Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed to a church door his “95 Theses,” a list of propositions and questions for debate, geared toward reforming the church from the errors and institutional sins that had crept into it. Despite the immediate furor, the ideas ended up generating a new lease on life for the institution. Entrepreneurial practice needs just such a reformation today.
We are bombarded with the “age of entrepreneur.” Government programs encourage it. Business magazines focus on it, in part or completely. There is no shortage of systems supporting it. But real life tells a different story.
In the United States, the rate of business creation has declined since the late 1970s. In some recent years more companies died than were born. Minnesota has its own aging population of businesses showing stress and decline. At the same time, Minnesota has almost the worst rate of planting new seeds. What happens when these fruit-laden trees become barren in a decade or two?
This VC formula has permeated all domains and all stages—from accelerators to angel investors, service providers and even entrepreneurs. Stories from Silicon Valley have colored dreams, and entrepreneurs know of no other model than to be a unicorn.
Dileep Rao, in his book “Bootstrap to Billions,” documents the stories of many Minnesota entrepreneurs who built billion-dollar corporations through a prudent mix of present profits and future prospects. This approach is both old-fashioned and contemporary. From a societal perspective, in addition to prudent financial strategies, we need a scalable, community-based solution that offers a step-by-step process with learning materials, templates, instructions and mentors at each stage of the sprouting process.
Hassan Syed has developed just such a technology-based platform, called Ideagist. The platform went through the same birthing challenges that any innovative idea does. Now it has grown to 300 communities around the world, with 26,000 people incubating over 1,600 ideas.
Syed came to Minnesota as a leader of a team of 600-some scientists from 40-plus countries to develop a complex global system, presently used at 900 aquariums and zoos, to monitor and maintain 350 standards for animals. He corralled friends from around the world to use their experiences to build this next complex platform.
An immigrant just like me, Syed is providing Ideagist free to 100 business launches as a way to give back to entrepreneurs in our new home.
Minnesotans pride themselves on their helpfulness and community spirit. If other like-minded people collaborate to build Minnesota startup nurseries, orchards for the future will surely follow.
Rajiv Tandon is an entrepreneur, educator and mentor. He facilitates peer groups for CEOs in Minnesota. As Executive Fellow at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, he runs the Rocket Network for propelling ideas into ventures (firstname.lastname@example.org).