment Company monetize this concept? Through sales and advertising. The game goes like this: get as much traction as possible by attracting and retaining a large user base, and then sell advertising to sponsors and start charging for services like a one-on-one chat with a band member or through subscriptions.

This panel also was amazing: Lauren Bigelow, vice president and general manger of WeeWorld; Deepak Gursaheney, chief technology officer of ActiveEdge; Jack Brenham, an information science and business major at Northeastern University (and target demographic for BandDigs); and Fred Bramante, chairman and CEO of Daddy’s Junky Music.

They liked the idea of attracting users free of charge initially, since this is the only proven way in this model to make money. The advice was to plan on scaling by 10,000 users per day, and you must be prepared for this type of growth if you’re going to be successful. That means whoever is hosting this service should have the bandwidth and storage to burst with the popularity of the site.

Getting ahead of the pack and using viral marketing to build a loyal community quickly are critical success factors.

After the forum, my guests and I went out for a late-night dinner to marvel over these innovative new companies. Our angel investor friend was intrigued. You just never know who you’ll meet at this event – they might just have deep pockets!

For more information about the MIT Enterprise Forum, visit

Catherine Blake is president of Sales Protocol International. She can be contacted at 828-7312 or

Categories: News