Saint Mary’s hosted the East Bay Chapter of the Keiretsu Forum in collaboration with the Center for the Regional Economy at the Soda Center on May 30. Professor Berna Aksu, director of the center and Stull Professor of Entrepreneurship, welcomed the over 110 attendees, Keiretsu Forum members, investors, Saint Mary's students, alumni and faculty.
The attendees listened to 10-minute presentations from five startup companies in banking, agriculture, data analytics, real estate and healthcare. The pitches were followed by 10-minute Q&A sessions for each company. The guests also heard updates from two portfolio companies that had presented in previous chapter meetings. "In my mind, the most significant learning opportunity comes at the very end of the meeting when the presenters are asked to leave the room and the investors discuss the positives and negatives of each company," Aksu said.
Even though all five companies were in different industries, it seemed there was a clear trend toward "big data" analytics and communication. The investors were very interested in knowing how the presenters planned to differentiate themselves from their competition as well as protect their innovations from imitation by rivals, especially large and powerful ones. "What are the barriers to entry?" was heard repeatedly in the Q&A sessions.
Frank Fitzgerald, a recent Saint Mary's Executive MBA alumnus, said, "The Keiretsu forum offers a unique opportunity to network, learn and participate with seasoned professionals in the start-up space. The forum's warm and approachable atmosphere allows students, recent graduates and new investors and entrepreneurs to venture safely. These contacts will be critical as I begin my new career. I am very grateful to Keiretsu for opening their forum to Saint Mary's students and alumni."
Hundreds of our students and alumni have participated in the monthly forums through the School of Economics and Business Administration's collaboration with the Keiretsu Forum since 2009, and several of them have gone on to become active members and investors of the forum. Many more have completed the forum's Entrepreneur Academy to equip themselves better for a career in entrepreneurship as well as the opportunity to present at one of the forums. The Center for the Regional Economy and the Keiretsu Forum also co-produce the very popular Saint Mary's Business Idea Competition. The most recent competition was held in March, and the winner, Michael Woodcox, presented his idea to more than 400 investors at the Keiretsu Forum Expo in May.