At the first Startup Academy for the 10 finalists of the Slovak Startup Development Program, we spoke with an experienced startup trainer and entrepreneur Mark Tuttle.
What’s your current mission and why did you decide to work with Slovak entrepreneurs?
I’m a serial entrepreneur from California, but I’ve been living in Austria for the last 10 years. I got involved with the Slovakian startup community because I believe this is one of the most important things. Starting your own business is not just an option for college graduates who can’t find interesting jobs, but it gives them a chance to make a difference. They can follow a business idea, they can make something, they can bring it to the marketplace and create new opportunities. Those things are really important for Slovakia.
How do you perceive the role of the Slovak Startup Development Program within the innovation ecosystem?
It is a critical part of the ecosystem, because there are two sides to it. First of all private equity and non-bank financing systems are developing here, but if there aren’t good tangible projects to invest in, then all of that would be a waste of time.
Second, it goes hand-in-hand with bringing people out of a structured education system and teaching them the fast-moving startup methodologies. Great, high-value companies are not coming from the regular learning system. They are coming from this entrepreneurial ecosystem.
From your point of view, what are the usual causes of startup failure and how would you address them?
I would say probably first and foremost is not understanding of what the rest of the economic environment looks like, meaning not having an understanding of what competition is out there. A lot of people and entrepreneurs invent things, but they don't adequately look at how their solution fits in with the already existing solutions.
The second key failure is not having private equity and alternative financing mechanisms available and this is still even a problem in USA. There are a hundred great ideas and only five or ten of them get funding.
What would you suggest to our aspiring entrepreneurs?
Do not think of an original solution or a country-specific solution, but try to develop a solution that would be good for the world. Use the Internet as a research tool and find out what’s already there. Thinking globally about solutions is a good way to make progress.
Why is it important for Slovak startups to develop their products in Silicon Valley?
Without actually going there, it is very hard to envision what a mature entrepreneurial environment looks like. Since Slovakia is just a developing environment right now, Silicon Valley gives you a chance to talk to a lot of people, get feedback from potential customers and partners. It’s been there for forty-five years and it’s an excellent opportunity.
As an American, what do you think is the major difference in doing business here compared to overseas?
The entrepreneurial ecosystem has been growing there for forty-five years. If you look at Slovakia, this notion of entrepreneurial environment is still developing. In Silicon Valley people do business based on values and interaction and not based on titles and positions. It doesn’t matter you where you went to college or that you are a drop-out or have a PhD. The content of what people think, what they have invented, why it is useful, that is what actually matters.
How does the Slovak startup scene compare with the Austrian one?
I think the Austrian one is a couple of years ahead of Slovakia, but I would say that Slovakia is not that far behind. Ten years ago there was no startup scene in Austria. In the last three years it has bloomed and grown dramatically. You see the same thing over here, maybe a year behind. I actually see a greater chance of fast success in Slovakia. There is a fresh attitude to change in Slovakia that may help Slovakia outpace and get ahead of Austria in the next couple of years.