How Startups Foster Entrepreneurship: Z Nation Lab @ 42 Silicon Valley
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
There is a shift happening in innovation, and it isn’t coming from big corporations anymore. Startups are businesses that grow at a fast pace. Funded through venture capitalists instead of banks, they have a distinct culture of a free and open exchange of ideas. With people from diverse backgrounds and diverse ways of approaching problems, they have the ability to shape the future of tech with collaborative and innovative solutions.
Here at 42, we’re at the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship. From hackathons to our project incubator where entrepreneurs can launch MVPs, we actively support creativity, ideas, and developing solutions. It’s no surprise, then, that we welcomed Z Nation Lab to the 42 campus as they hosted notable speakers, innovators, and entrepreneurs from around the world.
Z Nation Lab
Z Nation Lab is an early stage accelerator for tech entrepreneurs and startups to help them grow. They empower entrepreneurs with capital, technical expertise, and network. Z Nation Lab brings together high-quality mentors, subject matter experts, experienced professionals, investors, and venture capitalists under one roof to provide support during every stage of the innovative process.
Interview with Z Nation Lab
We sat down with Amit Jain who is a Venture Partner for Z Nation Lab, Gagan Reen who is a Managing Director of Innovative & Enterprise Solutions at KPMG and Sudhir Kadim who is an Operating Partner at FYDA Startup Alchemists to discuss entrepreneurship, innovation, startups, and 42’s unique educational environment that fosters upcoming entrepreneurs.
What types of support does Z Nation Lab provide to tech entrepreneurs and startups to help them grow?
Amit: “When it comes to startups, people, capital, and customer are the three things they need. We try to help startups with each aspect. When it comes to people it is connecting startups with 150,000 entrepreneurs around the globe. In terms of capital we give them a $50,000 investment in a company for 7% stake, and then help them with future fundraising. The third aspect involves building a customer base. We do have members of Z Nation who fly out and connect with the customers, specifically if they are enterprise software customers. We work with them within 3-6 months, after 6 months they are on their own.”
Gagan: “I would describe Z Nation as a strong incubator for grooming upcoming entrepreneurs that have a dashing concept that you want to go into the market with. We give the structure and support you need, and help you become more self-sufficient.”
Sudhir: “It is a perfect story, they coach and carry them through the journey.”
In what ways has Z Nation Lab benefited from practicing open innovation?
Amit: “With an open innovation culture, we are trying to do three things: 1) Bring in investors. 2) Bring in corporations who are looking to partner with startups. For example, AI is big now, we are bridging this gap between the startups and corporations and helping to bring this technology into the mainstream. 3) Many times our solutions are joint solutions, there is a need for multiple people to find a solution, so we host hackathons and other events. They come with a problem statement, they work on solutions, and we have the ability to make the world a better place.”
Gagan: “Big corporations are somewhat slow in investing in startups and lose out in innovation because they have a wait and watch approach. With that culture, we are trying to change and get deeper into practicing open innovation with startups.”
Sudhir: “You have to basically understand why it is required. When you look at startup culture, a corporate organization is focused on execution. They already have the product and market, they look at how they can optimize and scale. And that has been what has been holding them back, in order to launch a new idea they talk about quantitative results. A startup is not bound by any of these things and is able to explore.”
What are your thoughts on the connection between a diverse workforce and innovation?
Gagan: “Diversity is somewhat mandatory, especially in startup cultures and now with big corporations. Most of the innovation has been done through diversity and immigration culture. Sometimes corporations forget about that element and don’t care about the blend. We need more women to be included in startup culture.”
Sudhir: “Women entrepreneurs are coming up now. There are capitalists that fund women entrepreneurs, I am seeing a good balance coming out right now.”
When it comes to fostering creativity, how impactful is diversity of thought?
Gagan: “A lot of the creativity is not just within the U.S. base. They have the same sort of things to think of in terms of diversity, it won’t ever be from one particular place.”
Sudhir: “What we do, particularly in a startup, we hire multidisciplinary people, they even hire anthropologists, it’s not just engineers. If you look at the marketing areas, that is the cultural mix that you have. A lot of startups start virtually. I have found that people collaborate all over the world.”
What do you hope to achieve with your Silicon Valley Bootcamp:
Amit: “Most startups that are participating in the bootcamp here are coming from India. The mindset in India is different than Silicon Valley, so if you want to make your product scale globally you need to get in that mindset, what we are trying to achieve is to help them understand that mindset. If you are approaching customers, the customer’s ears are more valuable. You need to think of all the perimeters and see if the solution can be scaled up. You need to examine what it takes for your product to be good enough for an Amazon or Walmart.
Sometimes in India, it is a more casual attitude. The subject matter expert is important. Any technology you are developing must be better than anywhere in the world. You need to understand what you are making and reach out to experts to make sure that you can figure out the best way to approach a project. In order to meet their project goals, you need to help them meet some customers so they can gain a better understanding of the product they are building.”
What advice would you give to 42 students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Gagan: “The first time I saw the concept of a place like 42 was today. I was just walking up the aisles of computers and saw students working together. Although I was a computer science major, I never had this type of environment to learn in. I didn’t have an opportunity to use these type of facilities or utilize this type of network of future programmers that is being noticed by startups and corporations. A lot of these students won’t be the typical worker; 42 is cultivating a startup/entrepreneur culture.
There is entrepreneurship in teamwork and in working on projects. Back when startups like Google first gathered their teams, they didn’t have access to incubator facilities like 42 students do. Students here are really lucky to have access to this type of support. In today’s world, it’s all about collaboration. And it’s about how you connect. Having a facility like 42 that fosters that kind of innovation, those hurdles you would encounter (like not having a space to work in) aren’t there. All those options are open for these youngsters, which is wonderful.”
Sudhir: “The workspaces that 42 offers are so important because you can’t build a startup in a silo. You need to cross-pollinate, you can’t carry the burden on yourself, you need to have a free exchange of ideas. It’s all about collaboration, exchange, and networking.”