There’s nothing like hearing “that’s not possible” from someone in a position of authority to stir the motivation of a determined entrepreneur. I’ll show them! I remember my father telling me that getting a technology analyst position straight out of college wasn’t possible. He was rooting for me to be an economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank; his first big job was being an economist at the Boston Federal Reserve. But I got my perfect job as a telecom analyst at The Yankee Group, which paved the way for my years in venture capital.
My satisfaction was an inner gloat, never voiced to Dad (I showed him!), who soon enough became quite the proud father. Moving to Maine 20 years ago this week, to build a global a cappella business, elicited some shaking heads from my VC peers. They thought I was “retiring.” Yeah, right, starting a business is retirement? A cappella is an obscure niche? Twenty years and two Pitch Perfect movies later I feel vindicated. I showed them!
After exiting a cappella in 2008 – yep, four years before the boom – I spent the summer of 2010 making the rounds to see if a statewide business plan competition was feasible in Maine. I ended up meeting a bunch of people I’ve worked with in some capacity since then. But I remember a number of negative responses to my idea, from people in some position of authority to know more than I did at the time. In particular I remember that the organization running the Maine Investment eXchange, a periodic investment pitch event, was very negative due to the perceived poor quality of Maine entrepreneurs seeking funding through MiX.
So when I was recruited for the position I have just left at MCED, I took that as my big challenge: could I overcome this negative view of Maine entrepreneurs? With lots of help, and experimentation, and learning, and a lot of hard work by the MCED community and especially by Maine entrepreneurs, I think it’s safe to say this negative view is starting to turn. Top Gun has tripled in size, and the annual Showcase stirs pride of place for young Maine companies. Entrepreneur competitions are spreading across Maine campuses and communities. Maine Angels is nationally recognized for its active support of Maine (and other New England) start-ups. Gorham Savings Bank Launchpad is in year four with an increased prize. Maine Startup and Create Week is an amazing celebration of the positive proliferation of Maine entrepreneurs. And then there’s Greenlight Maine. I didn’t have to start this televised statewide $100K entrepreneur competition – thank you Con Fullam! – I get to host it (and, do some work behind the curtain).From what I can tell through unscientific, person-on-the-street unsolicited feedback (“Love your show!), it’s having a positive impact on people’s attitude toward young Maine companies. So as I make yet another transition – not retirement, mind you – I hope you don’t mind if I smile with another inner gloat. I showed them!
- Don Gooding is the outgoing Executive Director of MCED. He served the organization for 5 years overseeing a the growth of the Top Gun Entrepreneurship Training Program to 3 locations, launching Top Gun Prep and MCED OnlineU. Prior to MCED he was a telecommunications market analyst and venture capitalist for fifteen years, founded and ran a global specialty music business for sixteen years, and has invested as an angel since the late 1990s. As Research Partner for Accel Partners (1986-1996), he investigated new telecom and networking markets, finding and evaluating new investment opportunities.