Visionaries and Nudgers

"I became cool with the teachers. I developed a rapport with them. I was able to convince almost all of them to nudge my grade up just a bit."

Thus speaks an entrepreneur quoted in a New York Times article pairing entrepreneurship and dyslexia. According to Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass School of Business in London also quoted in the article, "The willingness to delegate authority gives them [dyslexic entrepreneurs] a significant advantage over nondyslexic entrepreneurs, who tend to view their business as their baby and like to be in total control."

The human heart has both a light side and a dark side. The light side is "delegating authority." The dark side is "using people." I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been nudged.

In The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, John Battelle chronicles the fevered development of what was called then The New Economy. (A link to Battelle’s blog.) Although dates vary, that ended in about 2001. I know. I was there. I went back to a "real job" in 2002.

I wasn’t there there, i.e. in Silicon Valley. I was in Tampa running a web site development and marketing business. I’m from the New River Valley, left in 1983, and returned in 2006. I’ve been to a few networking events here. Nice crowds of a hundred or so. During the heady days of The New Economy, Tampa hotel ballrooms steamed with hundreds of idea-driven entrepreneurs, homemade business cards in one hand, beverage of choice in the other, leaning forward at the waist and talking intensely at each other.

"Would you like the opportunity to write the business plan for my Internet start-up? I’ll give you stock options!" That became the pick-up line I heard most often. From almost a decade later, I feel embarrassed to say that I fell for the first few.

I wrote business plans and promoted Internet start-ups that didn’t quite seem to have revenue streams, but I was told that I just didn’t understand the power of the Internet.

On the light side, I’ve been a "delegatee" of visionaries. On the dark side, I’ve been used by nudgers.

I have a passion for local community and economic development. Bits and pieces of this and that will help, but on a grand scale, I only see development happening through entrepreneurship.

But I didn’t have a really good time with entrepreneurs the first time through.

How does one tell the visionaries from the nudgers?

Hope and idealism thrive in the light side of my heart.

I imagine the doors to those ballrooms with huge, menacing bouncers scowling down at prospective entrepreneurs over tough guy dark glasses and demanding answers:

  • Does your product or service meet a compelling end-user need?
  • Is there a defining product/service difference between your idea and what’s already out there?
  • Do you see a clear path to extraordinary profitability?
  • Is your idea investment-worthy?
  • Are you a committed, coachable leader?
  • Do you have realistic expectations?
  • Are you committed to our area?

Entrepreneurs who qualify for high tech start-up incubation at VT KnowledgeWorks have to answer "Yes" to all those questions.

I seethed when my mother told me, "I never promised you life would be fair," and "There are no guarantees." I hope she’s not reading this, but she was right.

Still. I’m going to write about the entrepreneurs at VT Knowledge Works. They might be visionaries. The bouncer let them in.

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