Everything’s up to date in Kansas City, as they say in the old song. The city is beautiful — at least the part around Country Club Plaza, which is full of upscale shopping, familiar restaurants, and spewing fountains (lots of water gushing from the noses and mouths of bronze horses),– is beautiful. To get from the historic hotel where I’m staying to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s offices, I walk along a lovely canal (known to the locals as a creek) lined with trees and home to several water taxis. Who knew? It’s about 95 degrees at noon, and those same locals are complaining, but I’m ecstatic. People are actually walking in the streets. In Phoenix, that never happens.
The training: I’m taking two days of training to facilitate the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac program to grow businesses, and a third day to take the responsibility of becoming the administrator for Arizona and New Mexico. The bad news: I already know how to faciliate, and the facilitation training is excruciatingly slow. The good news: the content material I’m bringing back is awesome.
The Foundation conducts research into what makes for successful companies, and this research is translated into the materials for the FastTrac program. Ewing Marion Kauffman founded Marion Labs, and he believed in treating employees as associates, and in creating self-sufficiency for communities through entrepreneurship. This has been my economic development philosophy for twenty years, and I sure wish I had come across the Foundation earlier.
The FastTrac program itself is divided into three tracks: New Venture, Planning (for established businesses, and Tech. Tech companies seem to go through the EMK processes automatically, because most of them are trained to seek outside funding, and outside funders require many of the processes outlined in the FastTrac programs. These processes get the company to a feasibility study (new venture) or a business plan (established business).. One interesting distinction that the Foundation materials make is that a true business plain contains operational details that can�t be known by a new venture, and thus a new venture can�t write a business plan.
Instead, the new venture track drives the participant toward a feasibility study, which then drives him/her to a true go/no go decision to start the business. Interestingly, there�s a new track, FastTrac Tech, which recognizes that a tech company can be in business for years and still be pre-revenue. FastTrac Tech is logically the most appropriate for Stealthmode to offer.
However, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking while in the training, and I believe what our community lacks is not startups. It’s businesses that are conceptually healthy enough to grow to the next level. Most of the business plans I see are actually feasibility studies, and aren’t written by existing businesses. How many small business owners have time to construct a real business plan? More than likely, they are managing by crisis, hanging on without the intellectual capital to grow properly. And that may be why Arizona does not have more home grown successes.
The long and short of it is that I think when I come back to Phoenix in August, Stealthmode will seek partners to offer the FastTrac Planning program to businesses that wish to grow to the next level. Later, we will get on to offering the FastTrac Tech program for technology businesses.
What do I mean by partners? First, we need community resources to help us market the program. This would be government agencies and media outlets. We also need money for scholarships for the participants if they can�t afford the fees.
We need business counselors to whom we will refer the participants for help. SBDCs usually fulfill this function..
And we need guest speakers to tell the �real stories� of entrepreneurship that enliven the sessions (ten).
I think we have a real chance here to accelerate the growth of local companies that may already exist. If we choose the right companies as participants, we can cause the growth that diversifies the economy and creates jobs. I�m willing to stay involved with the Foundation�s work because I really admire what they�re doing, and to be the link to national research they are going to do on entrepreneurship and what makes it tick.
Stealthmode will need all the help it can get. If you know someone in a position to help, please forward this to them.
BTW, from here I am going on my annual pilgrimage to worship at the Mecca of innovation, Silicon Valley. San Francisco, the city everyone is leaving to live in Gilbert, Arizona, should be nice and empty by the time I get there on Friday.