Highlights from NYC’s NextGen Summit

By Vlad Cazacu

After a 5-day intensive leadership institute in Oxford, Ohio, I packed a small suitcase, put my suit in a cover and my laptop in my bag and I was off to the airport. Just a couple hours later, the pilot announced that we landed in New York City. A wave of enthusiasm engulfed my body as I plunged into the sea of people travelling in and out of JFK. I spent the night thinking about the next day; I was still shocked that I had the luck to attend the NextGen Summit, a global conference “built for young entrepreneurs, by young entrepreneurs.”

As the day began, I shaved my face, put nice clothes on and jumped on the train to Manhattan. A whole chapter later, I closed my book and exited on the 6th Ave. People hurrying, jumping in and out of taxis, angry drivers on busy streets, tall buildings and crosswalks gave birth to an unconventional dance between humans and cars. There is something about New York City that makes you feel like you can be anyone and no one at the same time; it’s both empowering and humbling.

The first session took place at Galvanize, a hip and entrepreneurial co-working space on Spring Street. There we had the VIP Meet & Greet, where I got the chance to talk with Audrey Fonseca, founder of Guppy Ink. She shared the struggles that a small business owner faces in a small town. After conversations with a student author and a few startup studio founders, I was wondering why on Earth I was selected to be part of this amazing group.

That night I got the chance to grab dinner with Eric Koester at the Wagamama by the Madison Square Park. I was so excited to talk with him that my noodles got cold and I couldn’t even be upset. His advice on mentorship: find “supermentors,” not mentors. Everyone can give you advice, but few will get invested in your project and open their network to you; search for mutually beneficial collaborations. Also, I couldn’t write this article without mentioning a conversation that blew me away with the inspiring real estate investors and brothers, Jonathan and Ben Moschel. They started their own business years ago and now, at 20 years old, they are making great money out of real estate in Baltimore.

The second day was held at Convene, a conference center on 3rd Ave. Gifting the room with great energy was Jahleel Coleman, who officially opened the conference. He was followed by the witty and wise Peter Shankman who advised to have a plan for when you succeed too, not only for when you fail. Too many startups prepare for the worse and when the growth opportunity comes, they are taken by surprise and inevitably fail. Regarding opportunities, he said most of the time it’s not rocket science, “you just have to suck a little less, people expect crap service anyway” and gave a four-piece model to do so: transparency, relevance, brevity and top of mind. Swan Sit, VP of Global Digital Marketing at Nike, spoke about empathy and managing teams differently, emphasizing the need for genuine connection between co-workers. David Schurman then talked “fearless focus,” breaking down the psychology behind running a marathon and how it relates to the life of an entrepreneur.

Eric Koester on stage at NextGen Summit (taken by Talya Hailey).

Next, Eric Koester took the stage talking about creation events that build credibility. He crushed stereotypical measures of success and stressed the importance of flexibility and depth over prestige. According to Koester, “It’s what you do, not where you do it; you have to be able to prove depth and constantly ask yourself if you are one of the 5 smartest people on this planet about that particular topic.”

The last talk of the day was a conversation between the CEO of Girls Scouts of America, Sylvia Acevado, and the CFO of WealthFront, Ashley Johnson, about women in business and technology. One thing that stuck with me was advice Acevado received in her youth as a Girl Scout: “Never leave the site of a sale until you’ve heard NO at least 3 times.” Before heading back to prepare for day three, I had a one-on-one meeting with Max Schoenfeld, Co-founder & CEO of College Truckers, talking and sharing insights about startups targeting students.

Patrick Lee on stage at NextGen Summit (taken by Brandon C. Ballard).

The third and final day began with a VIP Networking Session. There I met Steve Malkowicz, who started a 3D-printing manufacturing startup while in college and now runs it as a full-time job. As a crowd we played a “Help Game,” where we rotated in different groups pitching our work to the other VIP guests with the goal of getting useful connections. That’s how I met Paul McNeal, Co-founder and President of Cryptomarket360.com, a super-connector who introduced me to someone working in the same ed-tech niche as us and provided great advice.

Speaking first was Patrick Lee, serial entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Rotten Tomatoes. Though he struggled throughout his entrepreneurial pursuits, he is a considerate and kind leader. His take on running a successful business? “Develop a great culture – it eats strategy for breakfast.” After Lee’s talk was a social entrepreneurship panel, highlighting funding channels for student entrepreneurs and how to match your visions with your startup practices.

The final panel discussion was about frontier technologies and young founders, where the most common theme was embracing the unknown and persisting in learning new things. The panelists mentioned tenacity as one of the most in demand skills of the 21st century, sharing that over 50% of companies in accelerators pivot their original businesses. My NGS experience closed with a talk amongst other student founders and the Silicon Valley Bank. I was amazed to hear the stories of amazing students starting business, ranging from sports-tech to student wellness to wig rentals to bakeries.

Vlad Cazacu at NextGen Summit (taken by Brandon C. Ballard).

Back on the subway to the airport, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I was happy and inspired to continue growing the projects I am currently working on. I called Pavel, my co-founder, and chatted about development for over an hour. I want to thank the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for sponsoring my attendance at this one of a kind conference, especially to Meghan Plate who informed me about this funding opportunity. I would also want to thank the NextGen team for inviting me to come and for organizing this amazing event, with special thanks to Rachel Gross who worked with me for over a month to get through the university bureaucracy and finally be able to get my ticket.

Vlad Cazacu is a junior pursuing a dual-degree in Business, concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Accounting, and Psychology. He is an entrepreneur, student leader, design thinking fellow, author and former barista. Vlad is also the co-founder and CEO of BarterOut, a pre-seed tech startup aimed at facilitating access to educational materials. Prior to this he co-founded a youth coaching startup and was a management consulting intern at Deloitte. He is now working on creating a tech entrepreneurial studio in Rochester to help bridge the gap between students with creative ideas and the real world market. Vlad is an independent researcher on the topic of innovation management and the author of Streamlining Innovation, publishing March 2019.