How to Be an Adivsor to Many Startups—and the Founder of Your Own

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By Melissa Simpson

Nick Caplan definitely knows a thing or two about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

As the chapter director of Startup Grind New Haven, an international community of startup leaders and entrepreneurs, and founder of Launch Island, an online platform that enables kids to start their own businesses, Caplan has plenty of tools and tricks that he has picked up along the way.

Startup Grind has a huge community that has connected more than one million entrepreneurs in more than 250 countries. Every month, members of each locality come together for a discussion with successful startup leaders and others who are deeply entrenched in their area’s entrepreneurial culture. Being a part of such a sizable collective has helped Caplan to identify a number of key must-haves in order to be a successful entrepreneur.

“One of the most important resources to address the challenges of entrepreneurship is a strong community—finding people whose advice you can trust can help you avoid frequently pitfalls,” Caplan says. “A good support system can help get you through emotional challenges. A community is also a frequent source of capital, customers or employees.”

It seems like New Haven is one of the best places for startup leaders to find the community that Caplan speaks about. With organizations like The Urban Collective, Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op and MojiLaLa, there are plenty of like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off of.

“The New Haven entrepreneurship community is very welcoming,” says Caplan. “Everyone you meet will introduce you to someone else. And, almost everyone will offer to help if they can. The local community has made all of my projects much easier.”

Being a part of such thriving communities has helped Caplan to understand the importance of synergy and teamwork. In regards to corporations and late-stage startups, there can be entire departments dedicated to a specific goals of a marketing, sales or development. When building a startup from the ground up, it is uncommon for the organization to have the same resources as their more seasoned counterparts.

“When working on an early stage startup you can still have an awesome team, but you can’t have everything. It can be hard to figure out how to efficiently allocate your time and resources, Caplan adds.

“Every day you wake up with 100 different possible priorities. I enjoy wearing many hats. But sometimes it’s important to recognize when someone else is going to do a much better job.”

Danielle Cohn, Executive Director, Entrepreneurial Engagement and Head of LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs at Comcast NBCUniversal mirrors Caplan’s sentiments on teamwork.

“For newer entrepreneurs, oftentimes building a team can be a challenge—your limitations and understand when it’s time to lean on others for assistance,” says Cohn. “Emerging entrepreneurs may have a great innovation, but in order to sell that, they need to build trust and form relationships, and that takes time.”

Comcast NBCUniversal was once a startup itself, and continues to value and support that entrepreneurial spirit, The company recently launched LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs, a collaborative learning environment where startups serious about developing the next generation of media, entertainment and connectivity innovations connect with Comcast NBCUniversal product teams.

A primary component of this is the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstarswhich kicks off this July in Philadelphia. The startups that have been selected for the 13-week accelerator program will receive one-on-one mentoring from Techstars, a worldwide entrepreneur network that supports entrepreneurs through access to mentorship and capital, and will work directly with mentors and product experts from across Comcast NBCUniversal’s businesses, including the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, film studios, and cable networks, and Xfinity products and services.

The goal is to help founders, like Caplan, elevate their ideas even faster.

When it comes to learning a new skill, like playing a new instrument or speaking a new language, fundamental understandings and practices are more deeply internalized when the learning process starts at an early age. This same theory stands when it comes to developing entrepreneurial skills.

Caplan’s startup, Launch Island, fosters young people’s inherent sponge-like ability to soak up information and provides them with the tools and knowledge to start their own businesses.

According to their website, the mission of Launch Island is to reinforce children’s natural entrepreneurial spirit. They also believe that “access to entrepreneurship should not be limited. But, parent’s time and tech knowledge can be a barrier.” Because of this, Launch Island provides parents with “a super simple way to introduce their kids to digital entrepreneurship.”

With Caplan’s platform, kids are able to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship that they can use to not only earn money now, but apply to the businesses of tomorrow. Currently, the Startup Island website features youth-made goods such as costumes, jewelry and toys.

In addition to allowing the youth and the parents to sell products on their own e-commerce platform, Launch Island also provides educators with entrepreneurial lesson plans that they can use to implement startup practices in their classroom.

“It is an amazing feeling when someone finds value in your creation,” says Caplan. “Whether that is a parent teaching a kid about entrepreneurship on Launch Island or community members attending a Startup Grind event, I find contributing in some way to another person’s life is incredibly gratifying.”

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