Here’s to the Innovators

aspiration

Innovation comes from those who see things that others don’t. It comes from people who not only question the status quo- But keep persisting in the face of all the naysayers. Steve Blank

Innovators and entrepreneurs are fun to hang around with.

They see the world differently, questioning, probing and always trying to find a new and better way forward.

They tend to be optimists; in fact I can’t remember ever meeting a pessimistic entrepreneur.

In order to be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to take risks and willing to fail–sometimes publicly. Sometimes spectacularly.  Those failures—while sometimes painful and expensive– make you stronger.

I’m sure there are fearless people out there-somewhere–but I haven’t met any. It’s not whether you have fears, but whether you can overcome those doubts that allow you to be a successful entrepreneur.

I’m involved with a dedicated group of entrepreneurs on several projects at the moment.

Celsius is a company that is pioneering a healthy energy drink that is clinically proven to burn body fat and calories. The beverage space is known for innovation–from coconut water and protein drinks to hangover and relaxation drinks –it’s a fascinating and highly competitive space. The beverage business is complicated and capital intensive. The competition is also fierce. But the rewards can be amazing if you can create a hit brand.

Celsius has the added pressure of being a public company with all the scrutiny and regulation that comes with life in the world of Sarbanes Oxley.

It’s also an international business with distribution in Asia, Europe and Brazil. The company does great business via ecommerce and in channels ranging from fitness to grocery, convenience, mass and specialty retailers.

It’s a fascinating business that often comes down to hand to hand combat on the shelves. But when you believe in your brand—as we do passionately– and the importance of introducing a drink without sugar and aspartame to the mass market it’s a privilege to pursue the opportunity.

We believe we can change the world.

So do our investors, which include two self-made billionaires who remain in the game because they still have a hunger to bet on companies and technologies that make a dent in the universe.

I’m also involved with introducing an all-natural, gluten free premium hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix to the market. We recently gained distribution for Tabanero in Publix, a point of pride. We already are on the shelves at HEB, Lucky’s Market, Sprouts and soon a division of Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in America. We are served in close to 3,000 restaurants in South Florida, Tampa and Southern California and have made the cut at some really cool restaurant and hotel chains including Tupelo Honey, Margaritaville, select Marriott’s and Bokamper’s.

It’s been quite a ride. And while hot sauce is an exploding category, it’s also fiercely contested by some huge brands.

So what’s the opportunity that we see? We think we have the best tasting sauce in the world and its healthy too, featuring premium veggies without the vinegary taste. Even people who typically don’t like hot sauce– love Tabanero. To see people enjoy the hard work of your team provides tremendous satisfaction.

It’s cool to be an insurgent brand; to take on the big guys and to develop a fan base all from two small offices in Boca Raton and LA.

Knowing my love of entrepreneurs, I’m often approached by fledgling companies for help and advice and I in turn seek help and advice from others who have made the journey. While business is competitive, I have found that most people you ask are happy to lend an ear, open a door and connect you to others who may be able to help you achieve a dream. Entrepreneurs tend to be generous, another reason to embrace them.

Among the many young entrepreneurs that I have worked with, I see similar traits of curiosity, courage and a strong desire to serve others. I’d like you to know about a few.

I met Jake Artzi a few years back when I spoke to a class at the Boca Chamber’s YEA program (Young Entrepreneurs Academy). Jake and I have stayed in touch and now he’s at the University of Michigan where he is pursuing his studies while also building a company called BoVault.  http://bovault.com/

BoVault is a safe place to store your valuables and charge your gadgets while you enjoy a recreational activity such as a trip to the beach. The BoVault locker has cameras embedded in the unit to provide 24/7 security monitoring. BoVault is completely solar powered and 100% Made in America. It’s a cool technology and Jake is a driven young entrepreneur. I have no doubt he will build a great company over time.

Brian Niles and Patrick Stinus were two guys I met in a Delray coffee shop a few years back. GE trained MBA’s who understand operations and finance, they were business consultants who were so good clients wanted to hire them permanently to run and grow their businesses. But Brian and Patrick had a dream of their own called “Rooster”, a company that helps a huge range of service providers grow their businesses. Armed with a passion to help other entrepreneurs, off the charts smarts and a work ethic that simply won’t quit, I have no doubt that Rooster, a local start-up is going to be huge.

From that first meeting on Atlantic Avenue until today, we have continued a conversation about life and business.

Check out their site: http://www.roosterlocal.com/. At last week’s Business Development Board Entrepreneurs lunch, Brian and Patrick surprised me with a founder’s button, which was a touching gesture that really moved me. Because the truth is, there’s not much I can teach these guys. They are just brilliant people. But I can listen and I can encourage because entrepreneurship can be lonely and more than a little scary. And I can relate very well to those emotions as well as to the highs you experience when you see a product come to life and you take it to market.

This blog is primarily about how cities and towns can be entrepreneurial too. Yes governments can be entrepreneurial and I would argue that they need to be.

Delray has been a very entrepreneurial city taking risks, overcoming the critics and naysayers and creating a vibrant community that has created value both real (dollars, tax base and jobs) and intangible (quality of life).

Boca’s roots are also very entrepreneurial with the IBM PC being invented here among other incredible technological feats that have changed the world.

The city has innovative schools and universities, a thriving tech sector and incredible medical research happening everywhere you look.

In addition, both cities have thriving food and beverage scenes, innovative vacation properties, marketing and media geniuses, artistic visionaries and some very talented designers and architects. The list goes on and it’s exciting to see the area grow and thrive.

The key is to be a community of opportunity, where people of all ages can find inspiration and personal growth.

Critics and naysayers will focus on the negative impacts and all that can go wrong. That’s what they do.

And truth is they play a role. They raise some questions that must be answered and they also serve as inspiration–if nothing else to prove them wrong.

But make no mistake, businesses and communities must embrace the innovators and the entrepreneurs if we are to grow and create opportunities. If you succumb to the negative you’ll be hard pressed to uncover the positive.

Years ago, I had the privilege to work with an Office Depot executive named Sam Mathis. Sam, has since passed, but he touched a lot of lives and he helped our city on a race relations initiative that many thought was foolish but others thought was necessary and overdo. Sam taught me that the sweetest fruit often resides on the part of the tree most difficult to reach. When I got tired, he had a unique ability to read my moods and he would reach out and keep me motivated.

I know we didn’t “solve” the challenge, but I do think we made a difference.

We should all agree on the need to reach and stretch…it makes all the difference. As Steve Blank says: keep persisting in the face of the naysayers.

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