Sunday, February 21, 2010

Getting to do what you love - a risk worth taking.

Entrepreneurship is a game plagued with a lot of myths.

Those assumptions can often lead new entrepreneurs and untested small business people over a cliff and into failure.

Malcom Gladwell had a good article in the Jan. 18, 2010 New Yorker called "The Sure Thing. How entrepreneurs really succeed."

This is a good article that upends many assumptions about entrepreneurship . It's largely an analysis of the commercial behavior of high-roller entrepreneurs but there is much good for startups and new entrepreneurs to glean.

A standout among those assumptions is that successful entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Malcolm Gladwell's piece posits that most successful entrepreneurs are risk-avoiders.

Quoting from the economist Scott Shane's book, The Illusions of Entrepreneurship, "Yes, he says, many entrepreneurs take plenty of risks - but those are generally the failed entrepreneurs, not the success stories. The failures violate all kinds of established principles of new-business formation."

These would include how much money you have available to start, organizing as a corporation, business planning, types of startups and the always-popular, "Ninety percent of the fastest-growing companies in the country sell to other businesses; failed entrepreneurs usually try selling to consumers, and rather than serving customers that other businesses have missed, they chase the same people as their competitors do."

These are key areas to focus on when starting an enterprise of any kind. I think there are many ways in this economy for starting sustainable new ventures. You just need to align expectations with reality. That said, there has never been a better time to try your own business.

Here is perhaps the most telling 'vote-with-their-feet' story to emerge from Malcom Gladwell's article on entrepreneurs: "This is consistent with the one undisputed finding in all the research on entrepreneurship: people who work for themselves are far happier than the rest of us. Shane says that the average person would have to earn two and a half times as much to be happy working for someone else as he would be working for himself. "

Shane goes on to describe an experiment in which entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs were asked to choose among outcomes that would net them $5 million with a 25% chance of success or one that would net them $2 million with a 55% chance of success or a profit of $1.25 million with an eighty-per-cent chance of success. The entrepreneurs overwhelmingly chose the last, safest option.

"They were drawn to the eighty-per-cent chance of getting to do what they love doing."

Your enterprise needs to continuously create value and profit to be sustainable. If you do what you love, you can't help but create value. To put that love into action requires that you build your professional practice appropriately, which means planning that minimizes stupid risk so you get to keep doing what you love.

Sounds like a risk worth taking.

Malcolm Gladwell article abstract in the New Yorker. Subscription required for full article.

Photo is of a Cocoa bean, the basis of chocolate.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Growing businesses and creating opportunities in local foods

I believe economic development means helping create opportunities.

Inventor and Entrepreneur Clubs are a really fun way to discuss and learn about opportunities for starting and growing enterprises of all kinds.

We have ours in Iowa County typically on the fourth Monday evening of each month. People get together to discuss, ask questions, and share strategies about entrepreneurship and doing enterprise. It's really fun to see new and old friends interact and help one another with business and startup ideas.

Each month different speakers focus on specific topics. In next week's meeting we'll have Maria Davis from one of our great local foods group REAP, and Lois Federman from her wonderful program Something Special From Wisconsin. Mark will speak directly to growers interested in producing vegetables for the Highland processing and freezing plant. I'll get to cover the possibilities for food entrepreneurship and business expansion available through our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen. Looks like a landscape of great opportunities to me.

Here is our press release for our next Iowa County Entrepreneur Club meeting. You can download a PDF version at the end.

Iowa County Entrepreneur Club meeting to focus on growing businesses and creating jobs in local foods and regional food processing.

Dodgeville, WI –

Start or grow your own business around the growing possibilities of local foods and regional food processing!

Local foods and regional food enterprises are blooming everywhere. This is becoming a great way to start or grow businesses in Southwest Wisconsin.

Join us at our next Entrepreneur Club meeting Wed., Feb. 24 in Dodgeville, WI. This meeting will specifically focus on the strong possibilities for food and agricultural entrepreneurship in our region, with four featured speakers:

Maria Davis from the REAP Food Group (Research, Education,
Action, and Policy) will discuss 'Buy Fresh Buy Local Southwest
Wisconsin' and the demand for local foods.

Lois Federman from Something Special From Wisconsin will
discuss the possibilities for working with farmers markets,
produce auctions, and Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) programs.

Mark Olson from Renaissance Farm will discuss plans for the
Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) vegetable processing and
freezing facility planned for Highland. This section is meant to
give regional growers as much information as is available so
they can plan future farm activities with this facility in mind.

Rick Terrien from Iowa County Area Economic Development will
discuss business support available for area growers and farm-based
entrepreneurs. Rick will also discuss business startup and
expansion possibilities at the new community-access Wisconsin Innovation
Kitchen, a state-certified food processing facility available to growers and
food entrepreneurs, operated by the Hodan Center in Mineral Point.

Grow your own business around the growing possibilities of local foods and regional food processing!

Please join us for a great evening of information sharing at our next Iowa County Entrepreneur Club meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 24. There will be a social hour beginning at 5:30 and the meeting will begin at 6 PM. The location is at the Stonefield Apartments, 407 E. Madison St., Dodgeville WI. The event is free to the public. Bring a friend!

Download more information, agendas, location maps and much more at

Networking among attendees will be encouraged in the evening's program. "Our goal is to grow the network of entrepreneurs and those that support them in the Iowa County area" said Rick Terrien, Executive Director of ICAEDC.

The Iowa County Area Entrepreneurs Club is an informational forum where entrepreneurs, inventors, existing businesses, new businesses and people thinking about starting their own businesses can come together to encourage each other and share challenges and encouragement. The group meets on a monthly basis, usually the fourth Wednesday of the month. More information about the group is available on the ICAEDC website at or by emailing

Download a meeting flyer for this meeting focusing on growing vegetables for the proposed Highland processing and freezing facility: Meeting_Flyer_2_24_10.pdf


If you're in the area please stop by!

Iowa County. Come grow with us.

Iowa County (WI) Area Entrepreneurs Club

REAP Food Group. Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group is building a regional food system that is healthful, just, and both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Something Special From Wisconsin. I believe Iowa County Economic Development is the first County EDC member in Wisconsin. I love this program.

Mark's Renaissance Farm. Who knew cinnamon rolls could become an addiction?

Download this media release in PDF format

Information about growing vegetables for the proposed Highland processing and freezing facility.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Creating opportunities

I got to meet up with statewide friends this week at the Wisconsin Economic Development Association meeting.

Many compelling discussions with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Great to see the grow-your-own enterprises theme continuing to emerge.

My take-away from the event came from a longtime economic developer who had led a previous life as a serial entrepreneur. We were talking about how economic development organizations were measured.

His strongest point was that economic developers don't create jobs. Business people create jobs.

He's right of course. So what is it that economic developers can do well?

My notion of what economic developers CAN do is create opportunities. More on this at the end.

The Driftless Foods vegetable processing and freezing facility continues to emerge. The group held its first grower information meeting this week. The idea was to tell people what the process looked like right now for growing vegetables for the new plant in the future. There is a link at the end to this article.

Editor Jim Massey of The Country Today Magazine did a great interview with Mark this week about his vision for Driftless Foods.

I thought this piece was especially good because Mark is highlighting that this is a market-based response to demand he himself is experiencing. As a proven entrepreneur and as a creative food innovator Mark is telling us what he and his peer-innovators need.

"Seven words on Olson's Renaissance Farm office wall explain some of the thinking behind the project.

'I Benefit, You Benefit, We All Benefit,' the phrase reads.

'If I (as a small producer) need something, [editor: processing to scale] then my peers need it as well,' he said. 'I have a friend who makes pasta. He and I do the same thing - we're out there driving around marketing our products. The idea is if you can get a group of people to work together then you could get economy of scale relatively quicker."

Yep. What Mark said.

I got to talk about our design a bit, but focused on the need to take action steps; "This is built to be replicated over and over," he said. "Everybody is saying, 'What if,' or, 'We should study this a little further,' " Terrien said. "We're saying let's not just talk about it, let's try it out. Let's put one foot in front of another and get something done."

Terrien said the idea is to build a 'hub-and-spoke system' with the freezer facility being the hub."

My favorite quote from Jim Massey's piece comes from Stan Gruszynski, State Director of USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin. Stan has watched our project grow and has been very generous with his counsel as well as the invitation last week to make a USDA presentation in Chippewa Falls (previous post)

Here is Stan, from the article: "I think rural Wisconsin is just on the cusp of getting into this sort of thing. Hospitals, for example, want to buy commodities, poultry and meat from the local community, but they need a consistent supply. Things like this could happen with agencies like ours providing some of the resources in the local community. I think it can be done."

Thanks very much to Jim Massey and The Country Today for this and for the very nice piece recently about our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

So, back to the grower information meetings we held last week for people interested in growing vegetables for the new processing plant.

Barry Adams from the Wisconsin State Journal did a nice piece about the meeting. He covered the topic nicely and also caught me red handed with my 'opportunities' agenda…

"'We're trying to make opportunities,' said Rick Terrien, executive director of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp.

Tom Novak, a dairy farmer from Highland, said he came to Wednesday's meeting out of curiosity.

'I'm looking for opportunities,' Novak said.

Jeremy Litchfield, 35, of Dodgeville grows a variety of vegetables that he sells to Sam & Maddies, where he is a cook, but would like to more than double the size of his acreage, which is now a three-quarter-acre plot of land. He says the proposed plant would be beneficial for growers.

'It's a way to keep their farms growing,' Litchfield said."

Rural economies are rich in entrepreneurs - every farmer is an entrepreneur. They want to grow. They want to innovate. Just as with Mark's quote above referring to the need for processing capacity, these entrepreneurs need opportunities and infrastructure to nurture their innovations and grow their businesses and to create jobs and invigorate their rural communities.

Economic developers can't make jobs, but they can make opportunities.

Sounds like a plan.

Country Today story about Driftless Foods by Jim Massey.

Wisconsin State Journal article about the first Driftless Foods grower information meeting by Barry Adams.

Wisconsin Economic Development Assn. (WEDA)

Recent article in The Country Today about the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen by Jim Massey.

Mark's Renaissance Farm

Friday, February 05, 2010

Real progress

USDA Rural Development

I greatly appreciated the invitation to give a presentation at a Wisconsin USDA Rural Development jobs forum last week in Chippewa Falls.

Wisconsin state Director Stan Gruszynski invited me to discuss our Iowa County initiative for doing rural economic development and making jobs.

I couldn't speak directly for Mark and the Driftless Development group (see below) of course. However the presentation centered on the design Mark and I have been working on this past year. (Now thrown into hyper-drive by the coolest bunch of scary-smart advocate/adventurers I've ever worked with.)

The gathering was called 'Forum for the Future… Pathways to Wisconsin Job Creation", and was held at Chippewa Valley Technical College. I'll link a couple of articles below.

Speaking only for myself, I told them having meetings about making jobs in rural economies was fine, but we needed action steps more than anything else. It was my position that we should start running market-based experiments that have a real chance of making jobs, especially in rural economies.

I said there will be mistakes and zigs and zags. I told them that's the REAL value of the experiment. What gets learned. What works. What (importantly!) doesn't work. After we finish prototyping this in Iowa County and the region, teams will be trained and in place to effectively ramp this up to make jobs and do economic development from the ground up in lots of widespread places.

The speaker before me, Scott Schultz, Executive Director of Wisconsin Farmer's Union, really set up the subject well. He talked about how strategic plans for making jobs and growing rural economies had been written and then executed poorly over the last decades, with clear losses across wide swaths of rural economic development. He called for trying new experiments that served all parts of ag, especially the 'ag in the middle' piece our project is designed for.

I really enjoyed this USDA Rural Development forum and am very grateful for the invitation.

Movement on the first vegetable processing and freezing hub in Highland.

Lawyers and money are on the move. Reminds me of Warren Zevon's wonderful title 'Send lawyers, guns and money', with vegetables instead of guns. My goodness, this feels refreshing after all the time laying groundwork and building the network.

Spring is in the air.

Granted, it takes a certain kind of wiring to be able to say that in Wisconsin in early February. That's why I so much appreciate the chance to work with Mark and the entire scary-smart leadership team contributing to this adventure.

New Hollandale Library open for business.

The good folks of Hollandale, in the beautiful Southeast part of Iowa County, opened their first library this week (pictured above). What a thing of wonder and beauty. Many congratulations to Hollandale and thank you very much for the chance to share your economic development ideas this week.

Creating experiments in job creation for rural economies.
Movement on our regional food processing model.
Best of all perhaps, a new library.

That's real progress.

Chippewa Valley Newspaper article, by Mark Gunderman

Chippewa Valley Community College Spotlight

Mark's Renaissance Farm

Wisconsin Farmer's Union

Chippewa Valley Tech College

Beautiful Hollandale, WI Iowa County, WI. Come grow with us.