Jim Roberts is a connector at the core, with 20 years of experience in entrepreneur development and ecosystem building in 4 different cities. He is the founder of Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE) and the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW). Jim also serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for SEEN. This Jim’s perspective on the value of networking and finding resources as an entrepreneur.
After 20 years of working in entrepreneur development in North Carolina, one thing is VERY clear, there is no substitute for networking to build relationships, even in a pandemic, to find the necessary resources for growth for startup entrepreneurs.
Last December, I received a message from Dr. Michael Barbera of Clicksuasion based in Moore County that he had an entrepreneur friend who needed some assistance to find some additional investors. Dr. Barbera and I have known each other for several years from networking at business and entrepreneur events like Bunker Labs for veteran entrepreneurs around North Carolina. Michael has spoken at one of my entrepreneur events in Wilmington as part of my organization, the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW).
I don’t think it’s a secret that as an entrepreneur, you might quickly run out of local high net worth people who MIGHT want to take a risk as a potential angel investor in a rural community with a small population like Moore County. So, it’s important to reach out beyond Moore County in a pro-business state like North Carolina. But how?
While the Sandhill Entrepreneur Engagement Network (SEEN) is new, the impact of entrepreneur development as a significant contributor to economic development and job creation has been happening in North Carolina for over thirty years.
In fact, at one time, the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneur Development (CED) was the largest entrepreneur support organization in the world. The CED was created by private professional service providers like lawyers and accountants, not the cities of Raleigh and Durham, as a way to build their future client base of growing startups in innovation-based industries. And, as a return on their investment of time and sponsorship, the Triangle is one of the healthiest economic regions in the world.
On top of helping entrepreneurs learn new skills around marketing, sales, and management, these organizations have real value in connecting people to new mentors, professional service providers, and in some cases investors. Of course, investors don’t just raise their hand to say “here I am” or “I’m ready to invest in your wild idea of a startup even though we have never met before”. I know this as I have run two angel investor networks in Asheville and Wilmington.
An important part of preparation before meeting investors is to practice your presentation to people who are not just friends and family. So, we invited the Moore County entrepreneur to give a guest presentation at the Wilmington chapter of 1 Million Cups. 1 Million Cups offers entrepreneurs the opportunity for a six-minute value proposition presentation where the audience members can contribute questions to help the entrepreneur fine-tune their message for more success.
The challenge, of course, is that there is a HUGE amount of preparation needed before a new contact will become an investor in your startup. What is one of the best ways to find new investors? A warm referral from your lawyer and accountant who typically knows these high net worth individuals who have higher risk tolerance.
How does this relate to Moore County, SEEN, and the entrepreneur from Moore County? One of the ways we have helped Jim Boyte of Active Defender is by connecting him to a CED executive who had an open call for entrepreneurs to apply for a new 12-week incubator program. Mr. Boyte was accepted into the program, and we even found a resource to help reimburse him for the cost of participating in the incubator.
One of the rewards for Active Defender going through the CED GRO incubator program is the company was just chosen for a stage presentation at the CED Venture Connect conference, the largest and oldest entrepreneur and investor conference in the South with over 100 investors who attend annually. This is a HUGE opportunity for validation for ANY company and a very competitive process with over 100 companies applying for the chance to impress investors.
I have been in many, many, many rooms over the last twenty years where I am on a committee, a judge for a pitch contest, or for a grant review process. It always helps the startups that have connections with the decision-makers in the room versus being the entrepreneur that no one in the room has ever heard of in terms of who wins the financial support.
The key to the success of SEEN is its Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. They know where the resources are, the people connected to the resources, and who gets things done within these organizations. Our job is to connect the rural entrepreneurs to new resources that are available but who maybe have never accessed before due to lack of awareness.
So this has been a long-winded way to say, how can SEEN help and connect you to the people and resources you need as an entrepreneur?
Want to continue the conversation with Jim? Connect with him at NEWilm910@gmail.com.
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