Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More BRIM: Insights and Analysis

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, time for more BRIM. Again, for those scoring at home, BRIM stands for Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan, and was the title to an informative and inspirational conference last week at the OneUpWeb office in Traverse City. If you missed it, please check out my summary/recap of theevent.

Today, I want to delve more into the content of the conference and what was discussed beyond the general theme of the importance of entrepreneurship.

We’ll begin with a quick review of Rick DeVos’ keynote address. “I start things” was how Rick introduced himself and what he does. Of course, when those things include Art Prize, the world’s largest open art competition, and Start Garden, a fresh new venture capital firm, well then, that’s how you get invited to give the keynote at events such as BRIM.

Rick described entrepreneurship as analogous to sea exploration in a talk titled “Launch the Ships.” It is an apt metaphor, Dr. House would approve. We are just as must in an age of exploration as when Columbus sailed west, and we must foster a dynamic culture of entrepreneurship to drive that exploration. To that end, Rick had three points.
  1. “Get Curious” – Continually ask yourself and others, “What if…?” and “What if we…?” Use that curiosity and those questions to initiate action. At some point, someone asked, “what if we built a ship?” Centuries later, Columbus asked “What if the world was round and I could sail ships around the world?”
  2. “Make Failure Survivable” – Columbus sailed west with three ships, but the Santa Maria had to be abandoned in the new world. For venture capital firms, such as Start Garden, only a few big successes will pay for the investment in all the others. 
  3. “Launch the Ships (and hope some come back)” – Eventually you have to set sail on your ideas and see where they lead you. It may be profit and fulfillment or it may likely be failure, but you won’t know until you cast off. Columbus was looking for a passage to the Indies. Instead he came upon two continents and another ocean in the way. No models or projections had North or South America in the way.

Those points go beyond entrepreneurship and starting a business, but also reflect public policy tendencies. People, particularly in Michigan, have a tendency to try and plan our way out of everything. Nowhere is this more prevalent in politics, “if only we had a better plan” or someone else in charge. The truth is that there is not a white knight with “one plan to rule them all” to ride in and make all our problems go away. It takes local knowledge and solutions; entrepreneurial solutions.

And yes, people other than Rick DeVos spoke at BRIM. Here are more insights from an informative and inspirational day in Traverse City:

Business Plans – A few people brought business plans receiving too much emphasis. Remember, it’s a piece of literature; it does not need to be comprehensive. Yes, it’s still important, but it is more important to focus on your business, your idea implementation and generation, not spreadsheets and made up projections. When asked, even Rick DeVos stressed that it is more important to get marketplace validation than obsess over market share projections. Unlike the lottery, costs and payoffs cannot be calculated in life.

New Economy – Another tidbit that was discussed at BRIM, that I’ve heard more and more of these days is that we are entering a 1099 or self-employed economy. We may already be there. Look around, people aren’t in jobs that they expect to be in for the next 30-40 years. It is even more important to be creative and entrepreneurial in how you market yourself. Don’t focus on how to operate in the existing model. Look to change the model.

More bits from the panel discussions after the jump...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

“BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan) is designed to deliver inspiration, education, and networking to business owners and entrepreneurs from the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, in Traverse City, MI.”

For two years, I’ve written about the resurgent sense of pride of Michiganders. Most popularly represented in the “Pure Michigan” ad campaign, I’d argue that the true driving force of this renewed Michigan enthusiasm lies in the recent focus and ascension of entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity in the Mitten State.

Therefore, naturally I was curious to learn about BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan), and excited when I received my invitation to attend.

I was not disappointed. I left BRIM more informed and inspired and with new networking opportunities if I relentlessly pursue those relationships.

Tremendous thanks and props to Lisa Wehr and the OneUpWeb team who organized an excellent conference. Lisa is the founder and CEO of OneUpWeb, a digital marketing agency based in Traverse City with close to 50 employees and an impressive nationwide client base (it’s a cool agency, check them out).

With the express purpose of supporting entrepreneurs, particularly in Michigan, OneUpWeb planned, organized, and hosted BRIM. It was not a small undertaking. They put together five panels, brought in Rick DeVos as the keynote speaker, hosted a pitch session with a $2500 award, marketed it to attract 100 attendees from across Michigan, and the recruited sponsorships so that the conference was free to attendees. It is a big commitment of resources, not to mention emptying the office space for an entire day to host the conference and accommodate those 100 guests.

OneUpWeb has a great space to host such an event, and the view out over West Grand Traverse Bay is a nice (understatement) bonus. Everyone in the same room, without a raised stage for the panelists and speakers, created a cozy, comfortable, and friendly environment that helped foster discussion and networking during the paneled discussions, Q&A, breaks, at lunch, and the cocktail hour.

Panelists were knowledgeable, personable, and approachable. The last adjective cannot be understated, since the key to these types of events is that they need to foster dialogue and a sense of collaboration. The purpose of the event is to inspire, educate, and allow for networking and that works best when people unite around that goal and share ideas, knowledge, experience, and their stories. It was evident at BRIM and it says a lot about the people in attendance, the moderators, and panelists.

Yes, the panelists. The day was broken up into five paneled discussions, lunch, keynote address from Rick DeVos, a pitch session, and the always important cocktail hour to wrap things up with beverages from Right Brain Brewery and Chateau de Leelanau. Paneled discussion topics:
  • Navigating a Changing Business Environment
  • Turning Entrepreneurial Passion into Success
  • Creating Buzz for Your Brand
  • Marketing to a Mobile Audience
  • Growing Customer Relationships through Social Media

There was value in each of the paneled discussions. None dragged on or were dull. The social media panel was the liveliest, but then again you’re dealing with people who spend most of their day on Twitter and Facebook engaged with interesting people such as a Brazilian insistent of his need for a papaya colored chair to match the rest of his papaya colored home or business (seriously).

During the Q&A following Rick DeVos’ keynote address where he spoke about the projects he’s started such as Art Prize, 5x5 Night, Start Garden, and more broadly of fostering a dynamic culture of entrepreneurship, one of the attendees commented how Start Garden and BRIM are representative of the future of capitalism, of entrepreneurial collaboration at the grassroots level. I don’t agree specifically with that statement because the voluntary exchange of goods and services particularly at the grassroots level has always been the foundation of a free market place and capitalism. However, it is that foundation that Michigan (and America) must return to improve our communities and the economy.

Entrepreneurialism and (relative) free markets remain America’s primary comparative advantage in a globalized world. And even as we continue to adjust in a globalized world and marketplace, we are beginning to understand once again that most problems and solutions are local. One can connect, create value, and profit in our local communities. Entrepreneurs understand that and address those problems, needs, and create that value.

That is why BRIM was such a unique, informational, and inspiring event. It brought people together to inspire and foster entrepreneurial spirit and share experience, knowledge, and networking to help it succeed with the goal of improving the community.

More and more, I see that local entrepreneurial approaches in Michigan are the most innovative and successful in both the business and non-profit sectors. It is continuing to fuel to enthusiasm and pride in Michigan, particularly in West Michigan (northwards all the way to Traverse).

I’m finishing this up on Monday after Thursday’s conference and I am still enthused about it. I look forward to following up with OneUpWeb and the other individuals and businesses I was introduced to at BRIM to see what they accomplish in the future. And I hope that BRIM can continue (this was year 2) to be an annual event and possibly grow because I see great value in those discussions and collaborations.

Obviously, much more was discussed, but I’m trying to reign in my tendency for 2000-3000 word posts, so I think I’m going to break down my BRIM/TC trip into three posts. Look for another BRIM post tomorrow focused on more on the insights .