John Myers: A letter to startups

Dear entrepreneur,

 

Entrepreneurial support in Northeast Ohio has come a long way since I first got involved with the Akron Regional CHange Angel in 2005. Back then, the term entrepreneur, and all its variations, was just beginning to be used to describe startup companies and their drivers, long before reaching the nauseating overuse of the word we experience today. Since then, we have seen the support and funding networks for startups grow exponentially, which is mostly for the good.

The $2.1 billion Ohio Third Frontier program, with all its subsets, has actually provided the platform for much of what you might take for granted today. There are so many support organizations out there spawned from this program, such as JumpStart Inc., BioEnterprise, the Small Business Association, Small Business Development Center, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, Edison Technology Incubators, Council of Smaller Enterprises, Akron SCORE, and local and regional chambers of commerce. And while they’re all here to help, the chorus of advice coming from them can be overwhelming.

It’s hard for you, as the risk taker, to not become overwhelmed by all these options. I’ve heard it thousands of times from startup entrepreneurs: There’s so much advice coming at them, much of it conflicting, some of it good, some of it way off base. As someone involved in startups, I’m here to tell you we all mean well. We sincerely want you to be successful, and to create jobs and wealth in Northeast Ohio.

But sometimes, as advisers, counselors and mentors, we don’t recognize the confusion and information overload we’re causing you. How can you possibly sort thru all of it, find and apply the best and most relevant information to help you find funding, get traction and grow your business?

After doing this for nine years and talking to thousands of businesses in many industries, from high-tech to low-tech to no tech, by advice boils down to this: Use your gut.

Yep, it’s hard. But then it’s been hard since you started. It was hard when you told your parents or significant other that you were forgoing a traditional job to start your own business. It was hard when you fired your best friend. It was hard when you pulled three all-nighters in a row. It was hard to take that leap of faith and start your own business, and harder still to stick with it until it became successful.

Deciding who to listen to is hard, especially when someone tells you that following their advice is the only way to get their support or money.

But you know that’s not the right way to go. You have tested the beta, gone out and talked to potential customers, gotten feedback from the market and pivoted. Your team is behind you, they believe in you, and are dependent on you making the right decision. This is when you have to suffer through the anxiety, when you have to reach down inside and make that potentially game-ending decision and go with your only true best friend, your gut.

It really does come down to the old axioms: If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. But if it does feel right, just do it. Hey, that last one worked for Phil Knight. It will work for you.

Sincerely,

John Myers

 

John Myers works with the University of Akron Research Foundation as executive-in-residence and president of the Akron Innovation Campus, and is a founding member of the Akron ARCHAngels Investment Network. John serves on the review committee for the LCCC Innovation Fund, co-chairs the Supplier Diversity Committee at UA, and founded and mentors the Northeast Ohio Student Venture Fund. He provides entrepreneur support for the Greater Akron Chamber and serves on the Board of Advisors for Athena/Powerlink – Akron. Reach him at (330) 972-2144 or [email protected].

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