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Hungry startups race to hire students taking a COVID-19 gap year

[BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR] Startups are given a unique opportunity to tap into this large pool of potential interns during this year.

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For college students looking forward to the on-campus experience, paying a hefty university price tag to sit in their parents’ living room and take online classes just doesn’t hit the same way. Some students have opted for community college classes this semester, while others have decided to sit this year out and take a COVID-19 gap year.

Several companies see this trend as an opportunity. Remote internships and virtual gap years are now being presented as an alternative to college students looking to do something different this year. The venture firms Contrary Capital and Neo have embraced this unique time. Contrary Capital, who raised money from companies like Tesla and Reddit, is offering to invest $100,000 to five teams of entrepreneurs who decide to take a gap year and build a company. Neo organized a virtual career fair to match students and startups this year. Startup accelerator, Y Combinator, has assembled a list of Silicon Valley startups looking to hire Fall interns as well.

This could be a win for students who are weighing the true cost of spending thousands of dollars for a year of online classes while missing the on-campus experience and want to get some real world experience. Neo CEO, Ali Partovi, said that his company surveyed 120 students participating in its mentorship programs and results showed 46% interested in taking a gap semester and 21% interested in a gap year.

Companies are approaching this new segment of the workforce in different ways. Postmates Inc. will potentially extend the experience for summer interns on its team working on robot-delivery through the Fall semester. A fiber-based local exchange carrier headquartered in Waynesboro, VA, called Lumos is offering approximately $80,000 to full time fellows to work on projects during the 2020-2021 school year.

Beyond a traditional gap year, a year of service is also an option. At a time in our nation with a spotlight on social justice, Habitat for Humanity is promoting a gap program that gives participants a chance to engage in service to their communities. Some municipalities are offering opportunities in to help in the COVID-19 response through Service Year. For some students who would have gone directly from college into their careers, this year can be spent taking on an “essential job”, which may be a different kind of work than what they might have considered before.

As hard as it may be for some that they will not get to have a normal school year, they do have options that they may not have considered in normal circumstances.

Yasmin Diallo Turk is a long-time Austinite, non-profit professional in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and graduate of both Huston-Tillotson University and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. When not writing for AG she should be writing her dissertation but is probably just watching Netflix with her husband and 3 kids or running volunteer projects for HOPE for Senegal.

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Business Entrepreneur

Tips for hosting a successful brainstorming session

(BUSINESS) Brainstorming is a powerful business tool, but most sessions are a waste of time due to being poorly planned.

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There’s power in numbers – especially when it comes to creativity and innovation. But if you’re going to host a brainstorming session with your team, there have to be some expectations, ground rules, and order to the process. Otherwise, creativity can quickly turn to chaos.

What is a brainstorming session?

A brainstorming session is a gathering of minds with the expressed purpose of generating creative ideas and thoughts around a particular topic, project, challenge, or opportunity. The premise is that there’s exponentially greater creativity when there are multiple minds in the same room.

“Besides simply generating new and unique ideas, brainstorming meetings bring people together where they can all contribute to the creative process,” notes Lucidchart. “Often, this element of brainstorming becomes more valuable than the ideas shared in the actual meeting.”

When you have a successful brainstorming session, individual team members leave feeling valued and empowered.

Not only is there a sense of fulfillment that comes from contributing ideas, but there’s a feeling of being smarter when you leave.

Tips for brainstorming session success:

For best results, brainstorming sessions need to be thoughtfully planned out. And if you put the following tips into action, you will be quite productive:

1. Invite the right people.

Hosting a successful brainstorming session begins with inviting the right people. Typically, it pays to have a variety of people. This includes a mixture of high-level employees and entry-level employees, introverts and extroverts, Type A and Type B personalities, etc.

Likewise, you want to be sure you’re not inviting too many people. When you have too many people present, it’s easy for a few people to steal the show while everyone else remains passive and provides little-to-no contributions.

2. Set the proper expectations.

A good brainstorming session starts with preparing individuals for what to expect. This happens both before the meeting and at the start of the meeting.

Setting expectations begins when you extend the invitation to attend the session. Clearly explain what the session is about and how it will go. Give them a specific timeframe and let them know if they need to show up with anything prepared.

Once the meeting begins, explain what will happen, set ground rules, and make sure everyone understands that a brainstorming session is designed to produce as many ideas as possible (not necessarily pick the best one). In other words, it’s not good practice to shoot down people’s ideas. Instead, everything gets brought into the light and can be filtered and refined at a later date.

3. Use the Right Tools.

Having the right tools on hand can make any brainstorming session much more efficient. One of the best applications is a platform called Box Notes. This online note-taking app allows teams to live-scribe notes in real-time (all at once or individually). This makes it perfect for both in-person brainstorming sessions, as well as virtual ones.

You may also find it helpful to have some sort of timer app or countdown clock that helps you stay on track. It’s easy for time to get away from you, but with a pre-programmed clock, you stay on task and can fluidly move from one part of the session to the next.

4. Promote creativity.

Do everything you can to promote a creative environment where people are most likely to bring fresh, innovative ideas. And this starts with the location of the brainstorming session.

“It’s easy to auto-default to the same old conference room every time you need to call a meeting,” Atlassian admits. “But our brains love novelty, and being in a new location can also exercise our brain’s neuroplasticity, or our ability to think about things in a new way. By switching up locations, you can improve the quality of ideas that come out of that brainstorm.”

Additionally, factors like lighting (natural sunlight), music (jazz or instrumental tunes), and even aromas (like tangerine oil, frankincense, or clary sage) can all boost creativity.

Supercharge Your brainstorming session.

Hosting regular brainstorming sessions is always a good idea. And if you implement the aforementioned suggestions, you’ll find that your sessions are even more creative and productive than usual. What are you waiting for? Get started today!

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Here’s why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope.

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling.

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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Business Entrepreneur

Reclaim your precious time as a burnt out freelancer or entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being your own boss comes with great reward, but one major risk is time inefficiencies – let’s discuss how you can streamline productivity.

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Man working on laptop representing time well-spent.

As we all know too well, entrepreneurs are time-poor.

Changing the world of technology, developing a life-changing product, or finding a new process to a complicated, lengthy task, entrepreneurs are continually moving, shaping, and evolving their world around them, but frequently run out of time at the end of their day.

Now many modern entrepreneurs have some form of productivity in place. Whether this is an A3 piece of paper with jottings of what needs to be done next or a manageable to-do list provided by their smartphone where they can brain dump all of their ideas and to-dos into one space.

Working smarter, and harder is usually the object of all those looking to create a new business. But respecting the value of productivity applications can play into the hands of those building the next Facebook or Amazon.

By all means, this doesn’t mean you need the correct productivity tools to become the next prominent entrepreneur, if that’s the case we’d have much fewer businesses than we have now thriving, the thesis of this is for entrepreneurs and business owners to begin embracing productivity apps to help them scale and capture essential parts of their day to help get more done.

So where does an entrepreneur start?

It’s straightforward. Begin with three core tools.

* A to-do list application.
* A note-taking tool.
* A calendar application.

These three resources will provide you with the fundamental pillars of productivity in your hectic schedule. Let’s examine how that is the case for each one.

A to-do list application can be a primary list of actionable items for the next 30-days. Think of a to-do list application as your day planner, an actionable set of tasks to get done on the workday.

This window of to-dos will determine your ground-level work and checklist for the day. Traditionally they are prioritized allowing you to accomplish the most critical tasks first or get them done by the end of the day so that you can help progress forward.

This is a potential master tool for the entrepreneur. A to-do list app can help you capture, deter and plan things to do helping to reduce stress and reliability in your brain to remember critical tasks and actions. A proactive theory from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen helps to define this as “open loops” a process that highlights a need to reduce active to-do’s in your head and to capture them on paper or another form of capture method to relieve your brain’s activity focusing on this.

A note-taking tool provides you with a way to capture essential data or information. Unlike a to-do list application, the information you’ll be capturing is static. This means it isn’t necessarily actionable but provides value for reference or planning. Notes are handy for planning and reference purposes. When it comes to planning your projects and high-level work (like clients, product updates, accounting, etc.) using notes will help you to collect everything into one hub to help you to complete all your major projects and tasks.

And finally, a calendar application works as how you’d expect. A way to capture events and activities. Not to be confused with a to-do list application, the calendar application should solely include events and activities, not tasks. Feel free to use the calendar layout to block out time but don’t get into the habit of adding tasks to your calendar application, it’ll make things very messy!

So what productivity apps should I start with?! Let’s give you some recommendations.

For a to-do list application, an entrepreneur should look for flexibility to scale with the application but the patience to stick with an application to help them get more done. To-do list applications perfect for entrepreneurs include Todoist, TickTick, Asana, Nozbe, or Trello. They are strong starting points and will provide you with all the features you’ll need to start capturing and sorting those important to-dos.

Note-taking tools come highly recommended. To help the scale-driven entrepreneur, there are two tools that stand out as the resources entrepreneurs should consider when looking at note-taking applications. They would be Evernote and OneNote. Both provide you with functional experiences for bringing notes in from email, documents, and other files helping you to free up time and space. Avoid Apple Notes as your default and sole way of the organization as due to the lack of folders/notebooks you struggle to keep things as organized as you would with the likes of Evernote and OneNote.

Calendar resources are rare to find. Entrepreneurs will discover themselves freeing up a lot of stress by using a calendar tool, by being able to see all the activities coming up, and help free up your calendar for important meetings. The features within the calendar tools like “invite a guest” will provide a way to connect with your invitee and avoid any miss-capture of time/date for the meeting.

Try Fantastical 2 (Mac/iOS), Google Calendar, Kin Calendar, or Calendars 5 (iOS). These are more advanced calendar tools, so if you are concerned, it’s okay to try Apple Calendar or Outlook Calendar, just make sure you solely use one calendar and not multiple to avoid missing those meetings.

In essence, entrepreneurs should consider productivity app to help control their time. Helping to implement a system might take a few weeks to get used to and a few tweaks along the way, but it’ll undoubtedly free up time from stress and worry, helping you to do the more valuable things like communicating with your customers, chatting with your clients or growing your team.

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