I just received the pictures from the recent Broward and Beyond Business Conference. I was invited to be a panelist at the day conference at the Signature Grand in Davie, along with 3 other colleagues from the great support organizations that help entrepreneurs in Broward County. The conference is organized by the Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development. It was a great day. Our session, within the Startup Track of the conference, was packed by people who came to hear us give advice and guidance on resources they could use to launch their own businesses. There were a number of familiar faces in the audience. It is a humbling experience when people seek you for this type of advice. I take it very seriously to point them in the right direction, and in this one opportunity, to be able to recruit them into our Startup NOW accelerator. I met wonderful people full of optimism and energy with great ideas. Luckily for me, there were at least 4 previous or current participants of our accelerator present at the conference, so I was able to connect the interested parties with them and ask our alumni to give their testimonials on our program. The program’s latest cohort started 2 weeks ago and we are on our way to shepherding the participants through a life changing experience in which they will learn the way to validate their business ideas and build top notch business plans and investor pitches around them. I label this life changing, because this knowledge will stay with them to apply in more ways than one for as long as they live.

Last month we also finished shepherding the first group of degree-seeking Broward College students from various disciplines through the Student Idea Accelerator. By the end of ten weeks these students were able to get initial validation of prototypes for their ideas. This is a much shorter program, but it is geared above everything else towards changing the way students think about ideas by instilling in them what we call the entrepreneurial mindset. We are starting a college wide effort to disseminate this critical thinking skill and validation protocol among the staff, faculty and students, because at Broward College, ideas matter.

The students that finished this program in May continue to be involved with the Innovation Hub, as they have built – many for the first time – the support community of fellow entrepreneurs that we all need to achieve our value creation dreams. One of them reached out to me, and even though she will be moving out of town to pursue her junior and senior college years, she still wants to learn more and advance in her entrepreneurial path. She has become a blogger, and has learned how to use Instagram successfully to drive traffic to her blog. She wants advice on what to do next. We will schedule a meeting for later this week at the Hub, to look at her progress and suggest a plan of action.

This afternoon after a meeting in the Central Library, another student who I had met two years ago for the first time during our hackathon, was waiting to meet me outside. He graduated with an associate’s degree and is now pursuing an engineering degree at a local university. He showed me pictures and samples of some 3D printed products he has been able to produce and sell, mainly to friends through word of mouth. He is looking for advice on how to scale his business and admitted to me that marketing and business in general are not his strong areas. We are scheduling a call for tomorrow, and I already know some other students which could potentially help him.

A third student dropped by my office last week. He had missed school time because of an accident and subsequent surgeries that left him confined to bed for long periods of time. He wisely invested a lot of these downtime hours searching online, watching videos and reading about ecommerce strategies. In the last few months he has been able to launch 3 drop shipping sites successfully, with validated sales. He has come across supplier issues, but has learned the ropes. His enthusiasm and awe at the validated possibilities that technology and his focus have placed in his hands are inspiring. Not bad for a 22 year old. We spent time strategizing about how to find the right niche to really exploit his newly acquired skills and take his dreams to the next level.

These entrepreneurs, including the students and the participants in the Broward and Beyond Conference, are looking for something. They may think they are looking for advice, and in ways they most surely are. Perhaps the younger ones need it most, as good advice is the result of wisdom accumulated through years of experience, which they lack. Still, even if the person giving advice has a long track record, he or she better have kept current on new trends, technologies and models of conducting business to be able to make sense of the potential our fast-moving world provides. Perhaps they are unaware they are also looking for community, support and contact with like-minded people.

Advice? – yes, we can give. Community? – yes, we can provide. Answers? – you must find them yourself. As I was telling the Startup NOW boot camp participants last Wednesday, the market holds the answers. It will not tell you directly, but will leave a trail of breadcrumbs for you to follow. You have to prod it.  Depending on how it reacts you have to change tools and poke it again. It is the genie which holds all the solutions. It will not come out easily from the bottle for you, and if it does, it will change form constantly. It is alive, and has collective intelligence – available for you to tap. It has eluded a lot of people for lengths of time, and puzzled even the most successful at times, with unexpected reactions. And that is the reason we don’t have answers if you are plainly looking for them. The most we can do, and what we are actually pretty good at, is teaching you the questions you need to ask.

Our View from the Top – June 5, 2018