Entrepreneurial Symposium

This Entrepreneurial Symposium, organized by the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, Enterprise Honolulu and the High Tech Development Corporation, was a unique opportunity to hear how three entrepreneurial support organizations, each in different states (Ohio, Kansas and Oklahoma) approach the development and nurturing of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The goal for each of these organizations is to foster job growth in the technology sector and to position their state to be a global competitor. Ray Leach, CEO of JumpStart (Ohio) talked about developing a consensus plan by pulling all the stakeholders together to get broad commitment for entrepreneurial development. This involved public/private partnerships and an effort to transform the culture which was predominantly manufacturing. Over the course of 12 years, starting in 1998, Ohio lost an estimated 450,000 jobs. Something needed to be done and as Leach puts it, "never waste a crisis." They took on the task of transforming the business culture and elevating the role of entrepreneurship. They also play an active role in networking entrepreneurs with investors as well as keep state legislators aware of the role entrepreneurs play in business and job creation. Joni Cobb, CEO of Pipeline exuded enthusiasm and passion for the role entrepreneurs play in building businesses in Kansas. Pipeline, which started as an initiative of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation is now a 501(c)3 non-profit providing tools and services to support the development of entrepreneurs. As described by Cobb:
PIPELINE is an “immersion experience.” Our goal is to link each Innovator into a robust and powerful network of supporters, peers and mentors. The Innovator does not just “learn about business.” The aim is to undergo a life altering experience that also changes the direction and trajectory of their company. In the process, Innovators recognize the power of the statewide network, and remain engaged in Kansas as mentors, coaches and investors.
Pipeline's approach struck me as being like an intensive Executive MBA program in Entrepreneurship, with Cobb as the Dean and Chief Evangelist. Going through it would be a life changing experience. Finally, Tom Walker, CEO of I2E (Innovation to Enterprise) based in Oklahoma, talked about their primary focus: Business Services, Access to Capital and Entrepreneurial Development. Its mission is "Home grown economic development by fostering the birth and nurturing the growth of advanced technology companies in Oklahoma." I2E was formed in 1997 as part of Oklahoma's State Legislature's Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology Initiative. Over the course of 2007 - 2010, I2E showed their 150 companies exhibited a 30% growth rate while the rest of the state was in decline. I2E not only provides business support services and access to capital, they also coordinate events and publish resources like the Entrepreneur's Path: A Handbook for High Growth Companies. Each of these organizations started as their respective state's initiative to grow the tech sector in the late 1990's and early 2000's. They took time to gain consensus and broad base support. Now in 2010, each is recognized as models of best practices and for other states to replicate. Needless to say, Hawaii has had the same desire and has numerous assortment of state agencies and business non-profits groups to prove it. But the question still remains, does Hawaii have the commitment and willpower to create and sustain a vibrant, creative, entrepreneurial technology sector. I am glad we are having this conversation but one we have obviously had before. Will it be any different this time around, during this new administration? Hope remains...