Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where the Hell are the Entrepreneurs?

I have been to two different "JumpStart Community Gatherings" and have come away from both with the same overriding question:

Where the Hell are all the Entrepreneurs?

There is something seriously wrong with a process that is supposed to be gathering information about how to fix the broken entrepreneurial and investment climate in Minnesota, but in a room with 50+ people, there were 9 entrepreneurs.

I sat at a table that was supposed to be dedicated to software and business services and there was a professor, a low-level Chamber of Commerce employee and two State of Minnesota workers.  There were two of us that are actual software company entrepreneurs, a developer from South Dakota, and a woman who owned a small business that sells financial management services to other small businesses (not exactly someone capable of going out and raising equity investment.)

I looked around the room and I would estimate that there were no more than 3-4 people who were younger than me... I am 41 years old.  I had met every single entrepreneur in the room at some time over the last 5-6 months and maybe half of us have ever done an investor pitch.

I recognized five people who had gone to Minnedemo; two of them were sitting at my table, two others have never started anything but their car and then there was Ernest Grumbles, who is an outspoken IP litigator and community agitator, who all of us entrepreneurs know well and greatly appreciate, for his work with MOJO Minnesota.  Now, Ernest deserves for his opinion to be heard, because at least it comes from interacting with entrepreneurs.

What I didn't see were:

  • 23-30 year old men and women who are constantly struggling to get their start-ups noticed by investors in the local community.
  • Anyone who has attended a Bootstrappers Breakfast or a KickStart meeting since October.
  • A single Angel Investor or VC (I take that back; Harlan Jacobs was there representing the entire local investment community)  There may have been some others there, but I go to as many networking events as anyone and I didn't see any other investors that I recognized.

There were a couple of people who are on the outer fringes of the Project Skyway lexicon, but nobody, besides me, from the core group. (although I know that Cem Erdem, at least, was at the session the night before)

I am disappointed that there weren't at least 30 desperate, cash-starved entrepreneurs, who live the actual day-to-day life, that all of these other folks are supposedly trying to help make better.

I was also disappointed that there weren't a whole table full of well-known local investors, (you know who you are) who could have come to the event and listened to the issues first hand.  Instead they'll end up reading some sanitized report, boiled down to a couple of bullet points, put together with input of the, mostly wrong, crowd.

Finally, where the hell are the politicians and lawmakers who are always up the ass of the local research university, talking about what a horrible job it is doing transferring technology to industry?  Did they not think it would be a good use of their time to come and find out, in person, what their constituents think are the real issues.  Do they really think they are going to get all the information they need to make Minnesota a better environment for entrepreneurs and a more free flowing system for investors, from a bunch of folks who fly in once every couple of months from Cleveland?

I am impressed and astonished by the great work that the JumpStart folks have been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time in Northern Ohio.  But I can't help but wonder what is the point of doing a "regional survey," holding meaningless meetings and getting a whole bunch of bullshit input, from a group of folks who want someone else to do the hard work.  Why are we so resigned to let someone else carry the water for us.  Why don't we demand that they, instead, act like real entrepreneurs.  They should have just come in, started working and made something happen.  They aren't acting like entrepreneurs; they are waiting for all the lights to turn green at the exact same time before they pull out of the driveway.

So, I call on the entrepreneurial community to demand our input be heard, separate from all the well-wishers and wannabe's.  I am going to ask Jeff Pesek, Ben Edwards, Luke Francl, Casey Allen, Mike Bollinger, Kevin Spreng, John Roberts and Harold Slawik  to help me put together a truly representative group of "Real Entrepreneurs" to meet with the folks from Jumpstart, so they can get constructive, accurate and representative input from the woefully under-represented (and apparently under-appreciated) start-up community, who never got invited to participate in a community forum that is supposed to be designed to gather opinions that will help us.

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Darren Cox

Darren Cox
Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer