On Friday, February 9, the Harvard Business School Club of Greater New York hosted its third annual America’s Entrepreneur Award T Conference and Dinner. With a raison d’etre of recognizing people who have done great stuff and presenting that to others for a learning opportunity, this event proves that entrepreneurship is still alive and well in America. The ten Finalists were Ariba, Broadcom, Calvert Group, Delray Farms, Latina Media Ventures, Miller Paper, Monster.com, Onlink Technologies, Petopia.com, and zagat.com.
The award physically is composed of gears, so that when the central gear rotates, it rotates all others around it. This low-tech analog device symbolizes a planetary gear system with the entrepreneur at the center. This award helps us to look at interesting and compelling stories of entrepreneurship. Key ingredients: innovation, ability to transform an industry, ability to overcome adversity.
Nina Zagat, Co-Founder of zagat.com, was named the Harvard Business School Club of New York America’s Entrepreneur. Broadcom Corporation’s CFO William Ruehle was named runner up.
Celebrating what it takes to prosper and grow in any economy, new or old, people from ten Finalist Companies shared best days, worst days, and pearls of wisdom. Andrea Reisman, co-founder of Petopia.com, remembers the best days as the first days; the worst day was in March 2000, when the company was firing on all cylinders and meeting all its goals and then the NASDAQ crashed. She sold the company.
Christy Haubegger, CEO and founder of Latina Media Ventures, premises her business on a message to Hispanic women: “You’re beautiful, capable, and not alone.” A good day is when she landed the Pampers account, arguing that Hispanics were 40% of California and Pampers would be wise to ally with her business. A bad day is on the road, when someone thinks she is hotel staff and asks her for a bucket of ice.
HBS grad Buck French developed a concept for marketing intelligence software, founded Onlink, sold it for $600 million to Siebel last August, and now is a happy employee as VP and GM of the ISS group within Siebel.
Dean Mihas, co-founder of Delray Farms, recalls his worst day as that when 30 months into his endeavor he realized the strategy would not work. The best day was the next day, when he realized that a piece of the business would work.
Bill Ruehle, CFO of Broadcom, has a personal passion for building companies. His best and worst days have been those where he realized a business was going nowhere and had to sell.
Barbara Krumsiek, CEO of Calvert Group mutual funds, works at a company known for socially responsible investing. The best day was when her company doubled the number of socially responsible options available in 401K plans. Worst days have been market related.
Barbara Miller, president and founder of Miller Paper, says every day is a best day because she awakes excited to work. Worst days she does not recall.
Morsels of wisdom:
o It’s OK to be lucky, it’s OK to be smart. What’s not OK is to be lucky and think you are smart.
o Hire somebody who is already wealthy. Such a person is likely to join your venture because he or she loves the work and tends to be less blinded in decision-making.
o No deal is just a deal in itself. Referenceability makes a big difference.
o VCs still have lots of money to invest these days.
o Expect a roller coaster if there is an idea about which you are passionate that you pursue. Go for it.
o Risk-taking appetite is in your DNA or it is not.
o Naivet‚ helps.
o Outsource what is not core.
o Problems and challenges will not usually be what you anticipated.
o Have a kitchen cabinet or sounding board of trusted people outside of your company. These folks can help you realize the absurdities of what you want to do.
o Key now to raising money: idea + management team. You have more contacts than you think you do.
o When hiring, “get the best athletes.” The closer to the technology a role needs to be, the more important to hire for industry expertise.
o Sell to those not who will accept; rather, sell to those who will need your energies, products, or services.
The ten terrific Early Stage Honor Roll companies were Applied Molecular Evolution, BlueBolt Networks, Charitableway, HomeView Media, House of Bread, It’s About Time, Mobedshahai Hotel Group, Opal Financial Group, Real Sports, and Vencast. Kathy Giutsti, President of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, accepted the HBSCNY Community Partners Entrepreneur Award. After a dinner with live entertainment, Mark Walsh ’80, Chairman of VerticalNet, gave the keynote speech.
Entrepreneurship is alive and well in America. At the end of the day, vision executed upon with integrity and a huge dose of chutzpah will carry the entrepreneurial spirit and fruits through this new millennium.