Young FLOBEL Advisors Curate Entrepreneurial Community For The Next Generation
FLOBEL Advisors Dylan Gambardella and Justin Lafazan believe that young people have the power to change the world – they just need the right tools. In an effort to curate a community of the world’s most talented young people, and provide them with the resources and guidance necessary for both personal and professional success, the two trailblazers founded the Next Gen Summit in 2014. Nectar News sat down with Dylan and Justin to learn more about their unique entrepreneurial education and networking model.
NN: Tell us about what was missing from this market of educational convention settings that you thought you both could bring to the table.
DG: Well we created the organization to meet a selfish desire and need of our own. Justin and I had a small business together in high school called Students For Students. We were essentially a market place for high school hopefuls on their way to college, in search of counsel for the schools they were applying to. Someone who has spent a few years at a college that a high schooler is trying to gain acceptance to can offer advice on the application in the Students4Students marketplace. We ran that organization, had a bunch of fun and made some money in our first two years. However, when we would attend networking events, everywhere we went we were by far the youngest people there. The average attendee was probably 35 or 40 and we were, at the time, 17 and 18 years old. We decided to build Next Gen to meet our own need. We figured, if there are other young people out there experiencing the same desire, we can get them together, learn from them, learn with them and do really cool stuff together. That was the really simple idea of Next Gen, and honestly not much has changed since. As we’ve grown and brought on more team members to produce more events, that simple premise has stayed the same.
NN: What’s Next Gen’s target demographic?
DG: We target 15-25 year olds and that is the age range we have found the most success with. Now with that said, what we really look for are folks in their first stage of entrepreneurship. So a Next Gen attendee can be a Silver Fox in line with the mission of the Florence Belsky Charitable Foundation. A Next Gen attendee can be someone who is a bit older and exploring entrepreneurship for the first time. We often recruit our first time entrepreneurs through regional events where we’ll visit a city and host a smaller scale gathering of maybe 250-300 people. Out of those 250, almost 200 of them will be new to our organization and we seek to welcome them into the network from there on out.
NN: Is your conference format unique in comparison to others? What do you hope your attendees depart the summit with?
DG: When everyone goes to a conference you’re guaranteed to get a lineup of incredible speakers, that’s nothing new. That is definitely a staple of Next Gen for sure, but what you also get at a Next Gen event is the ability to turn to your left and your right with your fellow attendees and probably learn 10 times more from them. Attendees can engage in this peer to peer learning in small group breakouts and via the unique networking that we curate. Every single person who attends Next Gen has to apply to be there. The application is not designed to be an elitist gesture, it’s just to make sure everyone is coming for the right reasons. We don’t want the entrepreneur who simply needs to sell 100 products, we want people who want to grow within a community. This application process is extremely important to us. We want to focus on the quality of the individual not necessarily the quality of the company. Doesn’t matter if you are running a ten million dollar business or if you simply have an idea and you just turned 10 years old, you are still welcome at Next Gen. We really appreciate diversity and try to make that a staple of each participant experience.
NN: Do you focus primarily on supporting first time for profit entrepreneurs?
DG: That diversity of entrepreneur discipline is one of the most important focuses for us. On a startup sense we have participants from across the spectrum including fin-tech, health tech, AI, machine learning, all the way to non-profit ventures, aspiring speakers, young politicians and scientists. Next Gen is basically taking what it means to be an entrepreneur and applying that very broadly. Beyond that, we are also very committed to making sure that there is a diverse persona represented. Therefore, we offer a pretty robust financial aid program that gives scholarships to attendees who may not be able to attend for financial reasons. We’re really committed to ensuring that any economic costs will never prevent you from being at Next Gen. Finally, we are committed to an equal gender representation experience. We had 42% female attendees last year which was absolutely incredible for us, but of course we’re not going to stop there. There is still a lot more work to be done.
DG: We don’t do any paid marketing or advertising. A lot of our applications stem from our current community. In our online social media community we have about 3,000 companies and a lot of our attendees will come through that database. Additionally, we have a newsletter and that’s a large marketing arm where we have over 10,000 engaged subscribers. We also connect with local incubators, schools and accelerators. We also have a pretty robust outreach program to get in touch with college campuses.
NN: Can you tell us more about the companies in your network?
DG: We work with a variety of large brands who serve as our community partners. Capital One, Walmart, GoDaddy are some of the larger brands that we’ve had the opportunity to work with since our inception. It’s our job to help our entrepreneurs get information about where they can be meeting the brands they would like to connect with. For example, our connection with GoDaddy may provide our entrepreneurs with discounted website and domain services while Amazon Web Services may provide our community members with a 1,000 free credits. Giving tangible support is a big part of what we do. We try to provide resources or financial support for these entrepreneurs in hopes that we can increase their motivation and strengthen their business development pursuits.
DG: We are far from a polished machine, although I’m happy to say we get better and better each year. We learn quickly. We fail a lot, but we try to pick ourselves up and incorporate what we have experienced in our development, directly into the next generation of what we are building. In that sense, I think we are heading in the right direction, building and growing at a steady pace that could always be faster and stronger. That being said, we are always looking for more community members. We want to be the premier go to network for every first time entrepreneur. We want people to have an entrepreneurship idea and look to our network when they are ready to take it one step further.
We want to be able to introduce our entrepreneurs to someone who can actually help them in their pursuits, whatever they may be. In addition to our events, we have we have a pretty robust mentoring program. Before each event, program participants fill out a questionnaire focusing on what they would like help with. Participants can indicate something like “sales”, “marketing” or “accounting”. Then we will curate at least three one on one mentor session with an industry leader through our Office Hours Program. This past June we had almost 800 attendees and we were happy to have almost 200 mentors. So we are always looking for both online and in person mentors, and that’s a way to activate people who might not be the typical Next Gen attendee but would like to get involved.
Learn more about Next Gen by visiting their WEBSITE and social media pages.