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A Century of Leadership – by Dean James Jiambalvo, University of Washington, Foster School of Business

December 6, 2017 - Author: admin

A century ago, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business opened its doors to future business leaders.  As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, it seemed fitting to look back on the leaders who helped get us here.  Of course, one of those leaders is the incomparable Neal Dempsey (BA 1964). He has been with us as student, alumni, donor, board member, faculty and fundraiser.  That’s why we chose to name Neal Dempsey our “Diehard Leader of the Century.”

We were happy to present Neal with a “Difference Makers of the Century” award at our Centennial Leadership Celebration in November. Other honorees included three Companies of the Century that have contributed extensively to the Foster School of Business – Nordstrom, Boeing and PACCAR.

With his zest for life, you could almost call Neal a bon vivant—except that he’s way too resilient for that moniker. He’s passionate, but with loads of endurance on tap. Sailing around the world, summiting the highest peaks, running marathons (more than 100), racing the Mille Miglia, yet never taking himself too seriously and always willing to spend time guiding young entrepreneurs.

As Managing General Partner of Bay Partners, Dempsey has accrued insights and instincts that he intently (and intensely) shares with business students. As an example of how Neal can get students fired up, review this footage of the speech he gave to Foster graduates in 2013.

Neal has spent countless hours on the UW campus sharing his hard-earned wisdom with students and faculty. For one year, he served as the Fritzky Chair where he was a visiting professor to the Foster School. He brought mentors and other experts from Silicon Valley to work with students on entrepreneurial ideas and projects. He is an energetic influence on Foster’s Advisory Board, received the Distinguished Leadership Award, and is a tireless fundraiser and financial contributor. You’ll find his namesake not only on Dempsey Hall, which replaced Balmer Hall in 2012, but also in the Dempsey Indoor sports training facility. Neal seems to never tire of giving back to this community.

Neal is the co-founder of what is today the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, and co-chaired Foster’s last capital campaign— “Creating Futures.” And create futures he does. He has helped fund some of the most successful companies in the world, including being one of the first personal investors in Seattle’s very own Starbucks. The Creating Futures campaign also funded the future of Foster School, as it financed the building of Dempsey Hall and PACCAR Hall for the business school. These newest buildings provide state-of-the-art teaching facilities that not only attracted more students to the school, but also attracted more top professors and lecturers who were excited to utilize the technology and tools that bring new ways of learning. The buildings are a popular gathering place for all students at the UW.

Students look forward to their interactions with Neal. He is more than a visiting alum who stops by now and then.  Neal gets to know the students individually and forms bonds that last way beyond their time at the Foster School of Business. He often follows their careers and continues to be available to them as new challenges emerge in the workplace.

As we look to the future, Neal will continue to serve an active role with the Foster School of Business.  In the Spring Quarter of 2018, Neal will teach a course for second year MBA students on the CEO and Board Leadership. I’m sure he will bring several CEO and board members from Silicon Valley to supplement the course material. Like the champion of giving back that Neal is, he has decided to donate his salary back to the school.

Neal will also participate on a panel in February 2018 that will dissect a business case on the Compaq and Hewlett Packard merger deal.  This will be an exciting, real-world analysis for Foster’s MBA student body.

The Foster School remains humbled by the financial generosity and decades of service Neal has given. His undying dedication to the school and its students made him a natural selection as a “Difference Maker of the Century.” Congratulations to Neal, and I suspect we’ll still be honoring him at the next Centennial Celebration.


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Aspen Ideas Festival 2017 – A Whole New World

July 26, 2017 - Author: admin

It’s a whole new world since last year’s Aspen Ideas Fest.  This year’s conference focused on what those changes could mean for us long-term, both good and bad.  Aspen Ideas Fest is where some of the top minds of the world come together to discuss current political, economic, scientific and cultural issues. The conference usually attracts political, business and science leaders.  This year, the conversation seemed a bit stalled in the face of a fast-changing geopolitical climate.  Russia, the United States, the UK and rise of populism have left many at the event unsure of what is next.

One thing I noticed this year was that there were no Supreme Court Justices in attendance as far as I know.  Usually, we have at least two or three there talking about the judicial system.  This is the first year that I’ve noticed none of them came or they weren’t prominent in the agenda if they did come.  Is that coincidence or a sign of something else?  I’m not sure, honestly.

As you can imagine, the focus of the conference was about the drastic turn the United States has taken with our new “America First” stance.  How that impacts global politics, economics and our influence abroad was a major topic of discussion.  One of my favorite panels talked about the US defense and military under Trump’s command.  Panelists included military leaders like General David Patreaus, Professor Peter Feaver of Duke University, Julia Ioff of the Atlantic and David Rothkopf of the Rothkopf Group. The consensus was that Trump has taken a hands-off approach to the military and let the leaders make the decisions and do their jobs.  That’s probably comforting in many ways, but not in others. However, Trump not micro-managing the military probably means we’re not in as much danger as some may believe.

Another topic that permeated the conference was the disappearance of the middle class.  Wealth has migrated mostly to the coasts, leaving middle America in turmoil. The 2016 election reflected the disconnect in America’s heartland.  Steve Case, author and former CEO of AOL, talked about how we’ve lost the middle class in America and it’s going to be very hard to get it back.  Regaining the middle class will mean retraining them, new educational methods, investments in middle America businesses and infrastruture.  And not just once, but repeatedly every five to ten years.  As computers, robots and artificial intelligence continue to usurp jobs, we will have to constantly retrain and reskill the workforce.  Currently, there are plenty of jobs that are going unfilled.  That’s mostly because we don’t have the skilled workers to do those jobs.  We need to retrain people, much like I talked about in my previous blog post about my trip to the Kentucky coal mining region.

Climate change continues to be a topic of concern with a new sense of urgency given America’s departure from the Paris Accord. How we continue to combat climate change in the face of deniers in power sparked discussions about strategies to combat an almost pro-pollution stance from many in power.  From innovations in clean energy and clean water solutions to how states are stepping up on climate change initiatives in the absence of the federal government, various leaders presented potential solutions. Making America great and isolated lead many to conclude that China will take the lead on climate issues and may emerge as the moral power on climate after a rocky history on pollution.

The worries we all have about climate change, rural and middle class America, job losses, the widening wealth gap, and what might lie ahead with a military and political system under Trump were all discussed but mostly unanswered in this year’s conference.  The smart minds in attendance seemed as perplexed as all of us, or unwilling to contribute many thoughts or comments. Many of the conferences past luminaries were noticeably absent.  What this means for the year ahead, I don’t know.  But I hope Aspen Ideas Fest 2018 will have more answers to the important questions that were raised at Aspen Ideas Fest in 2017.

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Entrepreneurs who are Running with the Bulls at White Bull

July 10, 2017 - Author: admin

I’ve been to the White Bull conference in Barcelona several times.  I go because I always make at least one important connection there.  I met Harry Marshall at White Bull four years ago. Harry would spend three months shadowing me in Silicon Valley and go on to become part of the Bay Partners team.  Last year, I met two of our four Neal’s Running Start candidates at White Bull.  This year, the conference had a new look and a new location, but the quality attendance and the commitment to entrepreneurs are still at the heart of this invitation-only European tech conference.

White Bull brings a select group of entrepreneurs, VCs, service companies and media into one location for a three day event.  The conference focuses on the latest innovations in Europe as well as current trends and issues facing the tech industry.  Because it is invitation-only, the numbers stay low and the entrepreneurs are generally of good quality.  It’s easy to get to know other people quickly and have multiple conversations with them.

I’ve never attended a conference that gives more service and attention to entrepreneurs.  The event kicks-off with a full day dedicated to helping entrepreneurs refine their presentations and pitches.  The conference brings in mentors from all walks of the tech world to give feedback and encouragement with the intent of making the entrepreneurs shine throughout the conference.  I don’t know any other conference that invests this much time and energy into practically helping the start-up community.  Perhaps that’s why so many of the White Bull Bully Award winners go on to successful funding rounds and exits such as acquisitions.

I got to speak at the conference in a session called “Beyond the Pitch: Reality Check.”  My goal was to tackle some the toughest challenges entrepreneurs are facing right now by getting them to open up and share.  Entrepreneurs are often dealing with very difficult decisions on their own. Neal Oddens and Mario Aguilera from Neal’s Running Start joined me on stage to share their experiences as entrepreneurs and how they got a very big reality check during their stay in San Francisco.  Both have overcome those challenges and moved on, but they face new worries every day, like all entrepreneurs.  We had a great time having a “real” conversation with the audience.  I hope we were able to reinvigorate some of the companies in the audience with ideas and solutions for moving forward.

Our Reality Check session is just another example of how White Bull goes the extra mile to help entrepreneurs.  We tackled some issues most entrepreneurs either don’t have mentors to guide them through, or are afraid to ask for help because they assume they’re the only one experiencing the problem.  It was nice for everyone to realize they’re not alone in facing make-or-break decisions every day and there’s a network of people with wisdom and experience to help them.

Thank you to Elizabeth and Farley and the White Bull team for having me back.  Once again, it was a great conference and I look forward to next year.


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China and the US: Can’t we all just get along?

May 16, 2017 - Author: admin

In a time when geopolitical relations are strained, one company out of Kansas is looking to form a collaboration between US and Chinese doctors for better healthcare services.

I’ve talked about the need for regional innovation hubs.  But sometimes, there’s a need to combine knowledge to bring about new ideas.  For example, Chinese and Western medicine.  As China’s population exploded, so did its healthcare needs.  The US is facing similar strains.  So, the question is, can companies from both countries come together for better healthcare solutions?  That’s the idea behind Kansas-based PreferUS.

I’m an investor in PreferUS and I recently went to China with them to observe first-hand how they’re joining forces with Chinese healthcare professionals and hospitals to create an entirely different approach to hospital services, management and physician training.

PreferUS has deep expertise on the Chinese healthcare market.  After spending years working in China, founder Michael Franz developed an understanding of the Chinese culture and the struggles the government faced to serve over a billion people with adequate healthcare.  As public hospitals strained under the needs of a growing population, a private healthcare market emerged.  Franz saw the opportunity to help private Chinese institutions accelerate their medical training in fields like cardiology, orthopedics, spine, total joint care and sports medicine.  In addition, as China builds more hospitals to serve its large population, experts in hospital management are also needed.

PreferUS partnered with Cedars Sinai, Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Texas Back Institute, and Kerlan-Jobe Institute to create a training program for doctors, nurses and administrators.  Chinese doctors travel to Kansas to immerse themselves in English, specifically medical terms in English for two months. Then they spend four more months training on the latest techniques in cardiology, orthopedics and sports medicine.  PreferUS’s training program is helping speed up readiness at Chinses hospitals and better serve patients.  In fact, working with Kerlan-Jobe inspired PreferUS and its partner hospital in China to open the very first comprehensive sports medicine institute in a Shanghai public hospital.  Sports medicine is in growing demand in China, so PreferUS worked with its newly trained Chinese doctors to make it a specialty of the local public hospital.

We talk about globalization, sometimes as a bad word as it can threaten jobs and wages.  But this is globalization in a good way.  If we can tap into the expertise of one group of people to make life better for another, that is a good thing.

Franz and his team are seeding the re-invention of the public and private health industry for the Chinese market, while holding true to Chinese values and cultures. Working with investors and hospital partners in China, PreferUS’s services were so well-received that they were eventually asked to manage hospitals across the region.

At the same time, US doctors get a fresh and new perspective from their Chinese colleagues and the chance to practice healthcare in a completely different environment.

The sharing economy has been linked to sharing possessions, like cars and houses.  But the sharing economy can also be about sharing knowledge that improves lives. Cooperation between businesses in various countries, even with their political counterparts have strained relations, are key to gaining understanding, innovation and dare I say, peace among nations. I look forward to my next trip to China to see what this expanding relationship between US and Chinese healthcare professionals can achieve.

For you readers, think about how you can create a collaboration with counterparts in unexpected parts of the world to better improve your services, thinking, products and customer experiences. Looking under a new rock may be the key to a competitive edge.

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What Does it Take to be a CEO?

May 9, 2017 - Author: admin

It had been 365 Days since meeting Mr. Neal Dempsey in person at Neal’s Running Start in San Francisco. And in 365 days, your life can be completely transformed. On day 1, one year ago, I was nervously arriving in San Francisco, having taken the biggest leap of my company’s life.  I had committed to spend a month in San Francisco under Neal Dempsey’s mentorship to see if I could take my company to new heights.  On that 365th day, I was standing with Neal in front of MBA students at the University of Washington Foster School of Business sharing my story on how I went from entrepreneur to a CEO of a fast-growing company with investors, Fortune 500 customers and offices in two locations. In 365 days, I went from mentee to mentor.

These students were smart, engaged, and impressively enough, some already had startups underway.  We had taken different paths to entrepreneurship.  The UW pushes its students to be founders of companies, and brings in mentors like Neal and the vast successful organizations in the Seattle area such as Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks. Saskatoon is a different story.  There aren’t many mentors from big tech companies waiting to offer guidance to Saskatoon entrepreneurs and start-up companies.

But whether you come from Seattle’s wealth of success or Saskatoon’s hard work, get-it-done work ethic, everyone has the same questions – what does it take to be a CEO and run a successful company? That’s why I came to help.

Below are a few questions I wanted to highlight from our almost 2 hour conversation:

What do you look for in a CEO?

  • Neal: “I look for three things in CEO. Do they have personality, passion, and perseverance? It’s always a combination of these things, never just one.”

What makes a great company?

  • Neal: “I can tell you all of my best investments have never had a clear straight path to success. In fact, some of my best investments almost didn’t make it. We asked ourselves do we invest more? Do we shut it down? See, it’s more like a rollercoaster with ups and downs.”

How would you suggest building up your leadership team?

  • Katherine: “I have always hired for our biggest pain point at the time in order to improve the team and take that next step. I have a Sales and Marketing background, my first hire was our CTO, Romeo. Genius developer.”

What do you look for in an investor?

  • Katherine: “I look for a few things, but mostly how do they treat people, and what experience do they have in our space. Money is important but both the investor and entrepreneur should walk if it’s not the right fit on other levels.”

Is it lonely being a CEO?

  • Katherine: “What a great question. Yes. Yes. It totally is. However, since the Neal’s Running Start program the four of us have been able to create honest relationships where we can go to each other and say , “Woah, I have no idea how to solve this. Do you guys?” Mentorship happens at all levels — with all people.”

What percentage of CEOs can take it all the way?

  • Neal: “You have to understand that running a business is a long and difficult marathon that can go 10 – 12 years. Some of our CEO’s just get tired, or what I call “founders fatigue” and don’t want to do it anymore. It’s hard. I would say only a small percentage of founders can take their startup to an initial liquidity event and that is if they decide they even want too.”

Do you have a number?

  • Katherine: “A phone number? Sure, I haven’t been asked for that in a while. Just kidding, I don’t have a magic number for selling. The sky’s the limit, and I will worry about it when we get there. Setting a goal can also be setting a limitation.”

Overall, my time at UW was welcoming, refreshing, and inspiring. It was so fascinating watching the students come alive on how they were turning their ideas into a reality. This is what makes the business world go round.

I mentor at the University of Washington and in Saskatoon with our burgeoning start-up community because people like Neal were kind enough to help me along the way.  I’ve come to learn the value of community, like the strong one here at the University of Washington.  Just 365 days ago, I didn’t know the names of the tech start-up founders down the hall from me in Saskatoon.  Now, we’re a thriving community, helping each other learn and grow.

Neal embodies that sense of giving back and community.  As I walked the campus, I couldn’t help but see Dempsey Hall and Dempsey Indoor. Neal is extremely modest and humble about his success, but his presence, like his name on the campus buildings, is felt and appreciated.

I’m looking forward to visiting the UW students again, and following up on their journey. Who knows how far they’ll come over the next year. 365 days can change your world.

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Saskatoon Swagger

March 23, 2017 - Author: admin

Back in November, I wrote about reaching beyond Silicon Valley (link to blog post) to encourage innovation in other cities and towns.  The next industrial revolution will be all about technology, and cities who are not preparing for that may be left behind like we’ve seen in some of the regions who relied too long on outdated manufacturing and energy economies. 

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Saskatoon, Canada to learn more about their burgeoning tech industry and how to support the start-ups in the area.  I attended an event called “Flip the Switch,” which was about turning on the tech industry infrastructure needed to make Saskatoon entrepreneurs successful without having to move to Silicon Valley.

Canada is the fastest growing country in the G7, and Saskatoon is the 3rd fastest growing city in Canada.  Saskatoon was also named one of three cities to watch for tech job growth in Canada.  With travel bans and uncertainty in America this year, Canada has been trying to lure many tech companies to open offices there.  Most tech companies find Vancouver most like Silicon Valley, but like Silicon Valley, it is very expensive.  Toronto has attracted many companies with its proximity to top universities.  But Saskatoon is making its mark, and I thought it was worth exploring how this city and the province of Saskatchewan is working to incentivize tech growth.

I met with several tech companies in Saskatoon and listened to their company pitches, their successes and their challenges.  I also met with several government officials who were kind enough to provide some of the data and statistics I cited in the above paragraph.

The biggest difference between Silicon Valley and any other city or area that wants to grow its tech business is simply the infrastructure.  Silicon Valley lives and breathes tech every day.  We have universities, VCs, entrepreneurs, large tech enterprises, lawyers, marketing people, etc. who all understand the tech industry.  That adds up to a large amount of resources that are completely devoted to helping technology companies grow and thrive and have unprecedented experience.  Deals get done in coffee shops and at school drop-offs because everyone is in the business.  That’s very hard to duplicate.

Therefore, what cities like Saskatoon need is more tech companies.  That is why they had this event.  They want to demonstrate that Saskatoon and Saskatchewan have the people and infrastructure to support growing tech companies.

That may or may not be true right now, but as more tech companies look to set up hubs in Canada, Saskatoon could be worth a look.  There are solid universities in the area, growing investments, and the government is committed to making the area attractive to tech companies.  Plus, the cost of living is very attractive.  In the past, the region has mostly brought in oil and gas, agriculture, mining and ranching.  These industries are ripe for innovation, but there’s also start-ups in enterprise and consumer software.  Coconut Calendar is a good example.  As you recall, Katherine Regnier, the CEO of Coconut Calendar, is one of the Neal’s Running Start entrepreneurs and she organized this event to get the tech companies organized.  That’s a great start.  Just getting the support systems talking to each other will go a long way to retaining and attracting new tech companies.

Since my return the potential investment opportunities have been encouraging. I have been contacted by a few Saskatoon based companies as well as two in Calgary. They all have early sales traction and in one case multiple millions in revenue all with minimum levels of Investment or no outside funding. That’s a nod to the hard work and dedication of small-town people who expect to succeed on their own merits.  I’m continuing to investigate these companies and have been happy to receive several other referrals from the Saskatchewan government.

Saskatoon has a long way to go before it becomes a new technology hub.  But this kind of commitment from the local community, businesses, universities and the government are exactly what I was talking about in my previous blog.  Tech innovation is going to have to spread out, and Saskatoon is a great example of how a city can make a strategic plan to be well-positioned for the next economy.  I look forward to my next visit.

For more information, have a look at a radio and TV interview Katherine and I did during my visit:

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Neal’s Running Start Entrepreneurs Offer their Top 5 Tips and Lessons

February 22, 2017 - Author: admin

Last week, I had the pleasure of inviting all the Neal’s Running Start entrepreneurs to Aspen, Colorado for a reunion.  It’s been a little over a year since these four entrepreneurs from scattered parts of the globe were chosen to be part of the NRS 2016 program.  Their month with us was a non-stop marathon of lessons on business from Silicon Valley’s finest.  I wanted to see how they’ve applied what they learned since leaving.

I thought I’d share some of the lessons we talked about, as they can apply for any entrepreneur.  And they also had some good tips for any entrepreneur who might be facing the same challenges.   We’ll start with some lessons they took back, applied to their companies, and made a big difference:

Top 5 Positive Outcomes:

  • Cash flow – cash is king, so master your cash flow management, and that will make a huge difference for the survival and growth of the company.
  • Embrace change – if what you’re doing isn’t working, change.  If you have to make changes, do it fast and decisively.
  • Raise as much capital as possible – if cash is king, so is capital. You’ll need it to grow and keep up with the market.  Don’t worry about taking too much capital, as investors will only give you what you need and observe you how stretch to make it work.  Take capital from multiple sources, including VCs, angels and government sources if you can.
  • The right customers – everyone needs customers, but choose the right customers who fit with your long-term vision. Minimize customizations that can slow down product development.
  • The right team – hiring the right team members can take burdens off the CEO and bring new inspiration. The wrong hire can be detrimental to the company, brand, reputation and finances.  Hire carefully, but fire quickly.

Top 5 Challenges:

  • Cash flow – the inverse of mastering your cash flow is not having the cash flow to master. All the entrepreneurs have learned the importance of revenues and if you don’t have cash, you must solve that problem first before anything else can happen.  Have a back-up plan or a cushion in case fundraising takes longer than expected.
  • Product – managing the product direction can prove difficult when you’re being pulled by customers in various directions. Pick a vision, but go where the money is.  That’s a hard tightrope to walk.
  • Managing growth – once you have investment and cash, deciding how best to apply it to manage growth is challenging. From which hires to make to what R&D investments will yield the most results, managing growth is complicated.
  • Making cuts – sometimes, you must make the hard call and cut a team member who isn’t working out as the company grows. Sometimes you must cut people to manage cash flow.  But no matter the reason, in a small business letting people go is difficult because it’s personal.
  • Don’t give away the company – at an early stage, people will be vying for stock. While you need to give some away to get investment and a committed executive team, don’t lose your ability to call the shots at this early stage.


One of the entrepreneurs had a tip that everyone liked:  Make a one page list of your yearly goals.  Keep it where you can see it every day.  That will help everyone manage tough decisions and prioritize activities.

I’m proud of the entrepreneurs.  Running a company is never an easy climb.  There are always ups and downs.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No company I’ve ever worked with has been a straight shot to the top.  They all face challenges as they go.  Our reunion was a chance for us to share the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life, and have some fun in the mountains at the same time.

I’ll continue to keep you posted on our entrepreneurs.  We haven’t seen the last of them yet, and I look forward to more great times in 2017 and beyond.


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Tech Industry Post-Election

November 22, 2016 - Author: admin

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  In my last blog post, I talked about how technology presented an opportunity for cities around the world to become innovation hubs.  Since then, we have been through an election cycle in the US.  President-elect Donald Trump was a surprise win to many, and in the post-election analysis, the issue of cities left-behind by the economy has been identified as a key factor in him being the chosen candidate.  We need to face the fact that technology has contributed to this economic disparity.

The technology industry is most proud of the way it “disrupts” industries. We have replaced jobs with machines in many industries and continue to do so.  Technology is expected to upend healthcare, education, transportation, food, housing and just about every aspect of daily life.  But when we “disrupt”, we often destroy.  We leave entire careers at the wayside, and formerly thriving towns economically devastated.

Now it’s time for tech to disrupt itself and acknowledge the role we are playing in good disruption and bad.  We need to put together think tanks on how to replace the jobs we usurp.  Do we have an obligation to hire a certain percentage of the workforce displaced?  Robin Raskin in her recent Huffington Post column suggested a tech Peace Corps to help find solutions to revitalize devastated communities. Do we have an obligation to create and contribute to a universal income strategy as jobs are lost and not replaced?

The bottom line is, we must start finding solutions to the problems we have created.  We must take our fair share of responsibility.  Our own survival might depend on it because if enough people are left financially devastated by technology’s disruption, we can expect more revolution in government like we saw with the Donald Trump election.  We must recognize that while globalization has been great for tech and tech workers, it has left others in ruins.  It’s time to disrupt that pattern.

My time with the Neal’s Running Start entrepreneurs opened my eyes to the world of ideas and knowledge that is happening in the most unlikely places, like Saskatoon, Canada.  We need to support these entrepreneurs and equip cities, governments and educators if we’re going to accelerate local economies, move struggling cities from out-of-date industries that do not offer long-term viability, and usher in the next season of economic prosperity for all.

VCs need to consider social investing in remote places and with people solving third world and first world social and economic problems.  We need to look to an unlikely group of entrepreneurs to give us new ideas, new perspectives and help us see beyond the next unicorn.

In the next few months, I will be visiting various cities and talking to smart people who are looking to be part of the solution to the economic damage inflicted on our American towns and cities.  I will be researching ideas and opportunities.  I’ll share my discoveries with you as I go, and I look for your input along the way as well. If you have ideas to share, people you think I should meet, places you think I should visit, I’m excited to hear from you all.  Let’s do this together!

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Reaching Beyond Silicon Valley

October 18, 2016 - Author: admin

I’ve spent the last few years meeting entrepreneurs from around the globe.  I’ve been to conferences like Web Summit, White Bull, and many meet-ups across the US and Europe.  There’s lots of talent and ideas outside of Silicon Valley, which is probably no surprise to anyone who lives outside the Bay Area.  However, many VCs and investors tend to keep their dollars in this region.  Of course, there are some large VC firms with overseas presence, but the majority keep their dollars in the Bay Area.  Perhaps it’s time we widened our scope because the tech disruption isn’t going to be limited to Silicon Valley.

It’s true that the reason VCs are focused on entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley or those who are willing to move to Silicon Valley is because of the vast resources and networks here. While other cities and countries have tried to duplicate the Silicon Valley mentality and culture, no one has succeeded yet.

Perhaps it’s because San Francisco and the Bay Area has a history or risk-taking on crazy ventures.  From the Barbary Coast to the Gold Rush to a computer industry founded in garages, the Bay Area has always defied convention socially and in business.

The disparity in funding risks between Silicon Valley and European VCs is another good example.  Two million is a seed round of funding in Silicon Valley, while that’s at least an A round of funding in Europe, if not a B round.  And for better or worse, Silicon Valley VCs are more likely to keep investing in a company to help them pivot if the first idea doesn’t work, whereas European VCs are much more conservative on that front.

Having completed the Neal’s Running Start program for entrepreneurs outside the US earlier this year, I saw first-hand how entrepreneurs can flourish with the right guidance and network.  Neal’s Running Start took four entrepreneurs from outside the country and brought them here for just thirty days.  I was amazed at how these eager minds transformed completely in such a short amount of time.  What would happen if they had consistent access to Silicon Valley without the costs of moving to Silicon Valley?

Over the next year, I’m going to focus on learning about and talking about methods to make tech innovation more inclusive for everyone.  We have massive industrial shifts happening across the globe. The World Economic Forum’s report on Deep Shifts: Technological Tipping Points make it clear how technology will completely disrupt social and economic systems in the next 15-20 years.  That means we have to be thinking and innovating not just in Silicon Valley, but across the globe if we want to be prepared for changes in major industries and social and ethical dilemmas.

These shifts will give cities across the US and the globe the opportunity to be the new centers of innovation on a variety of technological advancements, from transportation to AI to big data and privacy issues.

I want to be part of helping smaller cities that may not be on the VC firm radar, meet their innovation potential.  I want to help entrepreneurs, educators and city officials make these shifts.  I’d welcome your input as I evolve my thinking and research on this topic. I hope to foster open discussions at conferences, universities and municipalities looking to lead the way for these coming changes.  If you see me at a conference, strike up a conversation.  I’d be happy to hear your viewpoint.  And if you’d like to host a discussion, drop me a line as I’ll be planning various speaking and meet-up possibilities.

Look for more on this page, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input as we look to grow the Silicon Valley ecosystem beyond the Bay Area.

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That’s a Wrap!

July 2, 2016 - Author: admin

It’s been a month now since the Neal’s Running Start gang left San Francisco.  I’ve started to get back to my normal routines, but I miss their energy and the fun times.  I’m currently enjoying a trip to London to watch the Wimbledon matches and it happens to be Canada Day. So, I am reminiscing about my time with the European and one Canadian entrepreneur.

I am compelled Mentors to share a bit of what happened during the inaugural Neal’s Running Start program.  But don’t worry because there’s much more to come!  We videotaped many of our sessions together so look for a full video series on the Neal’s Running Start experience soon.  I think anyone who is trying to make it through a goal or a challenge can take something away from what these entrepreneurs experienced and learned. So, I hope the video will be a way for everyone to do their own Running Start program and kick-start an important goal in your life.

As a runner, I will relate their journey to training for a run or a race.  Everyone starts with the end goal in mind – you’re going to get fit and cross the finish line and be the best runner since Usain Bolt.  For entrepreneurs, they start a company with success in mind – they can see it already!  They are the next Zuckerberg.  Movies will be made about their ascent and how they changed the world!

Day one:  Day one o f a run starts out fun and energetic, but your dreams of running a marathon on the first day rarely come true.  Instead, day one only serves to show you just how far you have to go and just how out of shape you really are.

For our entrepreneurs, day one was similarly “come-to-Jesus-y”.  They each had to present their company to a group of investors on day one.  But the first day was just like the first day of a run – a metric for how far they really had to go, and for some of them, how out of shape their companies really were.

There were inaccuracies and sometimes flat out fiction in their presentations, which were too easy to spot and call out.  The presentation designs needed work.  Their whole flow needed work.  And truly, a presentation is often a reflection of the state of the business itself.  So, flaws in the presentation reflect real flaws in the underlying business. I tried to not be too hard on them and ease them in with gentle critiques.  But by day 2, the gloves were off.  We only had 30 days and no time to waste, so it was time to throw niceties aside and get to work.Road Trip

The next few weeks would prove to be exhausting, exhilarating and sometimes brutal.  Each day had an uphill run on the schedule, and like us runners, I’m sure they sometimes wanted to dry heave at the top of each hill or sit down and rest for a while.  We kept pushing, even literally having them dunk themselves in ice cold water for one investor pitch.

But the one-on-one meetings I had with each entrepreneur were where all the exercises and learnings came together.  One entrepreneur skirted closer to the death of their company than any entrepreneur wants to come.  But through close direction, that company turned around and was on track by the end of the 30 days.

More than one realized they have to move their company.  Some to Silicon Valley, and some just to where their customers are.  But most realized they were going to have to physically move their companies, which is not an easy task.

They all found ways to use their greatest strengths to overcome their greatest challenges.  One had a “take no prisoners” approach to getting big things accomplished every day, and that helped the entrepreneur almost completely overhaul their business approach during the time in San Francisco.  Another was excellent at networking and took advantage of every conference, meeting and connection they could make while in town.  Yet another was eternally optimistic, which I think is a key ingredient for any entrepreneur to persevere through the many obstacles that get in the way of growing a company.  And one transformed their stubbornness into an advantage to not give up and dig until they found a solution to the problem, rather than allowing fixation to get them stuck on one problem.

Because none of these entrepreneurs had ever spent time in Silicon Valley, they were the most naïve early stage founders I’ve worked with.  The lack of mentorship and guidance available in their respective cities really impacted their mindset and how they operated their businesses.  Therefore, each entrepreneur found at least one other mentor, besides me, who really inspired them or understood their unique market challenges.  That is one of the clear advantages of being in Silicon Valley.  Not only is there a plethora of wisdom and experience here, there’s an unspoken code that yoGolden Gateu help others.  One of the entrepreneurs remarked how willing everyone he asked was to meet and share experience and ideas.  Whereas in his home country, he rarely found mentors with a willingness to be so open and helpful, unless you paid them for their time.  In Silicon Valley, wisdom flows through friendly meetings at coffee shops, offices and the Rosewood happy hour.  Tapping into a brain-trust of experience and listening well to what those advisers have to say is a critical ingredient to success.

All the entrepreneurs walked away with their eyes wide open, but now comes the critical part – what they do as they return to their companies away from the Silicon Valley bubble, if you will.  I know they are all struggling right now to fight the old inertia and apply the lessons learned, so we’ll follow-up with them soon and check on their progress.

They all need financing so I’ll be tracking that progress over the next few months.

But first, I want you to get to know each of them and hear for yourselves their unique, individual stories and journey through their 30 days in the Neal’s Running Start program.  Look for our video series in the coming weeks.  If you’re looking to start a new goal or tackle a challenge, join us for the video series and see if you can take some of the lessons learned and apply them to your own path to success.

Cold PitchesUntil then, here are some photos to give you a taste of the entrepreneurs and their time here.

Last Day

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