Business

Tom Martin Q&A: Week of activities will celebrate Lexington's up-and-coming entrepreneurs

Warren Nash
is director of the Lexington office of the Kentucky Innovation Network.
Warren Nash is director of the Lexington office of the Kentucky Innovation Network.

A series of events focusing on innovation and entrepreneurial inspiration begins Nov. 17 during the fourth annual Lexington Global Entrepreneurship Week.

It's part of a worldwide event that's about bringing ideas to life, launching startup companies, creating jobs, and driving economic growth. The event traces back to 2007 and the formation of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership between the city, UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics and Commerce Lexington.

In his role as director of the Lexington office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, Warren Nash is one of those overseeing the event.

Tom Martin: Readers can get all the details on Global Entrepreneurship Week by going online to GEW.co. We can look at what's happening across the U.S. by visiting GEWUSA.org. Tell us what's in store for Lexington.

Warren Nash: The global event is something that's been going on now for many years throughout the world. There are many, many countries that are participating. Lexington became a part of that event back in 2011 when we kicked off our first Global Entrepreneurship Week, and it's grown since that time. It's a great time to feature entrepreneurs, show the positive things that are happening within your community and it also gives a time for those entrepreneurs to come together to learn from each other. For this particular year we have eleven activities lined up.

Martin: What happens beginning on Monday the 17th?

Nash: We kick off on Monday by announcing new companies that have relocated to Lexington. We hope to have between three to five. These are companies that have received federal and state Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) funding. We also hope to have the opportunity to announce some recent recipients of the Bluegrass Angel Launch Grant Fund. That's a fund that's been formed between the city, Commerce Lexington, and the Cabinet for Economic Development to provide small grants to startup companies to take their idea further down the road into commercialization.

That afternoon, we'll have a workshop on legal and accounting issues for startups — some of the things they need to consider when starting a company. Most of these events take place at Commerce Lexington's first floor conference room.

The next day (Tuesday) we have a Bankers' Breakfast, which is going to be an invite-only opportunity for bankers and finance institutions from across the region that are going to meet with SBIR/STTR companies to talk about common issues related to funding and financing startup companies.

That evening is a fun event, "Geek's Night Out," which is open to all entrepreneurs in the community. That will be held at Natasha's. The Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship will be our featured sponsor. It's a great time to come together to have a beer, have a bourbon and sit down and discuss ideas and get to know each other.

Then, on Wednesday we have a panel discussion about the Kentucky angel tax credit program and other small business tax programs offered by the Cabinet for Economic Development. That's going to be open to entrepreneurs in the community and to investors. And we're also opening that event to attorneys and CPAs that support the investors in these startup companies.

The big event that evening is our Lexington Venture Club Celebration where we give out "e-Achiever Awards" to our top 20 companies that have either raised a million dollars or more in funding and/or they have created five or more full-time/part-time jobs. We honor companies that have reached that milestone in the past year. Our featured speaker will be on Thursday. The Lexington Venture Club will be sponsoring Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty . He'll be speaking that afternoon at 3:30 at the Lyric Theatre. The topic will be How To Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice.

On Friday we have an Open Coffee with Julie Wilson, publisher of Story Magazine, talking about starting the magazine, the challenges, particularly for a female entrepreneur. And that's at La Petite Creperie at 9:00 a.m.

We wrap up the afternoon with our annual "Standup for your Startup" pitch competition. We will give a thousand-dollar first prize to the winning team. Last year we had twelve startup companies compete with their ideas. They make five-minute pitches and are judged based upon the quality of their pitches and where they are with the development of their idea. That award is given in honor of Dick Furst, the former dean of the UK College of Business.

The weekend ends with "Startup Weekend." People come together that Friday with their ideas. Some of those are selected to discuss how to take those ideas into the marketplace with a pitch competition that Sunday. So, it's a full gamut of opportunities for entrepreneurs. And the entire week is free. There is a place to register through Eventbrite. That just helps us get the numbers together, but there's really no charge for any of these events.

Martin: It seems that an event like this would be attractive to people who are full of aspiration and vision. Does that create a certain kind of energy? How would you describe it?

Nash: It's amazing the amount of energy because people who would never cross paths get to know each other. They come to an event, they sit down next to someone, they start talking about their idea and all of a sudden they have a collaborator. Entrepreneurs love being there for each other in assisting and helping each other through the endeavor, so the energy level at the end of this week is remarkable. It's a catalyst; it gives energy to go into the next year with these ideas and new creative opportunities.

Martin: Does the venture capital that we see around Lexington tend to concentrate in any particular area or is it fairly diverse?

Nash: It's very diverse. We have our very strong Blue Grass Angels organization. They have invested in life science. They have invested in software development platforms. They've invested in our ever-growing independent game development community. They've invested in e-commerce. So it really is across the board.

Martin: There's a growing feeling among many investors that Silicon Valley has been avoiding some of the world's pressing problems — sentiment captured by the Founders Fund motto: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got a hundred and forty characters." Is there a sobering going on in terms of what really will fly with venture capital funds?

Nash: I think the east and west coast have taken risks that will not be taken in our region. I do believe people are digging harder into companies. Now, they're looking for, you know, where are they with that development? Do they have a working beta of that product? And, do they have a little revenue based upon that beta? So it's still risk, but the risk has been reduced somewhat. I think they're coming in a little bit later-stage, looking for revenue, where before there might have been pre-revenue funding.

Martin: To be taken seriously, the budding entrepreneur who wants to step up in front of the Bluegrass Angels, let's say.

Nash: Yes.

Martin: What do they need?

Nash: They need to have more than just an idea. I think that they need to really have taken the time to do customer validation. Maybe they are solving a problem. Is someone willing to pay for that? So, the entrepreneur has to come in showing that they have spent time not only developing the idea, the technology, but also talking to the market and knowing their market and how they're going to go after that market. They obviously need to spend some time on customer acquisition, what is it going to cost to acquire that customer and know their numbers. The most important thing is to be coachable, because when you come in to raise money, it's not someone just writing you a check. What you're hoping to do is receive someone that brings their expertise, their Rolodex, their contacts, the avenues to strategic partners to get you to the market. You'll look for those as well as the check. But being amenable to listening to the investor, to their input. You may not always take it, but at least be coachable.

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