By Suzanne Bergmeister, President-Elect, Venture Connectors
Many people do their best thinking while on a long drive or in the shower, but I do my best thinking while I’m running. What I was thinking about during a recent five-mile run is my passion which is entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
I’ve been involved in the entrepreneurial community here since I was recruited to Louisville by Chrysalis Ventures nine years ago. I worked on the investor side for the first few years after my MBA and then moved over to the entrepreneur side when I started my business consulting company, Sunflower Business Ventures Inc. I’ve seen start-ups come and go, grow and fail. I’ve seen investors lose big, and win even bigger. I’ve seen entrepreneurs make millions of dollars, or cut their losses and go on looking for their next “big thing”. But through it all, I’ve seen what others call “irrational optimism” and what I call “entrepreneurial passion” abound.
What I’ve noticed lately around here is a “perfect storm” brewing surrounding entrepreneurship in this region. It probably began about the time Charlie Moyer was recruited from Wake Forest University to become the new dean of the U of L College of Business. Charlie created a spirit of entrepreneurship within the university which fostered interest and excitement across the entire community. U of L MBA students started winning prestigious Business Plan competitions throughout the US which often included a significant amount of prize money. Consequently, the U of L Entrepreneurship MBA program rose in the rankings each year.
The buzz around innovation and entrepreneurship grew louder as more and more start-ups were created and more and more inventors learned to commercialize their technologies. IdeaFestival (IF), which started in Lexington and was held every other year, found its home as an annual event here in Louisville, drawing hundreds of attendees from across the globe. The Vogt Invention and Innovation Awards grew each year to a high of 78 applicants. New investor groups and funds were created – seed funds and angel groups sprouted up everywhere: Kentucky Seed Capital Fund, Commonwealth Seed Fund, Bluegrass Angels, Enterprise Angels, Innovation Angels. Established firms raised new funds including Chrysalis Ventures, the Yearling Fund, and Anchorage Angels.
Grassroots efforts to bring investors and entrepreneurs together were formed: Forge Louisville, Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NEW), and the Entrepreneurial Advocates. The historic Venture Club of Louisville has begun its rebranding effort to become the Venture Connectors, and has become a diverse and vibrant group that is elevating the quality and variety of its events. An Entrepreneur Hall of Fame was created and had its first class of inductees which included John Schnatter, Jim Host, and John Y. Brown, Jr.
There is an incredible amount of energy around entrepreneurship throughout the region! But unlike football, basketball, or other sports rivalries, entrepreneurship isn’t a zero-sum game. The more we can elevate the level of entrepreneurial activity in a region, the more everyone wins – investors, service providers, universities, and especially entrepreneurs. And for us, our “region” has to reach across the river, across the Gene Snyder Freeway, across county lines, and across the rest of the state and into neighboring communities. But it has to start with the two biggest cities in the Commonwealth, Lexington and Louisville. I believe we can do this, especially under the leadership of the two cities mayors, Greg Fischer and Jim Gray. It’s exciting to be a part of the entrepreneurial world, especially right here, right now!