Economic Development, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Bestselling business author Josh Linkner asks state to bet on startups

October 23, 2012
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Bestselling business author Josh Linkner asks state to bet on startups
Author Josh Linkner is both the CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners and the CEO and founder of ePrize -- the world’s largest interactive promotions agency. Courtesy The Institute for Applied Creativity

Author, venture capitalist and CEO Josh Linkner created a stir among 400 West Michigan entrepreneurs and business leaders at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids yesterday when he shared a quote that speaks to the essence of capitalism.

“Right now, there’s an entrepreneur out there forging a bullet with your company’s name on it,” said Linkner at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, quoting fellow author and management consultant Gary Hamel.

The line was the core of Linkner’s heartfelt message that the startup community could play the most vital role in the drama of Michigan’s economic resurgence.

“I really believe the startup community will play a vital role, if not the vital role,” he said. “What we need more than anything are fresh, young companies that keep our young people in the state.”

Linkner is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity,” hailed as one of 2011’s best business books. He is both the CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners and the CEO and founder of ePrize -- the world’s largest interactive promotions agency.

His presentation, “How Startups Will Save Michigan’s Economy,” explored the role of startup entrepreneurs and how a culture either cultivates or destroys them.

Linkner said he is unconvinced an economic model that recruits big companies is relevant. The real way to grow the economy is to create a fertile environment for startups, he said. As it becomes a safer and robust ecosystem of investors and entrepreneurs, the capital will follow it.

The economic recession changed the rules of business, he said, and as the world keeps spinning, the only survivor is creativity backed by grit.

“One of the biggest ingredients for startup success is grit -- good, old-fashioned grit,” he said. “Silicon Valley doesn’t have grit. They have manicures. The mere definition of you being a Michigan entrepreneur says something about you. You’re willing to take the road less traveled.”

Linkner praised Michigan’s assets, emphasizing the low cost of living, credible higher education and the support of government. Michigan has the highest ratio of engineers per startup in the country, he said, debunking the myth that there is not enough talent in the state.

There are, however, four attitudes killing Michigan entrepreneurs, he said: feeding fear, clinging to the past, embracing bureaucracy and following.

Employers need to encourage discussion of ideas rather than shut them down -- and training employees to never be creative, Linkner said. Breakthrough ideas typically are born out of a series of experiences, including failures.

Michigan needs to embrace failing in order to succeed, he said.

“Here in Michigan, if you fail, it’s like a scarlet letter. Everyone shuns you, and it’s awful,” Linkner said. “In Silicon Valley, failure is a badge of honor. We need to celebrate it here more.”

Big business should still think like small business, he said, urging to choose a system made up of smaller, nimbler creative business units, than one, giant, controlling tradition.

Afterwards, Linkner stayed for questions. When he was asked for his criteria on how to know if you are investing in a long-term bad idea, he responded “bet on the team over the idea.”

“We bet on great people,” he said. “It’s not just coming up with a fancy idea, it’s knowing how to execute it.”

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