Monday, November 24, 2008

The Collective Entrepreneurial Journey

On Monday, November 10, 2008, we launched the CLUB E Austin Chapter at the Long Center in Austin, TX with captivating messages from one of Austin's top entrepreneurs, Gary Hoover, top entrepreneurial organization, Bootstrap Austin, top homegrown technology companies, HBMG Inc. and one of community's top leaders and supporters of entrepreneurship, Austin Pro Tem Mayor Brewster McCracken. This effort was a true celebration for the CLUB E family and our partners in the Austin community because it is an important step towards helping our company, the CLUB E Network (CLUB E), move that much closer to realizing our vision.

Back in the late 90's I was able to attend an event where a famous local entrepreneur shared an inspiring start-up story at an event in Austin, TX that sent me home that overflowing with ideas on how to build the next great tech company. It didn't pan out that way for me that venture, but I'll never forget how I felt that night. The seeds had been planted to create something very unique and powerful that would benefit and help many others in future, but it wouldn't materialize for a number of years. Those seeds finally took root years later in the form of CLUB E, an online and on-the-ground network for entrepreneurs that is designed to help and support current and future entrepreneurs follow their passion and start their own companies. We call the CLUB E community "the most passionate tribe of entrepreneurs on the planet" because we all share a common passion for entrepreneurship and pursuing a road less traveled.

My long-time business partner/TV show host, Ingrid Vanderveldt, and I started working on an online social network concept when we were introduced to a trailblazing entrepreneur in Peter Burns, his student apprentice Corey Kossack and his motley crew out of Phoenix that were launching local chapters of their organization in AZ where entrepreneurs could meet in person on a regular basis. We decided to combine our efforts and create CLUB E that was one part Facebook (people meeting online), one part Toastmasters (people meeting in person) and one part TV (entertainment & how-to videos for entrepreneurs). A vision that we are slowly bringing to life so that we can share the inspiring stories and powerful lessons successful entrepreneurs share with us at our gatherings and activities.

On this November night, we were honored to have Brewster McCracken open the night for us at one of Austin's newest gathering places, the Long Center. His speech was set against the backdrop of the Austin skyline seen out the windows symbolizing how we are all part of this wonderful community and how we are all in this together even if we are all creating separate businesses. Brewster spoke of how powerful examples of local government, industry leaders and the entrepreneurial community have worked together to strengthen what makes Austin special and what makes it such a solid foundation for start-ups to get off the ground. He also challenged us to continue thinking for the future and look to areas such as clean energy and emerging technologies and others and make sure that we stay at that leading edge. Inspired by his comments, we teamed up with folks from our technology partner, HBMG, and came up with a contest to gather ideas from the audience about suggestions on what the city of Austin can do help save energy and/or 'green ideas' for the city. The gung-ho audience came up with over 65 ideas in 15 minutes that we are passing along to Brewster and his team - you never know what type of seeds might be planted in this effort. Lucky entrepreneurs Kevin Koym & Steve Tarr got 18 cupcakes between winning this green contest.

Since we launched CLUB E, we knew that Austin was going to be a central figure in the CLUB E infrastructure in that we would produce our video content out of the city and eventually have a physical chapter here as well. When HBMG stepped in to help host our site and be part of our efforts this past year, we knew that part of our vision would quickly come to pass. All part of feeding the soil and helping CLUB E get off the ground with a solid foundation. David Smith, HBMG's CEO and a longtime leader in the Austin hi-tech space, tied the evening together with his eloquent words describing how we are all working together leveraging the strengths of Austin's foundation to breathe life into new and yet-to-be entrepreneurs.

Thinking of the word entrepreneur in Austin conjures all kinds of visuals, people and organizations in the mind. Two of those that are prominent are Bijoy Goswami and the Bootstrap community. We are honored that Bijoy and crew participated in helping us celebrate the launch of the CLUB E Austin chapter because we both believe we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that we can be collaborative in our efforts to nurture and support current and future entrepreneurs. These two entities are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that has made Austin a place of abundance in terms of resources and outlets that business owners can turn to help them meet the demanding needs their start-ups have. It is not about being competitive and trying to out do one another - it is how can we work together to support our collective causes as well as serve our constituents in the best way possible answering their specific needs. Having Bijoy share his beliefs and ideas that night illustrated this premise in words as well as in action.

Rounding out the night, the always-energetic Gary Hoover, founder of Hoovers and BOOKSTOP, shared his eight points on what he has found over the years to be central to creating successful and lasting ventures in good and bad times. Gary explained that great entrepreneurs have unending curiosity, a deep sense of history and an awareness of geography. The audience was left with a wealth of ideas and thoughts on what they could do on a daily basis to nurture their ideas and grow their companies. What struck me the most out of his talk is that when asked him what is the 'one thing' he wanted people to walk away from in terms of advice from the night. He said to make sure and carry a notepad or whatever device you fancy to capture an idea or scribble a thought so that you never miss an opportunity that might come to your mind. He pulled out his tablet #144 out of his pocket and shared the story of how Richard Branson also does the same thing and has literally thousands of such notepads he takes notes on. (I stopped by Office Depot the next day!) Gary is one of those very special people we truly admire because he constantly gives to his community by making himself available to the next generation of entrepreneurs and openly shares the wealth of knowledge and experience that he has gained over the years.

It was a proud night for the CLUB E team, but I believe something happened prior to the event that crystallized part of why I so strongly believe in what we are doing. The day before the CLUB E Austin launch, Bijoy and I had an opportunity to speak at the 26th annual Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education held in Austin. It was an event that brought together teachers and support companies from around the country so that they could network with each other, attend workshops and listen to entrepreneurs and leaders talk about a variety of topics that relate to teaching entrepreneurship. Clifton Taulbert, founder of the Building Community Institute and author of a number of books (Eight Habits of the Heart, Last Train North, etc.) spoke at the luncheon that day and left an indelible impression upon all that were there. He has spoken to audiences around the world and his books have been cherished by leaders from all walks of life including Nelson Mandela and he has even received Pulitzer nomination for his writings. At the end of his talk he left us with some of his own powerful words and the words of others that will forever be etched in my mind and what I believe lies at the very soul of why CLUB E has come to be.

"We come here together as teachers of the next generation of leaders and business owners in our community and in our world....For us it is not about 'how can I be an entrepreneur,' but how can we help another entrepreneur.' We have an opportunity do something that will change your life and the lives of thousands of others that come after you. To let young people know that 'we are all marked for good' and that we can 'cause the souls of others to blossom.'"

I hope you all get to help another on our collective journey down the entrepreneurial path and one day feel yourself blossoming - or better yet - see someone else blossom because of what you have done. Few things in life are more rewarding than that.

Lyn Graft is the founder of the CLUB E Network and LG Pictures.

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