Next week’s CED Tech Venture Conference will feel a lot like those of the past with company pitches and demos, Silicon Valley investors and an address by the Governor.
But a key difference is the woman who will emcee the two-day event, Ravila Gupta.
The lawyer and corporate CEO turned Council for Entrepreneurial Development president and chief executive is five months into her role at the helm of the state’s longest running entrepreneur support organization. She’s met north of 200 people during that time, attended numerous events and gotten to know her staff through an intense strategic planning process.
But besides adding an AgTech roundtable and helping to launch a new program for growth stage CEOs, she’s made few changes to the organization’s portfolio of programs and events.
That could change in October, when CED will unveil a new two-year plan, the culmination of months of meetings and strategy sessions with the staff, along with input from the board and executive committee. Their goal has been to analyze CED’s existing programming and purpose and fine-tune the mission and vision to gear up for a year-long 35th anniversary celebration in 2019.
According to Gupta, it’s to “get clarity on who we serve and why, how the organization operates and to establish a focus” moving forward. She shared few other details, as the CED board has yet to see the final plan.
The strategic planning process has come naturally for Gupta. In her years as a lawyer and then CEO at Umicore, and in previous roles in engineering, she’s been through numerous such processes. In fact, it was the opportunity to apply her business and risk analysis skills in an “impactful” nonprofit context that drew Gupta to apply for the CED job.
The planning process was a bit unique this time around. For CED, an organization with a staff of seven committed to helping entrepreneurs succeed, Gupta took “a bottom up approach”, engaging the team alongside Board Chair Stephen Fraser, co-founder of Spoonflower. They only recently shared a draft version of the plan with the executive committee.
Gupta and team looked at existing CED efforts like the annual tech and life science conferences; programs Connections to Capital, which provides introductions between entrepreneurs and investors and received an NC IDEA Ecosystem Partner Grant last year, and Venture Mentoring Service, a mentorship program borrowed from MIT; as well as its large data collection initiative to produce two statewide Innovators Reports each year. Other discussion went toward new opportunities to fill in local gaps in programming and support for entrepreneurs.
While the strategic plan will outline five core objectives for the next two years, Gupta did share a few recent focus areas.
The organization will work to engage members in new ways, with programs that fit their industry and stage of company. It’ll better serve growing sub-sectors of the innovation community, including AgTech and consumer product companies. An AgTech roundtable, launched this summer, regularly pulls together leaders at eight local companies.
And CED Mindshare is a program based on demand from the member base for more interaction among CEOs at similar stages of their companies’ development. The first cohort includes 25 tech startup executives and meets monthly for dinner and a “substantive and meaty” program by a subject matter expert, Gupta says. Topics include culture creation, building a sales function and protecting a company from patent trolls.
The first life science cohort will begin in October, and another tech group will start in January. Each cohort will end at some point, but the goal is for participants to create a new network amongst themselves. Gupta says feedback so far has been very positive and attendance strong.
Her other big effort has been just getting her arms around the breadth of the innovation ecosystem—though she’s lived in the Triangle 26 years, raising her 27-year-old son here, she didn’t expect the volume and diversity of events on any night of the week, many drawing hundreds of participants.
There’s also a surprising and compelling amount of cooperation between the various organizations and groups in town, she says.
“My focus is on helping this region be noticed and recognized as a beacon for entrepreneurship, and people want to do that together and aren’t competing for their share of the market,” she says.
Gupta’s biggest source of pride in her new role is the dedication and commitment of the CED staff, who will showcase their work through the annual tech event next week.
“They put the entrepreneur at the center of what we do and have a real commitment to helping these companies,” Gupta says. “I knew this was the mission of the organization but it’s much more palpable now.”