Ernest Grumbles III

Ernest Grumbles III is an IP (intellectual property) and business development attorney at the Minneapolis firm Adams Monahan, where he works with entrepreneurs and early stage, tech-oriented enterprise. He is also Co-Founder of MOJO Minnesota, a collective supporting entrepreneurs and promoting innovation policy and community in Minnesota. He enjoys fresh air and lots of caffeine and is constantly trying new things (instead of sleeping). He may be reached at: egrumbles@adamsmonahan.com.

Is Government the Enemy of Business...? No.

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III under Society, Politics Updated: April 1, 2011 - 7:48 AM
In a previous post, I shared some thoughts on why entrepreneurship is a social justice issue – namely that innovation and commerce are fundamentally human activities. You can’t separate people and business.  And the business of the people is what generates amazing opportunities for growth, creativity and improvement in quality of life. In short, “business” is not the enemy of the people, but a vital activity of the people and society at large. Individual businesses that get this tend to have amazing success. 
 
I wanted to flip this around and deal with another false supposition – that government (of the people) is somehow an enemy of business. There is talk (and action) in a number of states to strip government of its economic development role based on the notion that government can do nothing to promote the economy, only shackle it. But government is not the enemy of business and the economy – anymore than it’s the enemy of the people. 
 
Government is Us
 
Let’s start with a different way to think about government. Government is not a “them.” Neither is “business” a “them.” Rather, both are “us.” We have the privilege and good fortune to live in a democracy – meaning, the government is picked by us. And that’s true at every level from city council all the way up to the President. The government is us, which, in 1776, was a radical notion. For better or worse (I think better), we don’t get to point to government as something imposed on us from above, but rather something raised up from the people. If you’re looking at government (or business), you’re looking in the mirror. And that includes everyone, even people you don’t agree with.
 
Civil Order is Essential to Society and Business
 
What about the notion that government is simply unnecessary? Let’s rewind for a minute. Imagine a scene on the landscape a million years ago. After a successful outing bagging an oversized mammal, two good folks got into a tussle over dividing it. Next thing, one is about to club the other into submission and it’s an all-out melee. Up walks the biggest/strongest member of the group, realizing chaos is about to ensue, and demands that the fighting stop (under penalty of more pain). The two fighters scratch their heads and figure out a better solution. Thus was born the rather common sense solution that an impartial figure could mediate conflicts and prevent them from happening in the first place – government. 
 
While we would be better off individually (for a short time) if we could do exactly what we wanted whenever we wanted, we would all collectively be worse off. Would you extend that privilege to all of your neighbors? People in other cities and towns? The answer is no, of course. Take pollution laws. Do you really think people should be able to dump garbage in city parks? Or dump harmful materials in lakes and streams without meaningful controls? While some people and businesses could save money by dumping, we would all be worse off, especially future generations. 
 
Government then acts to balance various private interests for the aggregate common good – a tricky feat no doubt. But a worthy endeavor. We, as the people, have the right to establish minimum standards of conduct that we all have to live by – whether as citizens or as the businesses those citizens create. Maintaining civil order and accountability to these minimum standards is what enables commerce to occur in a peaceable fashion – a level playing field for new business creation and innovation. Speaking of playing fields, wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of referees and out of bounds in football? How about annoying rules against personal fouls? Clipping anyone? Exactly. The game would turn to chaos, and people would abandon it - like businesses do with commercial markets that lack order, regulation and consistency.
 
So government is – the people, giving voice to the people in all their variety – and it acts to prevent chaos and “ensure domestic tranquility.” Businesses rise and fall, but government must persist through it all. There are simply too many common problems in civil society that private business is unable or unwilling to address. 
 
Does the foregoing mean that government is always run smoothly, efficiently and honestly? No, clearly not. It’s a human institution. There are many ways government can be run better to achieve public good at lower cost. Are all private businesses run smoothly, efficiently and honestly? Of course not. But we hope most are. Government is not the enemy. And neither is business. Rather, poorly run government and business are the problem.
 
Government’s Essential Role in Economic Development
 
So let’s re-focus on government’s role in economic development. While government’s role as civil referee is critical to a stable economy, we can and should expect our government to be more than reactive on issues of economic development. Government can, and must, afford to take a longer range view than business. In close collaboration with the private sector, government can move on public policies and public-private initiatives that open new markets, support entrepreneurs, maintain a steady supply of educated, enterprising folks, preserve infrastructure and maintain that level playing field to let business – another vital human institution – thrive.
 
Will government be the primary player in economic development? No. It needs to come organically from citizens driving their dreams, creating new products and service, and generating opportunities for new jobs and new business development. On the converse, will business be the primary protector of public good? No. While businesses need to have a strong sense of community engagement and community values, and act on such sense, they need to drive for market success and compete in a way fundamentally different than government. We need both, working together in an open, honest, creative and non-adversarial way to keep forward progress.
 
So to the folks around the country pushing to out-source, privatize, and/or shutter government programs around economic development, I would first ask what steps they have taken to engage with government to evaluate, discuss and improve existing programs. Have they sat down with their fellow citizens in government to work on creative solutions? Have they considered the increased cost to their communities of shutting down existing government programs and creating brand new private ones (that will need foundation funding)? It may very well be that certain government programs are ineffectual and need to cease. But going into this analysis with the false belief that government can only hinder commerce pre-ordains the conclusion. 
 

Business and government, time to friendly up and have honest discussions about the critical role that each plays in our common peace and prosperity and how to achieve outcomes efficiently and collaboratively. 

2010: A Minnesota Startup/Innovation Highlights Reel

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III under Society Updated: December 31, 2010 - 1:10 PM
2010 was an amazing year for startup action and activism in Minnesota. The community is coming together in recognition that the innovation economy can’t be grown through luck or grand schemes – but from real digging in the Minnesota soil. This means a macro/micro focus – improving the overall ecosystem for new technology and business launch and engaging directly with startups. 
 
Here are just a few 2010 highlights (in no particular order) that are keeping Minnesota on the front burner:
 
(a)    Tax Credits - Angel Investor/R&D
 
The 10-year wait is over – Minnesota got an angel tax credit. And none too soon. With our friendly neighbors friendlying up to our local tech community with siren songs of support and subsidies, the Gov and Legislature hunkered down and got us not just a robust angel tax credit - but a generously expanded R&D tax credit (10% of the first $2 million in R&D expenses over base expense).  And the R&D tax credit is fully refundable, which is great benefit for early-stage companies.
 
(b)   MN Science & Technology Authority (STA)
 
Another bipartisan gift from the Governor and Legislature. The STA, overseen by the Commissioners of DEED, Revenue, Management & Budget, Commerce and Agriculture, supported by a blue-ribbon Advisory Commission of business and tech leaders and headed by Executive Director Betsy Lulfs, is developing a lead role in state-level technology and innovation policy. On the drawing board – a possible state-level venture program, startup mentoring and other programs. Keep an eye on the STA and support ED Betsy Lulfs’ budget ask at the Legislature this winter/spring. The STA will be an energetic force to push Minnesota tech and emerging business leadership.
 
(c)    Project Skyway
 
Project Skyway, a community-powered startup accelerator, came out of the box this past fall and is roaring toward an April initial application process. Founder Cem Erdem (the CEO/founder of Augusoft), is bent on launching startups with lasting power – and he’s putting his own hard-fought green behind it. Rock on, Cem. Other incubators and accelerators are coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned.
 
 
The worldwide startup lost weekend came to the Twin Cities this past September and filled CoCo MSP with 100+ brainstorming/non-sleeping folks. The crowd, big as typical Manhattan events, energized national leadership so much that they included the Twin Cities in the Global Startup Battle just a few months later. Keep an eye out for SUW winners Qonqr, Dueling Dates, Rock Your Block, What I Want for Christmas, Heavy Analytics, Sign Universal and others for success in 2011.
 
(e)    Startup Media
 
Minnesota is now blessed with four media sources with a significant focus on startup technology and business development – Tech.MN, MedCityNews and The Line, joining longtime web tech stalwart Minnov8 as well as other business media sources (StarTribune; Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; Minnesota Business; Twin Cities Business). In other words, the startup scene matters, and not just because new technology is fun to learn about. Startups are where the new jobs are going to come from and if we don’t have information about them, we can hardly support them. So, hats off to these newer media sources.  Business journalism is alive and well in Minnesota.
 
(f)     The OTC Opens The Cupboard
 
Schrankler, Johnson, Straate and Porter – the four horsemen of U tech transfer – cranked up the fire. In the 2008/2009 time period, the Office of Technology Commercialization (Venture Center) spun out just 5 startups. But the vault unlocked in last 12 months. In 2010 alone, the U spun out 8 startups and has several more in the pipeline. With on-campus startup training for professors, the U is working to aggressively push new tech out into the community. 
 
(g)    Co-Working
 
The coastal trend hit the Land of Lakes. We now have co-working and collaborative workspaces in both Minneapolis and St. Paul and developing sites in neighboring suburbs. I’ve personally spent time at both CoCo MSP and Third Place and greatly enjoy the camaraderie and open work atmosphere. In the new economic world where cost efficiency and collaboration matter more than ever, these places are leading the charge.   
 
(h)    Community Action
 
What is the gift of place? What are the unique things a place contributes, whether to arts, science, business or dialogue? I say one of the most important things Minnesota contributes is a sense of community purpose – from the ground up. Lots of places talk community-building – Minnesota lives it. Maybe it’s frontier common sense, from living in a place that required joint action for joint survival. Maybe it’s the community-oriented values of immigrant communities of past and present. Whatever the cause, a community focus allows for community action. This has led to Minnesota’s high work ethic and high quality of life. We expect our schools and communities to succeed because we are in there making it happen.
 
This community focus helps the startup community as well. There are now lots of opportunities – groups, places, events - for startups to connect with fellow entrepreneurs as well as investors, supporters and policymakers. An incomplete list includes: Minnesota Cup, MinneBar/Demo, MOJO Minnesota (my org.), MHTA, BioBusiness Alliance/LifeScience Alley, The Collaborative, BizLounge, JJ Hill, Holmes Center, Club Entrepreneur, Mobile Twin Cities, Social Media Breakfast, TiE, Bootstrappers’ Breakfast, RainSource Capital and others. Each of these provides its own special gift to the startup community and works for common purpose.
 
Bottom Line 2010: Minnesota has been a great place to build new technologies and new enterprise, and with momentum like 2010, we’re going to keep up the tradition.

Do You Know Any Entrepreneurs? 5 Questions for the Elected (Newly and Otherwise

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III under Society Updated: November 17, 2010 - 6:06 AM

The public sector has a critical role in helping to promote tech innovation and entrepreneurship.  If communities (and their elected leaders) want high-value job growth, then help the startup companies that grow those jobs.   With transitions afoot at the state and federal levels, here are a few questions for the newly-elected as well as those continuing in elected office.  We need answers!

(a) Do you know any entrepreneurs?  These are the folks creating the high-growth jobs.  Do you know any?  Not just the wildly-successful who are established players.  But the college kids growing green tech out of the U.  Or the design engineers leaving day jobs to build medical devices.  You'll need their support when they're wildly successful.  They need your help now.

(b) How many startups are in your district?  They're out there.  And they're going to put your district or region on the map - if you give them a chance.  If you can't answer this question, let's talk.

(c) How does your job affect new business development?  Yes, contrary to popular opinion, government has a vital role in supporting new enterprise.  While if managed poorly, government can be a barrier, that's true of many community assets, people, organizations that could be otherwise optimized to help tech growth.  Think about this everyday - how is what I'm doing helping building tech innovation and job growth?

(d) Name three features of a strong innovation economy.  These are the signposts - what to look for and what to create (if you're having to look too hard).  Here are a few: (1) good access to early-stage risk capital; (2) world-class research facilities; (3) a culture that understands risk and can manage it with zeal; (4) successful entrepreneurs giving back; (5) a willingness to market the amazing things already there.  Keep adding to this list.  It's just a start.

(e) What will you do to drive innovation and job growth in Minnesota?  These are the specific things you will do - whether reaching out to startups to hear their needs, supporting tech- and innovation-friendly bills and/or administrative policies or putting the spotlight on the amazing companies in your district already off the launchpad.

 

MN Radical CEO #3 - Sona Mehring (CaringBridge.org)

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III under Society Updated: October 27, 2010 - 10:19 PM

 If you have to ask who Sona Mehring is, you’re missing the big story. Mehring is a leading tech entrepreneur in Minnesota and certainly among the great women tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. Armed with a computer science degree from U.W.-Eau Claire, she has led the creation of a number of Minnesota tech service and consulting companies, with software related to online ordering systems and fantasy sports leagues, among other things. Her vision early in the days of the internet was to how to use this new powerful technology to serve people. 

In 1997, she set up the first CaringBridge site to help a friend with a difficult pregnancy. Built on “compassion technology,” CaringBridge.org has become one of the most successful online healthcare community sites in the world and certainly one of the most successful web properties to come out of Minnesota. It is a standard place around the world for families experiencing medical challenges to share information with their social group and get support and connection. In the last twelve months, the site had more than 42 million unique visitors. All this from a non-profit that was originally a side project! This is true game-changing internet technology. Forget about Zuckerberg and Bezos. We have Mehring!
 
Sona Mehring Facts:
 
  • Mehring graduated with a computer science degree from U.W.-Eau Claire in 1983.
  • She has been a software engineer/consultant for large enterprise, including General Dynamics, Unisys and GMAC ResCap.
  • Mehring has led the creation of several software/tech companies, including Beacon Point Technologies, Plan Analytics, Inc. and Diamond Computer Solutions.
  • She founded CaringBridge in 1997 and incorporated it as a non-profit in 2002.
  • With a tiny marketing budget and supported almost completely by individual donations of $65 or less, the CaringBridge website gets traffic from all 50 states and more than 225 countries and gets monthly unique visitors in the 2-3 million range (2.4 million in Sept. 2010 – compete.com). 
  • The CaringBridge site has 100s of 1000s of individual medical info sharing sites, which are privacy-controlled by users and blocked from indexing by search engines, spiders and bots. 
  • Among Mehring’s awards/recognitions are: 
    • One of 25 Women Industry Leaders in the Twin Cities in 2009 by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
    • Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for outstanding service to the community in 2008.
    • Recognition by MSN.com in 2006 as one of the U.S.’s leading Women Working for Change.
    • 2004 Volvo for Life Award Nominee.
Sona Mehring Quotes:
  • “There wasn’t anything where you could just make a few clicks and set up your own webpage [when we started CaringBridge in 1997].”
  • “CaringBridge meets an event-based need… We have to be in that event-awareness bubble.”
  • Families have told CaringBridge that “this type of service helped them the most throughout their [hospital] experience.”
  • “Facebook is all about you. CaringBridge is all about someone else. But Facebook is a great channel for us… to spread awareness.”
  • “The spirit that CaringBridge was founded on was that I always wanted it to be free… and free from obtrusive ads. This is a very sensitive and important conversation that’s going on, and it needs to be protected and sacred.”

 Adapted from a blog post on www.tech.mn.

Soccer and the Joy of the People

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III Updated: September 5, 2010 - 11:35 PM

In Brazil, soccer (futebol) is so beloved that it's often referred to as alegria de povo, translated from Portugese as the "joy of the people." This suggests the deep and organic connection the people of Brazil feel with soccer, a sport that can be played almost anywhere (street, sandlot, grass field) with almost any size ball. You just have to be able to control it, pass it and get it in the net. Notwithstanding the results of this last World Cup, the relentless love of the Brazilian people for soccer has, not surprisingly, produced multiple World Cup victories (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) and world-class stars (Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho). In other words, Brazil is the New York Yankees of soccer.

How can other countries generate such success? And more specifically, how can the U.S., king of so many other sports, elevate its game to world championship class? Soccer has to be "the joy of the people."  Enter Ted Kroeten. Kroeten is a Minnesota soccer legend, a former professional soccer player, former head coach at St. Paul Blackhawks (the oldest soccer club in Minnesota) and now the founder/leader of Joy of the People, a soccer non-profit based in St. Paul. Kroeten has a distinct philosophy, developed over his 30 years of soccer experience, that to produce champions you need kids playing early and often. And if you want kids playing a lot of soccer, they need to have fun.

Does this sound radical? It shouldn't. But the soccer culture in our country inevitably has focused kids on elite traveling teams, wins and championships, with fun and individual development the big losers. In Brazil, when practice is over, the kids keep playing for hours at a time (like pickup basketball). How often do you see U.S. kids wildly playing soccer away from parents/coaches/leagues? According to Kroeten, that's what you need to see. Lots of kids with lots of touches on the ball because they love it. That's what leads to the Gladwellian 10,000 hours of excellence.

Soccer at Joy of the People thus is as much a social mission as a soccer program. Keep the focus on the kids and their personal development, let them have fun freely with various size balls and surfaces, and the results will come. Focusing on elite team victories drives people out of the sport when, inevitably, they can't make it to the next level. Conversely, if soccer is the joy of the people, they will keep playing after practice, and they will keep playing when they're adults.

Kroeten's statement of purpose says it right: "At [Joy of the People], we believe that soccer should be inclusive, fun, creative, and cooperative long before it becomes competitive. Through the patient building of skills, kids are allowed to accept and expand on each challenge, growing their love of the game, discovering the joy of play, joy of friendship, joy of creativity, and the joy of the people."  This is a rare, and commendable, form of leadership in sport.  And keep your fingers crossed for the U.S team in 2014 (in Brazil!).

MN Radical CEO #2 - Ashish Gadnis (Forward Hindsight/Koozala)

Posted by: Ernest Grumbles III under Society Updated: August 18, 2010 - 8:42 AM

 

Ashish Gadnis, Radical CEO (Forward Hindsight; Koozala)

Ashish Gadnis, Radical CEO (Forward Hindsight; Koozala)

Born in India, Ashish Gadnis moved to Minnesota in the 1990’s where he has since built a successful consulting firm speaking truth to power (Forward Hindsight), recently launched a personal electronic medical portal for consumers (Koozala) and (in his spare time) travels the globe working to end world hunger.  Just another day’s work for this radical CEO who clearly understands the connection between business and social progress.

Ashish Gadnis Facts:

Born in India, moved to Minnesota in 1990s.  Attended college in Bombay and received MBA from Carlson.

  • Co founder and CEO of Forward Hindsight (management consulting firm) and founding CEO of Koozala.
  • Has history with TIES and Fourth Generation Inc., which he left in 2004 to create Forward Hindsight, offering aggressive enterprise tech consulting  to clients like Best Buy, Caribou Coffee and AirTran.
  • Started Koozala in 2009 to let consumers have an easy way to manage and access their personal medical records.  Currently in use, with the University of Minnesota as an initial enterprise partner.
  • He has an express “no ego” philosophy.  If you hire Ashish, expect him to listen carefully and then tell you what needs to change in your organization in unvarnished terms (even if it means firing the CEO).
  • Nominated and selected as one of a few hundred Young Global Leaders for the World Economic Forum in 2009 (the gathering in Davos, Switzerland attended by Bono, Bill Clinton and others).
  • Has a stated goal of retiring by age 45 so he can focus exclusively on solving world hunger and sustainable business in emerging markets.
  • Author of workbook Sustainable Disruption, which shows how the use of sustainable disruption can bring focus into an organization.

Ashish Gadnis Quotes:

  • “There are so many smart people [in Minnesota] buried in large corporations.”
  • 3 Things that will make MN more innovation-friendly are: (a) “CEO’s here need to get balls to take risks”;  (b) “get the local investment money in motion”; (c) “try incubators and innovation zones” to get new businesses started.
  • “My reputation is pretty polarizing.  50% of the people hate my guts.” “One time a CEO introduced me to a group and said I was hired to be an asshole.  I think that’s a compliment.”
  • Minnesota has a “passive, lukewarm business environment” dominated by “an old boys’ network,” but also has “a lot of cool people who can build cool companies” and a “very strong education baseline that absolutely needs to be highlighted.”
  • “Within the next decade, Minnesota could be like Silicon Valley, but it will take a mix of people from outside and inside Minnesota [to make it happen].”

(Adapted from post on Tech.MN)

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