Advice from MN Cup Judge: Chip Laingen

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Chris Laingen

Throughout the 2015 MN Cup, we are featuring our wonderful judges and mentors. Meet Chip Laingen, Executive Director, Defense Alliance.  Chip Laingen is a judge for the Energy, Clean Technology & Water Division of MN Cup. Hear what he has to say about MN Cup and his advice for potential entrants.

Tell us about yourself – who are you, what do you do?
I’m executive director of Defense Alliance, a regional business collaborative for the defense industry that connects technology companies in 32 states.  As one of the nation’s three Advanced Defense Technology Clusters funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and endorsed by the Pentagon, we help bring innovation to the battlefield, while fostering commercialization for a variety of industries.  I’m also on the graduate faculty of the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute.

What is your favorite part about being involved with MN Cup?
Being involved with MN Cup allows us to connect to exciting new technologies and the energetic people who are creating them.  It’s also gratifying to connect these people to opportunities and relationships they may not otherwise be aware of.  The federal government, and particularly the Department of Defense, is in many ways the ultimate venture capitalist – funding early-stage innovation while protecting and advancing the IP of inventors for their commercialization paths as well.

What can startup companies gain from entering the competition?
MN Cup allows startup companies to connect with a unique network of resources.  Everyone involved represents a network of their own, and together it’s a pretty powerful array of thought and connections that naturally advances worthy ideas.

What are the three most important components to a great business plan?
Business plans will be successful when three critical things are present: 

  1. The idea has to align with a real need in the market – and when that need is based on conjecture (as is often the case), the plan has to include substantial resources for a sustained effort to create demand;
  2. A team of the right people bringing the right talents well beyond what it took to create the technology itself (things like production, marketing and sales, finance; and personal qualities that must include a desire to take risks) ;
  3. Laser-sharp and relentless focus by everyone on the team for creating and marketing the product, down to the last detail.  

What advice do you have for companies entering the 2015 MN Cup?
For companies entering the MN Cup, two pieces of advice: 

  1. Pay close attention to what the nomination is asking for… answer the questions put forth specifically and succinctly
  2. If you can’t get someone excited about your idea in 30 seconds – not just to understand its use and value, but to be truly excited about it – then either re-think your approach to how you talk about it, or ask yourself if your idea is worthy in its own right.
Defense Alliance