Reporter with Silicon Hills News

20131002_161358If startups could see where the trends are headed and get ahead of them, their chances of building successful businesses would jump immeasurably. That was one of the points of the MiniTrends 2013 conference at the Holiday Inn Town Lake Wednesday and Thursday. The subject of the conference was The Integration of Profit and Social Responsibility.
Among the keynote speakers was John Vanston, chairman of Technology Futures Inc. which sponsored the conference and author of the book “MiniTrends: How Innovators and Entrepreneurs Discover and Profit from Business and Technology Trends.”

Where to Spot MiniTrends

Vanston’s presentation “The Importance of MiniTrends and Seven Ways You Can Find Them” gave ideas for entrepreneurs about where to search for minitrends:

  • Follow the Money. Government agencies like the Small Business Innovation Research Program and Small Business Technology Transfer Program give grants to federal agencies study areas of innovation that look promising. Those grants are public record, meaning businesses could look at places where the federal government sees an emerging trend worthy of investment.
  • • Follow the Leaders. Pay attention to the people who are changing industries. Examine their thoughts and intentions.
  • Examine Limits. Identify whether limits your idea faces are physical—meaning they can’t be changed; perceptual—meaning the limit is only a limit within current perceptions of the way the world works; or practical—whether the effort to exceed the limit isn’t worth the time or investment for the eventual gain.
  • Consider Human Nature. People are still driven by the same needs they’ve always had, need for love, connection, success, pride…but the way they’re manifesting those needs changes.
  • Take Note of Demographics.
  • Analyze Frustrations. Identify situations that frustrate people, such as long waits at restaurants, for possible solutions to alleviate the frustrations.
  • Look for Convergences. Breakthroughs often happen when technologies converge.

The conference attendees assembled into groups for the afternoon session where they diagrammed possible emerging trends in areas of social need by beginning with an issue, such as aging, and branching out into all the repercussions of aging, then the repercussions of those repercussions and so forth, looking for possible trends that could be turned into business opportunities. This exercise, according to Carrie Vanston, marketing director with Technology Futures, allows for building on diverse perspectives and revealing possible convergences.

Who in Austin Can Help

The final panel was called Help is Here: Digital Strategist Vicki Flaugher moderated the panel, which included Bijoy Goswami, co-founder of ATX Equation, Eve Richter, vice president of community and partnerships with Door64 and Joy Miller, marketing and outreach coordinator City of Austin Small Business Development Program.
The questions centered on what resources and people are available for entrepreneurs once they’ve got their business ideas.
Flaugher asked Miller what was the first thing entrepreneurs asked for when they came to see her at the city. Most of them, Miller said, are looking for capital—not loans as much as angel or VC money.
But both Richter and Goswami pointed out the fallacy that many new entrepreneurs have that if they just had investment money, their businesses would take off.
“You do need money,” said, Goswami, Austin’s chief evangelist for bootstrapping a business as part of a personal journey. “You need customers.” People do need support on the entrepreneurial journey, he said, but a lot of that can be found in the entrepreneurial community. He created one of several maps of the Austin entrepreneurial world, explaining how to find resources.
Richter pointed out that Austin Startup Week is next week and anyone an entrepreneur could hope to meet will be at the many events and parties. In addition, she said, the Central Texas Angel Network has office hours to help entrepreneurs get help shaping their ideas. The important thing, they both said, is to enter the startup world looking for relationship, not just handing out business cards and trying to close deals.
Once you’ve made personal connections, Richter said, many people, especially connectors who know everyone, will be happy to make introductions, direct you to events to meet the people you’re hoping to meet or connect you with resources.
“Social capital is a really intrinsic part of how Austin works,” Goswami said. “In other cities, your business identity is your identity. Here the question isn’t so much ‘What do you do?’ but ‘How are you?’ and the answer might be ‘Oh, I had a really hard yoga class today…..’ This is a small and loyal community and word travels fast.”

Full disclosure: Silicon Hills News was a media sponsor of the Minitrends conference.