Archive for May, 2013

Seizing Opportunity

Posted: May 26, 2013 by Chuck Matthews in Innovation, People, Planning

Opportunity is missed by most people

because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Thomas A. Edison

UC Chuck MatthewsThe classic definition of opportunity refers to a favorable set of circumstances or a chance for advancement, as in the opportunity to buy a computer on sale or an opportunity to go to college.  While useful in most situations, when it comes to business in general and entrepreneurship in particular, it misses the mark at best and can be downright misleading at worst.

For entrepreneurs, there is only one kind of opportunity: what is the unserved and/or underserved market opportunity?  There are four core elements of the entrepreneurship process underscored by creating value for the customer: There must be a clear focus (product and/or services, customers and competition); scanning a changing environment (uncertainty, ambiguity, and external forces); and the entrepreneur (creativity, leadership, and communication).  The fourth element, the engagement or execution (opportunity, resources, and team) is our focus here.

Opportunity.  Not long ago, I received an excited phone call from an acquaintance about an opportunity to rent a larger retail space for his three month old venture.  He used the word ‘opportunity’ numerous times within the span of sixty seconds.  “The opportunity is [fill in the blank] great, time sensitive, will never be available again, etc. etc.”  I asked him, “What is the unserved and/or underserved market opportunity that having this larger retail space will allow you to better serve?”  He was unable to tell me.  Basically, the “opportunity” he was describing was more of an expense than an opportunity.  Moreover, the market opportunity needs to be of sufficient size, quality, and durability to sustain the business venture in which you are engaged.  The opportunity is not to start the venture, but rather to identify a problem or pain point, devise a solution, and discern the dimensions of the unserved and/or underserved market potential.  This can be tricky.  For example, advancing technology can lead to goods and/or services that address problems for which previously there might not have been a viable market. If you were born before 1942, do you really need a smart phone?  If you were born after 1992, could you possibly live without one?

Resources.  Identifying a market opportunity is one thing, assembling the necessary resources is quite another.  Building on memories of “snurfing” on snow in high school, by 1977, Jake Burton Carpenter, envisioned a more sophisticated way to “surf on snow” and introduced the first Burton Snow Board.  But like other entrepreneurs, initially he was ahead of his time and his early attempt failed as he improperly calculated the potential market for this new entry in sports equipment.  By 1980, however, he had brought together the resources to simultaneously innovate the board itself, put the wheels in motion to “create” the emerging sport of snowboarding (now an Olympic sport), and launch the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of products targeted at an emerging market.  The entrepreneur constantly balances scarce resources for optimal impact to define and develop the product/service offering, build brand awareness and acceptance, and gain a market entry point.  Today, Burton Snow Boards Burton products are in over 4,300 stores worldwide with 40-70 percent market share depending on the category.

Team.  Entrepreneurs by their very nature are not timid, especially when it comes to their ideas.  Yet, they are always quick to note that the secret to their success is from surrounding themselves with people who are better, brighter, smarter than they are.  Building a cohesive and focused team is both an art and a science.  While we are familiar with team sports and the reliance on each member of the team performing as a unit to achieve excellence, we often overlook that even in individual sports there is a reliance on a team that often goes unseen yet is equally important to success.  Entrepreneurship is both an individual and a team sport and identifying core team members in the short, intermediate and long term is essential.  Team is critical to execution and while investors would like every new venture to be an “A” idea and an “A” team, they are often drawn to an “A” team with a “B” idea over a “B” team with an “A” idea.

As Winston Churchill once famously opined, A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.Entrepreneurs are a very optimistic group: they see opportunity everywhere!  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!


Posted: May 19, 2013 by Eileen Weisenbach Keller in Leadership, Planning, Startup

KellerA young father watched as his 1 year old daughter repeatedly stood and attempted to walk; only to fall, get up, and try again. The father was at once mesmerized by her indelible spirit of persistence and at the same time motivated to stop her, to protect her from getting hurt. Why then didn’t he pick her up…or hold her down to prevent injury?

He didn’t because he knew that this persistence was necessary. He knew too, beyond all doubt, that she would succeed. He did not expect her to succeed with a 25% probability that she would not; he knew the probability of success was absolute. So, watching her battle against gravity and the forces of nature meant watching her succeed, little by little, building the strength and skill to walk; a process more heart-warming than heart-wrenching.

So to goes many the entrepreneur: trying, “failing”, persisting, growing.  Battling the forces of nature and persevering in the face of uncertainty. Learning to be an entrepreneur is, obviously, quite different than learning to walk. But there is an important lesson that can be borrowed from the analogy. The child is surrounded by walkers – people proficient at the process. As an Entrepreneur you would be smart to adopt this method – surround yourself with business starters, those who have been successful and will be able to lend you support and confidence.

In Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati this is not hard to do. There are groups throughout our region that are open and generous with their guidance and support networks. Check websites for meetings of the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, watch the news on the Cintrifuse and UpTech sites,, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce,, cincytech; all of these provide resources and create an environment that encourages and enables entrepreneurial success. Invest your time with people who know how to succeed and believe that your struggles to learn the winning model for your company is a matter of when, not if.

Joe Carter, Xavier UniversityNetworking is so very important.  Has anyone referred you to another person because they think you might have mutual interests and there might be a deeper reason for you need to connect with that person? That happened to me a few weeks ago.  Jeff Weedman, the CEO of Cintrifuse, suggested that I might be interested in meeting Dr. Victor Garcia, a pediatric surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  Jeff described some of the Dr. Garcia’s projects to combat concentrated systemic poverty and thought we should connect.  I immediately knew I needed to meet Dr. Garcia and thought a friend of mine, Owen Raisch (who recently launched the Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance – CiNBA) should meet him as well.   CiNBA is an organization dedicated to building and supporting a strong local business community in Greater Cincinnati. One of Dr. Garcia’s projects included launching new businesses, so this is right on the money for Xavier University‘s and CiNBA’s missions.

Dr. Garcia described a new business venture he is developing with Dan Divelbiss, an environmental engineering graduate student from the University of Cincinnati, and Nate Wildes, an Assistant Brand Manager at the Eureka! Ranch International.  The new venture is an aquaponics business – think a fish tank that grows both fish and vegetables in one integrated, soilless system –  to be launched in Price Hill.  Dr. Garcia, Dan and Nate are collaborating with Diana Vakharia, Price Hill’s Director of Economic Development, on this project.  Diana happens to be a member of the core team that launched CiNBA.  Diana’s goal is to help launch an aquaponics business in Price Hill, so they can hire about 20 people from Price Hill to run the business, and then transition the business into an employee-owned operation.  Diana’s focus  helps create jobs and long-term wealth for the people of Price Hill using a model of economic development created by The Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Ohio


The Collective Power of Passion

Posted: May 5, 2013 by Amanda Greenwell in Innovation, People, Startup

AmandaGreenwellPassionate startups are spreading like wildfire in the region due to the courage of entrepreneurs to gain self-awareness, take risks, and turn great ideas into great businesses like never before. Passionate entrepreneurs work on their ideas constantly and now they take action to launch their ventures fulltime.  Like entrepreneurs, the community has developed great ideas for enabling startups like UpTech and the Brandery to accelerate the next big ideas into reality.  These organizations are startups as well and provide many tools and programs for entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.  The empowerment of entrepreneurs manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Exciting regional collaboration, the Ohio River is no longer the Ohio Ocean
  • Young talent moving into (and back to) and staying in our region
  • The great balance of exciting business opportunities and quality of life
  • A thriving entrepreneur community in the Northern Kentucky / Greater Cincinnati.

Amazing things happen when you follow your dreams. Northern Kentucky University’s tag line says it all: “Dreamers welcome.”  When you welcome dreamers with open arms, give them the tools to succeed, there is an unparalleled power that only collective passion can bring.

Three essential characteristics make up the personality of a successful entrepreneur:

1)     Self-awareness:  Do I have what it takes to be an entreprenur? Successful entrepreneurs have done the hard work to become aware of their talents, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.  They get clarity on what they want and what they don’t want.  Embarking on a journey to discover who you really are, will only pay dividends in your career and your relationships. Tools like Tom Rath’s book Strengths Finder and programs like Startup Weekend help you discover your inner entrepreneur

2)     Passion:  What do you love to do?  What activities do you engage in that causes you to lose all track of time?  Successful entrepreneurs often get criticized for working all the time, but they do not feel they are even working at all!  Ask a true dreamer about their passion and their eyes light up, enthusiasm erupts, and their conviction wins you over .

3)     A great idea: Do you have the next Google or Prius in your head? Highly self-aware and passionate entrepreneurs generate great ideas almost automatically and continuously.  They clearly see real-world problems and are driven to fix them. These passionate and self-aware entrepreneurs seem to see around corners and invent incredibly effective products and services to solve difficult and complex challenges.

If you have done the work to embark on the journey to self-awareness, discovered your passion, and have the next big idea, seek out the organizations that can help you make your great ideas come true. The Greater Cincinnati Venture Association website provides an inventory of the region’s entrepreneurial assets in their “Greater Cincinnati Entrepreneur Ecosystem” link. Although the Brandery’s application process closed on May 1st, entreprneurs can appy online to UpTech, Northern Kentucky’s Startup Accelerator until May 24, 2013. Check out more links on this column’s website at