Monday, April 22, 2013

ECC: Building a Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Cleantech?

ECC: Building a Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Cleantech?

Recently, I had the marvelous honor of helping with the first Energize conference by the Utah-based Energy Commercialization Center. My readers know my strong interest in how you build an effective, “defragged” entrepreneurial ecosystem and I was jazzed to see the great first steps that ECC is taking to do that for cleantech (broadly defined). Their charter is to build this for the entire intermountain region.

What are they doing right?

Engaging the right people (and not the wrong people). Other than a little of the usual nobody-loves-me, I’m-all-alone whining, this even included a nice cross-section of the “A Team” [see my “DEFRAG” post below] and deftly avoided the more negative voices. Idaho Commerce’s Jessie Speck can attest that with a positive vibe and the level of competence, we heard a level of candor that is rare and much, much appreciated! (Jessie made Idaho look good, btw.)

Focus on excellence. The competence level was terrific. People got to contribute where they add the most value, not necessarily what their job titles might suggest. I would be bowing deeply toward the various talented attendees but I can’t figure out how to bow in multiple directions (attendees came from CO, AZ, NM, MT, ID and NV and beyond).

Understand that it IS an ecosystem, interconnected, messy, noisy and dynamic. Ecosystems are more than a state of nature, they are also a trajectory. If you want to get from A to B, don’t you need a good idea where A is? And B? J In the various discussions, I can see from my notes some useful insights as to the current state of the ecosystem (and how we got here).  We also got a few insights about where we want to go. (Where the “A team” wants to go is usually very telling.)

So what makes an ecosystem special?
One point that became crystal clear is that effective ecosystems don’t do 1 or 2 things differently, they do several important things differently that are decidedly different from the “usual.” And these different things are unavoidably disruptive. (Paul Ahlstrom’s closing keynote cheerfully suggested that the lean startup crowd hijack federal tech transfer. As you might guess, I was a WEE bit happy!) At best, these “different” features run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

In my notes, I wrote something I stole from Utah’s Rob Wuebker, the narrative is completely different. The story of how things get done and why and by whom… is very different in effective ecosystems. Go back and re-read Brad Feld’s “Startup Communities”. (Look at the markers of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem at ... tell me these are “normal” for most communities, whether a city or an industry.

Robert Bell and his crew at ECC have a mandate to be disruptive. So far, they’ve been gentle (only one bureaucracy has yelled at them… so far) but things will be getting, um, “interesting.” J

Paul Ahlstrom
Co-author of lean book “Nail It Then Scale It”, VC/angel and another gentle disruptor, Paul closed the Energize event with some great insights, including a few on how Utah’s is mapping their ecosystem.
#1. It never ends. 
#2. You’ve got to talk to the entrepreneurs; he mentioned over 140 interviews with Utah entrepreneurs, triangulated with multiple other mapping efforts, including help from the Kauffman Foundation ( Idaho, we could do that too.. interested?) 
#3. Need a critical mass of entrepreneurial and innovative human capital. 
#4. A major [emphasis on MAJOR] research university is necessary.
#5 The "ingredients” aren’t enough; you need to defrag the ecosystem. 
#6. Identify the right players to defrag (what I’m calling the “A team” who reflect the 3 C’s: Competent, Connected, Collegial. I’m guessing that Paul would underline collegial.) ***
To Paul: Thanks! To the rest of you: Go add Paul’s book to your reading list.

And... again thanks!
In Jim Collins’ terms, sometimes you can’t get the wrong people off the bus, you have to build a new bus. Thanks to Robert, Mike and the rest for letting me (Jessie Speck too) on thise bus! We can’t wait to see this new bus move forward!

p.s. We also see how important it is to have events managed brilliantly - so major props to Social Enterprises of Portland - Stephanie Stettler & Jennifer Worcester [if they tell me more names, I'll edit this!]

***) Nobody is entitled to be involved with driving the ‘defrag’. Even the wrong people do get to be on the bus, just not at the outset. Isn’t it smarter to start with the highly competent, highly connected and highly collegial?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Be Careful What You Ask For? Or… “Lean AND Green”!

Be Careful What You Ask For? Or… “Lean AND Green”!

I’m packing for a trip to Utah for Energize 2013, a cool new energy entrepreneurship conference put on by the Department of Energy-supported Energy Commercialization Center at the U of Utah. It is going to be a rouser, if only for all the people who needed to meet in this space… and now they will. 

I Love Learning!
Given a choice of speaking on growing ecosystems or getting to teach, it was no contest. And to once again help entrepreneurs to learn the lean startup model? And to get to turn them on to the latest tools and resources. OK. I’m in.  Here are my slides (don’t worry, I’ll keep it experiential!) 

[Don’t worry- the organizers expect me to share insights on ecosystems – check my prior blog entry and this ( for a preview. And Idaho's Jessie Speck will handle those duties quite nicely!]

Hmm... 2013 is shaping up to be a very “lean” year! ;) Though I’m hoping that lean doesn’t extend to my income any more than it already does. ;) 

January:  I got to hang out with Steve Blank himself. He gave me “that” look – when are YOU going to do Lean Launchpad in Idaho? You’re the only one who could… Gulp.

No More Amateur Night... Even for Lean!
Even more interesting was the discussion around all of lean’s success… what’s the downside? A fast-growing issue is that it is all too easy to claim expertise. Too many faculty just hand out a copy of Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and wing it. They really don’t get the entrepreneurial side of it; they certainly don’t get the design thinking part of things. (Even at top schools, how many professors actually grok design thinking? Damned few. How many truly grok deep experiential learning? Even fewer.) If lean is to continue, we have to ensure that those teaching it have the right stuff.  (By the way, check out Quipu Apps for a powerful online tool to support business model work. I am happy to show it off, if you like, Founder Michael Issa has a gem.)

April? Develop.Idaho! (Locals… you are going, yes?)

In May, it looks like I’m finally getting back to Cairo for Startup Weekend Giza… holy mackerel! My Finnish friends and I did a lean/biz model bootcamp during Global Entrepreneurship Week and it was remarkable how quickly they took to it. Some alumni of that class are now doing SW Giza. (I’m hoping to talk a little ecosystem again there too.)

Also in May is the CCSBE conference in Victoria, BC. I hope that I am again “forced” to fly in via Kenmore Air, the seaplane company where we’ll be talking ‘lean’ as part of the ICSB’s new initiative to help our colleagues do cutting-edge online training (

At the end of May, the European Council for Small Business launches “3EC” a major research conference on entrepreneurship education where my Danish colleague Franziska Günzel & I have maybe the first research paper on purposeful experimentation (a/k/a lean). This is turning out to be an insane research area; it’s so much fun surfing the leading edge of the wave!

Franziska & I will present another version of this paper – initially titled “Don’t TASE Me, BRO*” –at the International Council for Small Business annual conference this summer. (If any of you want to see updated versions of this work, ping me & I will send it along.)

In August, though, we have maybe THE ultimate lean workshop. Imagine some of THE leading lights of lean biz model work showing how it applies to social ventures and sustainability. The best minds in social entrepreneurship meet top facilitators in lean. If this doesn’t move the needle, I don’t know what will! [Check out my friends in this: ]

There’s more in 2013 for “lean” – NACCE, World Entrepreneurship Forum, etc. but this is enough to get me very, very excited.

p.s. I would also be very remiss if I did not point out that Isaac Newton was right. If I’m seeing farther, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants. And some of them are my colleagues and co-authors: Franziska & Jessie, Gabi Kaffka, Suresh Kumar, Ayman Tarabishy & Geoff Archer.. and wait till I tell you what Les Hayes iw roking on! PLEASE check the links for the others involved in these adventures: Every one is a rock star (some just don’t know it yet!)

Friday, April 05, 2013

Entrepreneurship Comes in Many Flavors

Entrepreneurship Comes in Many Flavors

Last weekend it struck me that great entrepreneurial thinking shows up in amazing places.  I was enjoying the newly re-opened hot springs up in Idaho City. Wyatt Sharpley has developed a wonderful place ("The Springs") to go relax under the stars. While there, I ran into Anne McDonald, one of the great talents at Boise's remarkable Red Light Variety Show. Not sure i can easily describe it: old-school burlesque [no nudity] meets 21st century comedy. Funny as hell. Anyway, I'd put the RLVS up against anybody, just as I'd put The Springs up against other hot springs in Idaho.

Cultural/arts entrepreneurship. Outdoors entrepreneurship. Aren't these two areas where Idaho should rock? Where any community could build distinctive competences?

Both are great stories of entrepreneurship done right. Yes, both are driven by artistic sensibilities that are what's salient on first impression. But too often, artists can't find ways to fully connect with the audience. "Here's what you should want." 

These two are exceptions. Two very different settings but in both... I felt almost like family. From Day One. To completely embrace your customers without compromising your artistic vision? We all can learn from entrepreneurs like these!

And, yes, there is considerable innovation and technology in both operations, whether handling insanely hot water or the insanely clever props for RLVS.

But if you must talk "tech" - there is still time to get tickets to develop.idaho (and Tech Cocktail). When develop.idaho debuted in 2011, people kept asking me why I had such a big grin. Why? Because this exactly the kind of event that shows up in a healthy ecosystem. 

The Idaho Software Alliance brought this together in a solidly bottom-up fashion. Matt Rissell and Martin Hambalek could have followed their own "artistic  sensibilities" in designing the program but (just as Wyatt & RLVS) they tapped into what the audience wanted. It's very easy to say "here's what you need. " You may even be correct. But to deliver that AND to deliver what the audience is hungry for (often without even being aware they crave it?) That is powerful. 

It is probably not surprising that Martin & Matt are fellow cult members, er, passionate aficionados of the lean startup model: Always test your assumptions about your customers!
[Next post will be on the power of lean]

[I must admit that I was amused by the Important Players who were not there in 2011. And, no, they weren't out of town. :) And at least one speaker lobbed a hand grenade that I appreciated. It's a sign that Idaho's economy grew up a bit.]

Someone yelled at me today that I need to get back to the classroom (they are correct, I miss it more every day) soooo.....
           Here's your homework!
1. go to and check out Wyatt's decadent geothermal spa. (Guys, if you're in the doghouse...hint, hint)
2. go to and take a look... don't tell them but I know more than a few solid Republicans who love it. It's not smutty**it's hilarious! []
and most of all
3. Sign up for develop.idaho (and the ensuing Tech Cocktail showcasing local brainiac entrepreneurs) April 17.
[ ]

You WILL thank me. 

(you can thank me either by buying me a drink at Tech Cocktail or... by reading some more of my blog posts right below this, like
     How to DEFRAG your Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
     The Copernican Revolution in Entrepreneurship
I'm still hungry for feedback!)

** ok, it's a bit racy but if this middle-aged, middle-class small-town straight white guy can dig it... :)