The New York BizLab and Clarkson University kicked off their new series of lunchtime entrepreneurship events Thursday with a guest speaker whose career trajectory offers a roadmap to success for startups.
Vikram Agrawal recalled that he was a recent arrival in this country when he and his brother Vikash co-founded Etransmedia Technology in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s business incubator in 2000. Earlier this year, they sold the health care information technology firm to New York-based Formativ Health.
Vikram Agrawal’s talk was titled “Finding the Exit: Getting Ready, Getting It Done and Life After the Exit.”
As the title suggests, it centered on one of the possible end stages for startup companies: Having achieved a degree of success that makes them a target for acquisition by a larger firm.
For Agrawal, “the exit” brought both stresses and rewards, and was followed by an unfamiliar amount of free time. But after a visit to family in India, he’s planning his next venture. He’s not at the point of announcing details, but there was a non-compete clause in the sale of Etransmedia, so the next chapter for Agrawal won’t be too similar.
It might, however, be in Schenectady.
“I am seriously considering the BizLab as a location,” he said.
The BizLab is an incubator at 251 State St. begun by Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, another startup success story.
BizLab Managing Director Rick D'Errico said the lunchtime series was created with a few goals:
Clarkson wanted to boost its visibility in the Capital Region business community, as business education is a strong component of the graduate program offerings at its Capital Region campus.
And the BizLab wanted to provide a service for the young companies that are its target audience.
“One of the purposes is to bring content that will be valuable to our tenants and the business community at large,” D'Errico told The Gazette after Thursday’s event.
He said the BizLab and Clarkson have planned an initial run of six luncheons, and will look to continue the series after that.
Running the series with D'Errico is Bela Musits, Clarkson’s Reh Professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Practice. Musits is familiar with and to the startup community himself, as former director of the RPI incubator program and as a former venture capital adviser.
The goal is for each session in the luncheon series to provide information and guidance on a specific topic, such as Agrawal’s talk about his sale of Etransmedia.
“Most startups think about exit early on,” D'Errico said. Agrawal, he said, is a “real-life flesh-and-blood example of someone who did it and did it right.”
Agrawal said when he and his brother founded Etransmedia, there was a real need for its services.
“Physicians’ office was even more backward than the DMV office,” he said of record-keeping practices of the medical community at the time. “Today a majority of offices are digitized.”
Reflecting on his own exit, he recalled that he was not looking to sell when first approached but a number of factors came together over a few months that changed his mind.
There was the potential for upheaval in the health care industry as efforts to rework or revoke Obamacare came closer to fruition. There were also gradually more lucrative purchase offers each time Agrawal declined to sell.
Eventually he agreed.
What Etransmedia did right to smooth the process, and what Agrawal recommended those in his audience do, is maintain a committed workforce, put together a great middle-management team, have a strong product with good branding, and have a good roster of clients who are happy with the product and pay their bills.
“Planning for the exit is obviously very important, especially when it is unplanned,” he said, drawing laughter.