Last night I had the honor to speak an serve as MC for the 15th Annual Grinspoon Foundation Entrepreneurship Initiative’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards banquet. Many do not know just how pivotal this organization has been, so I’d like to share some of my speech from last night.
We are gathered for the entrepreneurial spirit awards. I emphasize spirit because of the insight of our founder, Harold Grinspoon. When he, like almost all entrepreneurs in this room, started his ventures he experienced so many challenges. The intellectual challenges of finding a model that will work. The emotional challenge of failing over, and over, and over again before finding the answer.
As if that isn’t hard enough, imagine if after every failure all the respectable people around him asked “Why don’t you stop this childish dream-chasing and go get a real job?“
What a punch in the gut.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Real Jobs. Most of us have them. They’re great! But some of us don’t want a Real Job. We want to make our own way. And aren’t we glad that Harold and all the other great entrepreneurs did! Harold created thousands of Real Jobs. Real Jobs that provided for thousands of families to put their kids through school, pay their mortgages, and donate to their favorite charities. That’s a vision I think we all can get behind.
To all the entrepreneurs in the room tonight. Harold wanted to make sure that you could count on there being at least one room, a really big room [motion to indicate the hundreds of people in the banquet hall] full of respectable people who will not look down on you. No! We will shake your hand, put you on stage and celebrate you! In fact, help us celebrate you right now. Please stand up and be recognized!
When this Entrepreneurship Initiative launched 15 years ago, Western Massachusetts was a barren wasteland for entrepreneurs. There were a few of us lonely voices in the wilderness, helping our students, mostly alone. We were too few and too dispersed to get traction.
Then Harold and his team, first Linda Peters, then Brenda Wishart, and now the great Cari Carpenter, deployed an elegantly simple solution. Bring all of us lone voices together. Give us a little bit of resources, a network of our peers, and see what can happen. They gave us our tribe
For the first time we critical mass. That network of faculty advisors at each of the college campuses slowly but surely built up a foundation. Today our region has dozens of beautiful entrepreneurship support organizations, and almost every one of them has been made possible or been accelerated because of the foundation of support the Grinspoon EI created for us.
Today the 15th largest employer in the Pioneer Valley are the alumni of our region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, many of whom are alum of the very program we are celebrating tonight! Most of those companies are only a few years old. What will happen in the next 5 years? The next 15? How much prosperity will they unleash?
I, for one, have a great deal to be thankful to Harold and his team for. Please help me in thanking them.