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Continued: Schafer: Start-ups need money, not expensive advice

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 26, 2014 - 3:45 PM

“I’m not trying to be an elitist, but if any initiative is run by people who are not active entrepreneurs or active investors, it will have a success rate hovering around zero,” he added. “Nobody would stand around silent if a group of well-intentioned people with no medical experience set up a clinic and started dispensing medical advice to people in need.”

That’s one thing other entrepreneurs talk about, that the perceived problem of insufficient entrepreneurial activity sure seems to attract a lot of consultants, attorneys and economic developers.

So it’s not entirely surprising that Pam York has received something less than a warm reception as she started introducing herself around the Twin Cities in her new role.

AccelerateMSP was first talked about in late 2012 as a source of early-stage capital, for up to 10 deals per year, but the group has long since thrown overboard that plan of making direct investments.

York explained that the idea was abandoned after it became clear that many people expected a nonprofit to simply squander its money on bad investments. That’s even if the deals were properly vetted and weren’t the pet projects of elected officials.

As for her mission today, she said, it’s “to stimulate a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem here.”

“If we were to be successful at that,” York said, “what would we see in the environment? There are three things I like to describe. One of them is we’d actually have the experience of there being an entrepreneurial mind-set here that permeates the community,” along with providing the know-how to start a company and forging connections between groups with more or less the same mission.

Taking taxpayer and foundation money to help her foster an “entrepreneurial mind-set” isn’t a message that will play that well with entrepreneurs, but York made far more sense when she left the clouds and got down to providing concrete examples. If the organization evolves as she hopes, it could certainly help early-stage companies.

She envisions finding the right expertise for founders of companies, but unlike a roomful of self-selected experts, she said, the most effective adviser to an entrepreneur is another entrepreneur.

Building a company takes a unique set of skills, best acquired — if not only acquired — by having done it. Being able to then teach and advise, she said, is a second “unique skill.”

York attributed the rocky acceptance of AccelerateMSP so far to a phenomenon she called “burn-off.” When frustrations have festered for a while, and someone new comes along with another proposed solution, the first thing that has to happen is for some of that frustration to burn off.

Maybe that’s happened already, she said, as she’s had constructive recent discussions with potential funding sources for AccelerateMSP.

“You know,” York said, “we are pragmatic people. If there is no appetite for this kind of thing here, we’re just going to shut it down.”

lee.schafer@startribune.com • 612-673-4302

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