A Legacy & An Ecosystem

BDB President Kelly Smallridge honors Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch for their business leadership as Plastridge Insurance celebrates its 100th year.

Eight years ago, while serving on the board of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, I had the opportunity to co-chair a brand new task force focused on entrepreneurship in our community.

While the BDB is well-known and highly respected for its economic development efforts and its ability to recruit, retain and help businesses expand we felt there was a gap when it came to helping and celebrating local entrepreneurs. So we created a task force and held a successful event that filled the vast ballroom at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. We clearly had tapped into something.

The task force continued on and eventually my good friend Connor Lynch, the talented and super smart CEO of Plastridge Insurance became chair. I’m proud to report that Connor, the task force and the BDB have taken the effort to a whole new level.

The recent “Entrepreneurship Luncheon” presented by JP Morgan Chase & Co., attracted a large crowd, included a hallway full of booths featuring new companies and was graphic evidence that something special is happening here. And that’s a good thing.

The entrepreneurs are here. They see Palm Beach County as fertile ground to grow their companies and they are impressed with the talent that is available in the local job market.

For sure, we aren’t Silicon Valley, Boston, New York or Austin. But we don’t have to be. We can grow something special here. Something unique. Something sustainable.

Groups like Palm Beach Tech, 1909 and yes the BDB are playing a critical role as are our universities and the FAU Research Park.

The luncheon’s two keynote speakers were two young entrepreneurs who are proving that companies can start here, grow here and thrive here using local talent and attracting talent from other markets.

Ryan Gay, CEO of Levatas, an AI solutions firm and Shay Berman, founder and president of Digital Resource were beyond impressive to listen to—they were downright inspiring.

Mr. Gay started out in 2006 with a small team: a visionary, an operator (himself) and someone with a big brain. They paid their first employee with Taco Bell meals—he was joking (I think). But from those humble beginnings, Levatas now has 80 employees and does digital work for clients such as IBM, Intel, Dell, Office Depot and Nasdaq.

Mr. Berman came from the cold of Michigan to West Palm Beach and started a company on a couch that has twice made the Inc. 500 list as one of America’s fastest growing companies. He has stayed true to his adopted hometown, growing his company while remaining in downtown West Palm.

He started the company with $5,000 and a dream. Today, at age 27, he is growing by leaps and bounds.

At the luncheon, my friend Connor, his brother Brendan (another super smart businessman) and their dad Tom, a former Delray mayor (among the very best in my opinion) were recognized for Plastridge’s 100th anniversary—an astounding achievement in today’s complex and fast changing world.

All three Lynch’s are devoted to Palm Beach County making significant marks in business, entrepreneurship, government, education, philanthropy and economic development. They are writing an amazing legacy. I’ve been fortunate to watch them and occasionally work alongside them.

Brendan and I serve on the board of a company we’ve both invested in and 30 years since meeting Tom, I still find myself seeking out his advice and counsel. Connor and I have served on several non-profit boards together and he’s always brought good ideas and insight to the table.

Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the BDB, noted that she if ever wrote a book about the history of economic development in Palm Beach County Tom Lynch would be at the top of the list of contributors.

It was heartening to me to hear that, because I believe that Kelly is right and that Tom is immensely responsible for so much of the good we see in Delray and also in Boca where he was also very active as a past chamber chair and School Board chair.

To see his sons run with that legacy of civic achievement makes my heart sing with gratitude.

In order to build a better community one that will support entrepreneurs and everyone else frankly—we need civic leaders. We need champions and long term thinkers who focus on the horizon and then do their best to make things happen.

It’s called leaving a legacy.

The job is never done. Success is never final. We will never arrive at the destination but we still need to commit ourselves to the journey.

Check out www.bdb.org and make sure you get tickets to next year’s entrepreneurial event. Better yet, let’s commit to helping grow entrepreneurs—whether it’s trying out a new product, spreading the word, becoming an angel or seed investor, starting your own company or encouraging someone who has done so we all have a meaningful role to play.

 

Growing Our Own

No bigger game than Amazon.

November is National Entrepreneurship Month.

I didn’t know that, but as far as I’m concerned we ought to be spotlighting and helping entrepreneurs 12 months a year.

Since 2008, there has been a net decline in new business creation in the U.S. One of the contributing factors appears to be a growing aversion to risk for young adults who grew up during the Great Recession.

 

A new survey by Junior Achievement shows that 9-out-of-10 parents would support their kids starting a business as adults, but only 1-in-3 teens say they would consider becoming an entrepreneur, identifying “risk” as one of the top reasons for not striking out on their own.

We need to reverse that trend—it’s not an overstatement to say that if we don’t we will lose our edge as a nation.

America was built by entrepreneurs: people in business, government, science, education and the non-profit world who took risks because they saw opportunity.

Entrepreneurs are the people who solve problems, build, create, sustain and design successful societies.

We’ve all been reading lately about the efforts of close to 250 cities and regions to lure a second Amazon headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs. It’s a big opportunity—no doubt a game changer for the lucky winner who will have to put up billions in incentives to make it happen. South Florida, including our own Business Development Board, is playing the game and to some extent I guess you have too.

But personally, I would rather make an investment in seeding a new generation of entrepreneurs than throwing money at an already wealthy company like Amazon. I prefer what they call “economic gardening” (growing your own) to chasing smoke stacks or the modern digital version.

Fortunately, there is a lot beginning to happen on the gardening front: FAU and Lynn University have good business schools, Tech Runway at FAU has potential and the business community in Palm Beach County is relatively strong. Boca Raton’s economic development efforts are impressive, West Palm Beach is coming of age and Boynton Beach has some very exciting projects under consideration. Northern Palm Beach County has a very strong business community anchored by a progressive Chamber of Commerce (shout out to our friend Chamber president Beth Kigel) and Lake Worth has tremendous potential especially in the energy sector.

As a two time board member of our BDB, I can attest that we have a solid economic development organization that in my opinion has been a little starved of resources by the county over the years (relative to budgets in Broward, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties).

I’m especially intrigued and excited by some of the emerging groups of young creative entrepreneurs that we are seeing pop up: Creative Mornings Palm Beach, Palm Beach Tech and One Million Cups are just a few of the groups emerging filled with energy, ambition and community building potential.

There are also some real interesting co-working spaces popping up.

I’m especially happy to see the growth and excitement behind Palm Beach Entrepreneur Week Nov. 10-18. (Like The Beatles song, that’s actually an 8 day week).

Highlights include a meetup at the Social House in Lake Worth, a Creative Morning at Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, a pitch competition in West Palm Beach, a Florida Venture Forum showcase at FAU’s Tech Runway and more… Check out the website for a full schedule: https://eweekpb.com/#landing-events

All this is really cool to see. But we need more.

More angel investors, more mentors, more venture capital, more news about entrepreneurs and more outreach into schools. The Boca Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a great start. We also need more affordable space in key downtowns like Delray—not easy to do based on market forces and high prices.

We sit in a great location—close enough to Miami (an international city and a gateway to the Americas), close to an emerging Fort Lauderdale and within a county that offers a great quality of life.

If we reach our potential—the Amazon’s of the world will be asking to move here and ideally the next Amazon will be born here.

Celebrating Entrepreneurs Delray Style

Rubin

It’s Sugar CEO Jeff Rubin

Five years ago I co-chaired a committee for the Business Development Board that focused on entrepreneurship.
It was a change of pace for the BDB– our county’s chief economic development organization– which has traditionally focused on recruiting new businesses and expanding existing ones.

But more and more communities are realizing that economic gardening –growing your own–is a desirable strategy. I would argue it’s the most desirable strategy– surely better than throwing money and incentives at companies that may or may not stay for the long haul.
The  entrepreneurship committee is the BDB’s foray into connecting with and supporting efforts to strengthen our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The BDB is an effective convening entity able to bring big businesses, governments and chambers together and introduce them to the next generation of business leaders.
So when my friend, Committee Chair Connor Lynch, invited me to this year’s entrepreneurs lunch I was eager to see what’s happened since Connor and I along with other committee members launched the lunch a few years back with a keynote from the founder of Priceline.
That event was a success and I’m happy to report that this year’s event was even better and far more powerful.
Connor and the BDB delivered.
And what made the event even cooler for me and other Delray folks in the crowd -Chamber CEO Karen Granger, UBS exec Nick Sadowsky, Red Pepper Principal Christina Hammond, Florida Blue’s Beth Johnston, Economic Development officials Joan Goodrich and Liz Burrows and the Small Business Development Center’s Vin Nolan–was that this year’s lunch featured TED like talks from three talented entrepreneurs with strong Delray ties.

ryan

Woo Creative founder Ryan Boylston

The featured speakers were Ryan Boylston founder of Woo Creative and my partner in Four Story Media, Felecia Hatcher founder of Feverish Pops and Code Fever and Jeff Rubin founder and CEO of It’s Sugar.
Ryan runs a successful branding and creative agency, serves on city boards and is an active volunteer for community causes. Together with several other partners, employees and freelancers we are working on creating a Hyperlocal news platform in Delray and Boca. Ryan is a whirlwind of activity and ideas as well as a young father and husband.  You can get exhausted just thinking about his daily responsibilities. Ryan’s talk focused on millennials and business creation. It was fascinating and can be viewed on Facebook’s Woo Creative page. (If I was tech savvy I would have figured out how to add the link).
He also made an important point: while we celebrate the Zuckerberg’s and Branson’s for their moon shot success we need to build the capacity of those starting local businesses so that they can succeed and create  jobs.
Yes. We. Do.

Felecia Hatcher founder of Code Fever

Felecia Hatcher founder of Code Fever

Felecia, who is a delightful and energetic entrepreneur, grew up in Delray (she went to high school with Connor) and her dad has run a successful construction company here for 17 years. She sold Feverish Pops, has written some great books and is now passionately building Code Fever which seeks to teach African Americans and Hispanics the coding skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century.
That type of effort needs to happen in Delray.
Jeff Rubin has an It’s  Sugar store on Atlantic Avenue and has seen his candy business grow exponentially. He’s on pace to have over 100 stores in 2017.
Despite that frenetic pace, he has found the time to connect with students at Carver Middle School teaching students about business and marketing. The effort created a Carver branded gummy bear. How cool is that?
Kudos to the Delray chamber and City education efforts for making that connection happen.
So my friends,  Delray’s Got Talent.

It’s here.

The talent has been attracted to Delray by three decades of redevelopment efforts which has created a vibrant place with great restaurants, events, festivals, cultural activities, recreational opportunities and other intangibles that we need to support, cherish, improve, protect and nurture. These are the conversations we need to be having. How to leverage what has been created in our city.
Unfortunately, our city is not having those discussions and to the extent they are, the discussion seems fixated on costs, negative not positive impacts, inconveniences etc.  All of those are valid items to discuss and debate but it’s not a complete picture if you don’t include the benefits and the possibilities. And I would argue that the benefits far, far outweigh the negatives.
If we want to take care of our future we have to raise the level of discussion beyond whether Garlic festivals should have mechanized rides or whether we should permit a tattoo business into town.
We have to figure out how we can make sure Felecia brings Code Fever to Delray so our children can learn needed skills.
We have to figure out how to improve our public schools. And we  have to figure out where our workforce can live and how we can bring businesses to our downtown (which will never be done) and to Congress Avenue and to our Federal Highway corridor, West Atlantic and “four corners” area at Atlantic and Military Trail.
You can’t cut your way to success, you have to grow responsibly and strategically.
We need expansive thinking, not regressive and deconstructive policies.
The entrepreneurs are here. And more will come and more will emerge if we continue to aspire as a community. They will go elsewhere and our youth will leave  if we don’t aspire. That’s how communities whither and die, when they fixate on negatives, grow complacent or send a message that business (and dreams) should look elsewhere.
Let’s embrace progress and manage change. It’s what entrepreneurs do every day.