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Wall of Warriors

Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Posted by JumpStart Team

In order to see what kind of robustness we (we = Northeast Ohio) have in the warrior entrepreneur front, I am trying to build a shortlist of the top innovation-oriented entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio over the past 30 years. Here are my criteria for what constitutes a warrior entrepreneur. He or she needs to have:

  • Innovated from scratch through either finding a technology or a new way of doing business. There are many great business people who have grown companies, but I’m talking about that rare breed that finds or develops an innovation at the earliest stages, and
  • As CEO, grown this innovation into a company that employed a lot of people (say, 100+ people). Separately, I’m planning to compile a list of serial founders, which is different from this list -- it’s people who found a technology and then move on to their next technology and then move on to another one after that. But this list is about people who found a company and grow it to create many jobs, and
  • Achieved an exit (IPO, recap, or acquisition) that created significant wealth for investors, employees, and themselves. This does not mean that all investors and employees made a lot of money, since there are all kinds of factors that come into play here, but rather someone in addition to the entrepreneur founder has to have gotten rich enough to retire quite comfortably.
Here are some people who I think fit all three criteria and therefore are warrior entrepreneurs:
  • Monte Ahuja (Tran star Industries)
  • Ray Dalton (OneSource Services, National MD)
  • Tom Embrescia (Independent Group)
  • Michael Feuer (Office Max)
  • Bruce Harris (Conferon)
  • Jim Hummer (Whole Health)
  • AJ Hyland (Hyland Software)
  • Jack Kahl (Manco)
  • Mike Kennedy (LDI)
  • Peter B. Lewis (Progressive)
  • Steve Lindseth (Complient)
  • Sydell & Arnold Miller (Matrix Essentials)
  • Mal Mixon (Invacare)
  • Bill Sanford (Steris)
  • Charlie Stack (Flashline)
  • Gil Van Bokkelyn (Athersys), and
  • Tom Weisz (TMW Systems).
These are the “who” of entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio and as we build our entrepreneurial culture, they are well worth celebrating. Indeed, I’d like to dedicate a wall (similar to what existed at the old EDI here in town) in our building to having their names and companies on it (I know, a website is the new “wall”, but I also like the concept of having a physical wall). This wall could use a few more people, though, so please tell me whom I have missed (I am sure there are many). By the way, there are about 15 additional people who I originally had on this list but a close look at the criteria didn’t quite put them on the list; they’re extraordinary entrepreneurs, but don’t quite fit the criteria for this specific list because either they did not start the company from scratch, they sold the company and created wealth before it reached 100 employees, they have not yet exited, or their success was not within the past 30 years. In any case, I am curious as to who else in Northeast Ohio should be on this “warrior entrepreneurs” wall.  My goal is to have a wall of nearly 60 names within 10 years. Why? I don’t exactly know (this is a blog, not a whitepaper, ok people?) But, I suppose my calculation is this: with maybe 25 people on the list today (if you include a bunch of people I forgot), 50 equates to the addition of two to three warrior entrepreneurs per year that the pipeline is building. In Northeast Ohio over the past 10 years, an average of about four technology/innovative companies per year have reported exits, and maybe about half of those are significant wealth-creating exits. So, say two per year historically, which leads to 20 new on top of the 25 that are already there, if we remained in steady state with the past 10 years. Since the capital and innovation pipeline has shown itself to be building nicely over the past five years, then it makes sense that we should be able to increase the number of new warrior entrepreneurs with great exits over the next 10 years to, say, three per year, or 30 total. Twenty-five existing plus 30 new = 55, plus a little more stretch to reach round numbers = 60 (a very whitepaper-type calculation indeed…).  What specific new additions will be made to this wall over the next ten years? Well, we (Northeast Ohio) have a crop of potential warrior entrepreneurs in people like: They bring their own unique signature styles to what they do at their technology companies -- with some consumed by developing technologies that might change the world, others laser focused on the blocking-and-tackling of growing a small business, and others obsessed with fulfilling clear and compelling customer needs all day, every day. It is hard to tell who among these, and many more, will become the warrior entrepreneurs of 2019, but it is fun working with them as they grow their companies. So, with a pipeline building and a goal in mind, imagine the list being 60 true warrior entrepreneurs strong (and hundreds more extraordinary entrepreneurs, to boot) by 2019. Imagine the wall full of familiar and new names, all having achieved actual, real successes in growing companies and changing the world. (When I’m particularly ambitious, I even dream that it has some more immigrants, women, Hispanics, African Americans and the like, but, well, that’s a whole different topic, ain’t it?). Regardless, the companies these warriors grow do and will employ many among us, including our children and grandchildren. The companies they grow will be our shared future. This warrior-wall-in-my-mind belongs to all of us.    Next time:  I will write about a Phenomenal Founders wall that celebrates those people who founded a company that created wealth for employees and Northeast Ohioans, but for various reasons achieved great exits before they got to the 100 employee mark.   Note: Thanks to my colleague Lynn-Ann Gries for her very lengthy and well thought out list of warrior entrepreneurs. She knows entrepreneurship in this town like the back of her hand! Becca Braun is a past president of JumpStart Ventures. She founded and led a number of early-stage companies and organizations, as well as worked as a private equity investor and management consultant. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA in Linguistics from Harvard University. She is keenly interested in the intersection of wealth creation and broad-based regional economic growth.

Tags: Embrace Pet Insuranceentrepreneurexitjob creationJuventasKevin BernerLaura BennettLogos EnergyMark WoodkaNortheast OhioRahul ArasStaffKnexwealth creation

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