Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Inspiration from innovation

Back into Indiana today from Michigan and onto one inspirational place to another.  Here’s a view across Lake Michigan…it’s nearly 100 times bigger than Great Lake Taupo…

IMG_0272

Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC)

Karl and the team raised the bar again as hosts, giving me the full tour and lifting the hood on what they do.  Karl is the past President of the National Business Incubation Association, so I had assumed it would be a day of incubation.

I was completely wrong.  Karl and the team offer a full range of services to assist entrepreneurs, which have been refined over 15 years.  As Karl puts it, entrepreneurship is a fourth leg in addition to the traditional economic development tools of retention, attraction and workforce development.  NIIC has the results to back it up, having helped over 100 companies grow at an average rate of 79% compounded annually, with 91% of businesses surviving after 5 years and 98% retention within Indiana.

IMG_0294

Karl has authored a number of publications including the Four Levers of Success, which he defines as:

  1. Capital Access and Availability
  2. Knowledge Catalysts
  3. Human and Physical Infrastructure
  4. Entrepreneurial Climate and Values

Makes you think about where you live and if those exist.

Karl had some very insightful and pragmatic views:

  • Even though they have very clearly defined stages, the team “meets entrepreneurs at the stage you find them” and then assist from there
  • The best entrepreneurs are built out of opportunity not necessity, often we hear the opposite?
  • Workforce development (that phrase keeps popping up) is focused on training people to fit the demand for jobs.  But given the changing nature of work…what will that be in future and what about peoples passion?

 

Innovation Connector

Then it was a flying visit to see Ted at Muncie, a smaller rural town.  The Innovation Connector offers similar services to NIIC.

Ted and the team have and strong focus on relationships, collaborating closely with Ball State University (yet again education is a key component).  Ted’s view on smaller communities where knowing their value proposition and not standing still…Muncie lost a huge number of manufacturing jobs but are right in the middle of reinventing.

The closest thing I can think of to the these two organisations in New Zealand is The Icehouse…imagine a few more services like that supporting New Zealand…

Advertisements

Champion the entrepreneurial spirit

Edward Lowe Foundation

Onwards into Michigan to met with the Edward Lowe Foundation and some more incredible hospitality from Dino and the team at the 2,600-acre Big Rock Valley.  The Foundation was established by Ed and Darlene Lowe in 1985 to “champion the entrepreneurial spirit”, after having started and scaled Edward Lowe Industries which invented cat litter.

IMG_0244

Here’s one of the many historic houses on the property.

IMG_0240

The foundation supports the following programs:

All of the above are great tools to utilise depending on what is happening for businesses or locations.  A couple of favourites if I had to pick…

Economic gardening

Economic gardening is “grow from within” strategy targeting existing growth companies and offering them critical strategic information that is customized to their needs.  It was started by Chris Gibbons in Littleton, Colorado who is now the CEO for the National Center for Economic Gardening.  It has achieved some impressive results:

  • “During the 20-year period Littleton practiced Economic Gardening, jobs grew from 15,000 to 30,000, and sales tax revenue more than tripled from $6M to $21M without any recruiting, incentives or tax rebates”.
  • More recently in Utah, 12 companies achieved $16m in sales increases and the creation of 122 jobs, or in Kansas with 28 companies growing both employment and revenue approximately 30% on average.

Data – YourEconomy.org

YourEconomy.org is a very smart tool that gives an overall view of sales, job and business creation.  It drills down to all layers including down to State and most importantly locally.  Pick your favourite location and have a try.

In summary, a couple of insights emerge:

  • Business retention is growth is an often ignored poorer cousin to the more high profile attraction initiatives such as tax incentives.  What a difference can be made in any context by starting with what you’ve got and asking how do you grow?
  • While the Kauffman Foundation (new and young companies) and Edward Lowe Foundation (second-stage entrepreneurs) have slightly different definitions on what companies create the most jobs, they are saying the same thing – entrepreneurs and young companies create the most jobs.
  • Like most places I’ve met the Foundation partners and collaborates with other organisations to achieve their end goal and they have great systems.
  • Data when powered by smart technology showing local information is critical to give context of what is happening in economies.
  • Finally, how do locations educate, retain and attract talent so they create and scale businesses that operate globally?

Strategic doing

This weekend was spent in Illinois having a further look around.  A day exploring Effingham some more, a quick look at the Amish community (it was quite a sight seeing horses and cars on the road together) and The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  The Museum was very well done and I got a real sense of what Lincoln achieved but just how heavily criticised he was.  It wasn’t until after his assasination that many people realised just what he had accomplished in enabling the end of slavery and the United States staying as one nation.

IMG_0172

Ed, Peggy and Scott were fantastic hosts, giving up a large part of their day to talk me through ‘Strategic Doing’ and the outcomes they have enabled in a number of communities.  Their view combines talent, innovation/entrepreneurship, places and brand, or as they put it better below:
strategic-doing-strategy-map-1-638
Interestingly, this started by transferring knowledge from open source software industry to create open source collaboration which goes to show how important creative thinking and learning from outside sources is.  There’s a great opportunity to share the model with universities and spread around the world.
They ask some simple questions to identify opportunities – what could we do and what should we do? Then most importantly there’s a bias for action – what will we will do and when?
What I like about this model is that it is a simple way to collaborate and it is a way of bringing to life the great economic research that already exists:
What I like about the Strategic Doing is that it provides the tools for people to make change, it is focused on outcomes and they are always learning.  The team had some great insights about guiding not facilitating, the impact of just a few people (check out Charleston Digital Corridor) and the psychology of communities – why some places thrive and others don’t!
We talked about the advantages of smaller locations over cities and their insight was that most of these locations share the same thing, quality of life.  But that alone is not enough, you’ve got to find what is unique to only your location.

What makes a Boom Town?

The last couple of days have been in Effingham, Illinois.  Effingham is the home of Jack Schultz, the author of author of Boomtown USA: The 7-1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns and CEO of Agracel, a developer of industrial projects.  Jack and his wife Betinha have been the most outstanding hosts.  Effingham is a community of just over 12,000 people who have committed to creating a better future over a long period of time.  What is most impressive is the difference a few people can make instigating and persevering with projects as times change and reinvention is the new norm. 

I was fortunate to have a number of tours of local businesses.  Pam gave a great insight into the Patterson Technology Center, which started off as a software company and now with a number of activities employs 450 people locally.  It just goes to show how one or two people can create wealth and opportunity for the wider community.  Jack also gave a whirlwind tour of Midland States Bank which has seen some big growth in the last few years and also supports a number of community initiatives (see CEO below).  I even managed a ride on a locomotive.

effingham train

Agracel

Agracel has a great niche in providing development services to Agurb® (rural) communities.  They’ve done over 100 projects in 17 states so see all sorts of approaches to economic development outside big cities.  Some interesting insights were around manufacturers preferring to be in rural locations because of costs, workforce availability and work ethic.  Do manufacturers currently in cities consider relocation?  Anything is possible, it just comes down to people…I’d recommend the BoomTown book for some down to earth ideas.

City of Effingham Economic Development

Todd and the team gave a overview of some of the tools they have in their incentives toolkit, including Business districts, enterprise zones and tax increment financing districts.  Their insight about advantages of smaller locations were simple – quality of life.

CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities)

Craig is incredibly passionate about the importance of kids learning entrepreneurship through learning and changing the way kids view the world.  Students have 90 minute classes each day, are integrated with the local business community and every student starts their own business.  It is similar to the Young Enterprise Trust in NZ.  Do you see value if children learning entrepreneurship for 90 minutes a day, even if their business fails at the end of it?  If you fancy yourself as an entrepreneur, take the Gallup Entrepreneurial Profile 10.

Tuscola Chamber and Economic Development, Inc. (TCED)

The last session of the day was with the very passionate and saavy Brian.  After years of hard work, they have recently secured investment in a Cronus $1.4b fertiliser plant.  Brian gave his thoughts on success – knowing your local strengths, learning from failure, community engagement and just how much of a long term commitment economic development is.  He is another believer in the small town advantage.

Fish, frogs and caviar

Today started with a run in Twin Falls along the top of the Snake River canyon which was stunning scenery.  I’m trying get some exercise at least every second day to help me sleep at night, maintain energy for the long days and see some of real America by footpath or trail. Here’s the view down into the Snake River (favourite spot of base jumpers).

P1000722

Today was ‘aquaculture’ day, with Idaho having over 100 freshwater fish farms with some utilising geothermal energy.  By comparison, most of New Zealand’s aquaculture is marine based, with some freshwater operations such as the Huka Prawn Park and the National Trout Centre.

First up was Steve from the College of Southern Idaho who showed me their trout and sturgeon operations.  Pretty amazing to see a 2.5 metre long sturgeon and to think of that cruising around in rivers (they don’t have teeth!).

P1000788

We then toured a geothermal fish farm at Canyon Springs which produces tilapia.  Dave generously offered for me to try out Zip the Snake but unfortunately I ran out of time.  Steve also gave me a glimpse of his frog farm, which was full of innovation.

P1000816

Next up was Ron, Professor at the University of Idaho, director of the Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station and director of the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute.  He is a guru on fish nutrition and aquaculture in general, and gave a great insight into the history of the Idaho aquaculture industry and what may lay in store for aquaculture in the future.  Plant based food has been a real area of focus on innovative research.

P1000844

To wrap up the day I finished with Leo from Fish Breeders of Idaho, who farms trout, tilapia and sturgeon.  He used to farm alligators too but the couple he has left were a bit shy today.  In his late 70’s, Leo has been there and done that and shared some great thoughts on putting customers first, focusing on service and quality and the importance of risk taking to create value.  Leo’s firm harvest caviar from the Sturgeon, which can take 10 years to produce, which is quite a wait but worth it for the price!

P1000898

By 6pm, facing a 2 hour drive my head was spinning but the time on the road to Boise gave me time to contemplate today.  Several things struck a chord:

  • The involvement of the education organisations in research and partnering with industry on both products and training people.
  • Clever entrepreneurs who have transformed natural resources into value added products by pioneering, risk taking and continued innovation.

Broader themes are emerging around entrepreneurship, small business and workforce development.  Today was a great example of results from collaboration with business, research/education and government.  How well do we work with others and what could be possible when everyone collaborates?

Another full day tomorrow and then the weekend for some much needed downtime.

The pack of cards…when in Reno

Another full on day with a lot driving made easier with the freeways, beautiful scenery and very welcoming people.

Sacramento County

I sought out Rami as he was recently named one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Doers by Govtech and Sacromento County has won numerous tech awards.  We discussed digital government and I came away with a huge amount of confidence that the team at Taupo is on the right track.  Current and future focuses centre around regular website refreshes, the need for mobile apps, linking data (e.g. Crime and graffiti), the intersection of Geospatial and data and a single view for customers.

Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy, Carson City

Paul the Director and his team hosted me in the early afternoon for a quick overview of Nevada energy.  I was primarily interested in geothermal, given Nevada is the number one in installed geothermal per capita and Taupo’s strength in this area.  A highlight was by pure chance meeting and talking with Governor Paul Sandoval and witnessing the launch of the Nevada Electric Highway.  Note the highway “is expected to link rural areas and bring business to those communities from EV owners who make the stop to charge their cars”.  Electric vehicles are going to take off in some shape or form and communities should be taking action now to dip their toe in the water, ready to embrace what may become the norm.

Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), Reno

Mike graciously shared his views on economic development and they have definitely stepped it up a level from when we last spoke in 2013. Mike is incredibly humble, and our meeting was definitely a lesson in leadership. EDAWN has five key strategies: retain and grow, attract, entrepreneurship, workforce development and community development.  What also impressed me was their great handle on metrics to track progress.  When Mike started there was 14% unemployment and now it’s down to half that and going lower.  A very bright future is on the horizon with Tesla building their gigafactory which will create 6500 jobs!  Their entrepreneurship program started from scratch and won Innovation Ecosystem Award.  A gem they showed me was the Reno startup deck which is an innovative way of integrating Reno’s gaming history and useful tools for startups – genius!

image

It started in a garage

Huge day as I sit here after midnight.

Today was the first day of scheduled meetings, so the real start of the trip and a test of my logistical skills.  I started the day in San Francisco, before heading out to Silicon Valley and have finished up late in Sacramento.  In between meetings I managed to sneak in a whirlwind tour of the Computer History Museum, a visit to Googleplex, a peek at the campus of Stanford University and a look at the garage where HP started.

P1000532

My original plan was to blog daily about the key insights from each meeting.  The problem with that is that the people I’m meeting with are so smart they could have a whole website dedicated to them (if they don’t already) which makes my original plan problematic!  So the revised plan is to give an overview of the organisation and share the most important insight.  Here’s my attempt to do it justice.

Working Solutions

Working Solutions provide microfinancing of between $5-50k.  Microfinancing is something many of us will have heard about, Kiva is a good example.  I see in NZ Lifewise has been at it for a while and Kiwibank has recently started.   Corinne explained how the key difference is that Working Solutions match the business up with a mentor for the life of the loan, which is usually 5 years.  They must be doing something right because the repayment rate is 97%.  The United States is similar to New Zealand in that the majority of their economy is made up of small businesses (note the size of businesses are classified differently in each country for obvious reasons).  Are there any bankers views on whether this has legs in New Zealand?

Kiwi Landing Pad

Pam is based at the Kiwi Landing Pad (KLP) and works for the New Zealand Consulate General West Coast, USA and is supported by Immigration NZ, NZTE and ATEED.  KLP is a great initiative, it is amazing how some workspace and great connected people can go a long way (thanks Sian Simpson for previous insights).  Pam identified an interesting intersection here for regions (especially outside cities) in how international talent can be attracted even just for short term stays, making it easy for people to invest and live, and leveraging existing and new international connections.

Computer History Museum

Marguerite has recently joined the Computer History Museum from Stanford University.  She is co-editor of three books, The Silicon Valley Edge (2000), Making IT: Asia’s Rise in High Tech (2006), and Greater China’s Quest for Innovation (2008)…so getting one insight from our meeting is tricky!

So I’ll try two insights instead.  The first was the distinction of two between innovation and entrepreneurship, where:

  • Innovation is creating disruptive technology and business models
  • Entrepreneurship involves starting, growing and scaling.

Would you describe your culture as one of Innovation and Entrepreneurship?  How would you score companies in your region?

The second insight is around how to enable regions to grow by:

  • Finding the unique competence or value proposition
  • Making this proposition dynamic over time, i.e. it will change
  • Balancing competition with being complimentary

Does your region have each of those attributes clear?

So, there we go.  As we all dream of replicating or having the next Silicon Valley in our region, remember it all started in a garage in 1938…