Tag Archives: small business

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.

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

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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?

Reinvention – the new normal

The weekend was full of lots more driving and some sightseeing, but most importantly time to recharge the batteries after an incredibly demanding week.  There was probably no better place to do it than in Oregon (photo of Smith Rock).

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Many of the people I’ve spoken to in Idaho and Oregon talk about the Oregon Trail, which previously I knew nothing about.  Can you imagine emigrating over 2,000 miles in a horse for 4-6 months?  Then get to the mighty Columbia River and being faced with a decision of whether to the run one of two gauntlets – down the river or over the mountains!  Learning more about the pioneers in the US puts into perspective the country it is today and it helps place life into perspective.

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Staying in Bend, Oregon showed what is possible when towns are faced with changes in industry.  Bend was founded as a logging town and now has a massive tourism industry, a growing technology sector and is a popular place to retire.  My meeting destination for today, The Dalles, Oregon is similar.  It’s been a trading town for 10,000 years but what trades hands is changing, from wool to aluminium and now technology.  Insitu started here and now has 800 employees whilst Google also located their first data centre here (one factor that helped was access to energy).  In the face of adversity communities are playing to their strengths and being creative to enable industry to develop.  The only constant is that change will keep happening.  How do recognize when that change is coming and what do you do?

Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) and Columbia River Gorge Technology Alliance (GTA)

The MCEED has been going since 1969, which shows how young economic development is in NZ.  They serve five Counties in two different states so collaboration is their strong point.  Amanda and the team focus on:

  • business financing, which has great payback and is changing with the likes of crowdfunding.  They explained the concept of Enterprise zones and how it can be used when a community is economically distressed through either high unemployment or low wages.
  • Industry development.  Jessica talked about the GTA as an example of industry collaborating in a cluster.  I suspect we will hear a lot more about STEM youth robotics, it is definitely preparing kids to work in the workforce of the future (or is that today?).
  • Regional coordination including strategy and ensuring enabling infrastructure is provided like transport, broadband, and financing.

From the outside looking in the team were deliberate about where future lies and I can see a lot of potential for this region as different industries continue to intersect.

The Dalles Port

Started in 1933, The Dalles Port has seen a lot of change.  They focus on bringing jobs to region through land sales and it’s fair to say they’ve succeeded.  Google is the high profile one but many of the other businesses are “small business” .  As an aside, it makes you wonder about classification of small business – how useful is it knowing that 97% of businesses are small, perhaps we can make it more commonly known the difference between no employees, micro (1-5 people) and small (6-19 people)?

Andrea and Kathy had some great insights:

  • Places need to find their niche – sounds easy!
  • Time and perseverance
  • Importance of community support, which I get the sense there is a lot of in The Dalles
  • Collaboration with local agencies, putting together a team to work through problems while cutting through bureaucracy

The Dalles is just over an hour outside of Portland, and we discussed how urban people can perceive places outside cities as “rural”…how do you overcome that perception, whether you’ve reinvented yourself or not?

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).

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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.

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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…