Saturday, August 23, 2008

Adam Steen Gets It

Had a couple cups o' joe with young Adam Steen, founder and principal of 25Connections yesterday. 25C is "a highly networked business development firm that matches the right resource at the right time..." Adam is all about collaborating; his effort is founded on the concept that the right connections can and will improve anyone's business. I refer to him as younger because he insists on referring to me as an experienced executive; true enough, but I like to think that I've got the energy and juice of somebody like him. But I wanted to get with him because I need the fresh eyes and insights he can bring to the deal business. Some, like Andy Headworth at Sirona Consulting, call it reverse mentoring; whatever it is, I value his input and his listening. And not only has he realized the power of the network, he has figured out how to make networking mutually lucrative for him and his clients by helping them make the right connections. Iowa should hire him as the poster "child" for recruiting young professionals.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

American Food Venture Forum Gets It Too

Des Moines will be host to a new forum in October: The American Food Venture Forum. The brainchild of Jude Conway and Hopewell Ventures, a venture fund focused on innovative mid-west companies, the Forum will bring together innovative food and ag-tech companies, venture funds, investment bankers, like yours truly, and other parties interested in emerging food tech opportunities. It is not limited to Midwest companies or investors. IT IS NOT LIMITED TO MIDWEST COMPANIES OR INVESTORS. Did you hear me? That is key. There are only 3 million people in Iowa. A significant number of them work for the State; another big chunk work on the farm, and many still live and work in small towns. Iowa may lack the critical mass to support the Forum on its own, BUT it is in the perfect place in time and geography to host such a gathering. AND instead of trying to go it alone, Jude and his colleagues have coordinated their kick-off to lead into the $1 million World Food Prize festivities. That's collaboration.
That's what I'm talkin' about.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Smarty Pig Gets It

Just a quick follow-up to my prior post with Business Edge.

Jon Gaskell (former local publishing gadfly) and Michael Ferrari, founders of SmartyPig get the collaboration concept. Their innovative on-line savings/social media site is all about collaborating; check out Erica Adams's blog and see for yourself. Moreover, they tapped their extensive local contacts to get this very cool site going. AND, they are getting national exposure. Anya Kamenetz features SmartyPig in her article on innovative banking programs in the September issue of Fast Company, one of my favorite biz mags.

We need more of this kind of stuff around here. Way to go fellas!

Can you teach it?

Starting next week I will be "teaching" entrepreneurial leadership at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. I first taught entrepreneurial management at a local community college 7 or 8 years ago. Before that I would have argued you can't teach it and it didn't belong in a college curriculum. Although I have yet to research the question, my personal experience made me a convert. Most of my students were really interested in starting their own businesses, and a surprising number did so. Although not all those students were traditional college age, the ones that started businesses were young. Their ventures included buying a bar (no mean feat for two guys under 21), opening a photography studio, sewing custom clothing, and starting an event planning business.

Just as importantly, all the students were required to think critically about the potential of small businesses and to do some self-analysis. It was challenging and fun for all of us, and at a minimum, after examining numerous real life successes and failures, the students came away with a greater appreciation for what is involved in starting a new business and succeeding with it.

Many schools around the U.S. have entrepreneurship programs today. It still is not clear if graduates of those programs start more businesses or are more successful. As Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation, eloquently argues in his book, The Entrepreneurial Imperative, however, "Our colleges should be at the very heart of entrepreneurial capitalism..." The Foundation has recently published a report, Entrepreneurship in American Higher Education, arguing that entrepreneurship, as a "dominant force in contemporary America", is properly incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum.

On the other hand, as one of my favorite entrepreneurship bloggers, Kelly Spors who blogs for the Wall Street Journal, recently reported, entrepreneurship programs may not lead directly to local economic development. On the other hand, Dr. Jeffrey Cornwall, of Belmont University in Tennessee, argues they can and do lead to new businesses and new jobs.

I believe they are a good starting point, and they can't hurt (provided students "continue" to learn to read, and write and think. But that's another story...

What do you think?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Creative Commotion

I've just agreed to incorporate regular blog posts about entrepreneurship and start-ups into the Des Moines Register's business blogs. I'll be collaborating with a couple of other experienced (old) business guys, Terry Myers and Barry Pace and one marketing whiz, Adam Steen (young). The Register's format and protocol are not the greatest, but I believe it is important to get more people and other bloggers involved. My first post, with a tip o' the hat to Guy Kawasaki, a start-up guru(at left), and Mike Sansone, blogmeister extraordianire (at right), follows:

I am an investment banker, reformed lawyer, adjunct professor, investor, father, husband, golfer, hunter. And, oh yeah, I'm from New Jersey; I don't remember which exit, but you wouldn't know it anyway. My goal is to stir up the pot of deals, entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs, first in Des Moines and, then, spreading out from there. I want the pot to be bigger, and it needs more than corn and pork.

We need more deals here; we need more people trying to do deals, looking at deals, talking about deals, investing in deals. We need much more collaboration. In more than 20 years as an investment banker for small companies, I have never completed a deal (and I have been involved in raising millions of dollars for dozens of companies) without collaborating with other highly motivated people: entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, and investment bankers, as well as the occasional kook or crook.

If we were in Los Angeles everybody and his uncle would be pushing a script. If we were in New York, every person we met would have a deal and a business plan. Here, in the middle of the country, the place where we elect the President, the crossroads of America, the home of the most fertile soil in the WORLD, nobody talks about deals. There is lot of money here, especially in the midst of the ethanol boom, and a lot of talent. But almost nobody wants to share their business dreams. We need more commotion, more conversations, more arguments. It is as if most of us are too shy or too embarrassed or just too damn humble to promote our version of the new next best thing.

It is time for that to change. It is time for us to change the world.