Terry Gill
Terry Gill

by Terry Gill, VP of GLI EnterpriseCorp

Recently I participated in group discussion that included some of Louisville’s best-known entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders. We gathered together to talk about what was working within our entrepreneurial ecosystem, what was lacking, and most importantly, how to move the community forward.

As you might imagine, there was no shortage of opinions.

My thesis is that the Louisville region has all of the necessary elements to become an exceptional entrepreneurial force, but we need to gain density in some vital areas. I like that word: density. I think it captures one of the missing elements in Louisville. We have highly creative and talented entrepreneurs, accelerator programs, early stage investors and successful exits, but we don’t have a sufficient quantity of any of these critical components.

It may seem like I’m playing it safe, but to those in the community who say we need more capital, the answer is yes. And to those who say we need more deals to invest in, the answer is yes. We need more of everything, and to gain the density we all desire (capital, talent, energy, creativity, engagement, liquidity) we have to take a different approach: We need to innovate.

Innovation: a novel response to a known problem. We all recognize the inherent requirement to innovate in our respective businesses (remember Blockbuster?), but for some reason we haven’t demanded innovation within the entities that are charged with identifying and supporting Louisville’s high-potential and high-growth early- and second-stage business community.

For many cities, one of the innovative solutions to accelerate this transformational change would be the creation of an Entrepreneur Center. These EC’s are called different things in different towns (Chicago has 1871, Philadelphia has 1776, Durham has American Underground and Innovation Downtown), but they follow a similar mantra. By creating a physical and online epicenter of all things entrepreneurial, you can bring an entirely new level of engagement and collaboration to a community’s ecosystem. You literally see what is available, what is redundant, and what is missing.

In many of these EC’s you’ll find pre-accelerators, vertical-specific and general incubators, innovation centers, maker spaces, and venues for creative programming and community outreach. They understand the need to offer up relevant content for the entrepreneur, the investor, and the creative community at large.

They are all unique and very well-organized in a way that is representative of the unique sense of place they inhabit. Some are more tech-oriented, while others might have special maker space assets. In all cases, they attempt to remain fluid, adding resources and curating people and other critical assets based on what the community is demanding. It is a symbiotic relationship. They are also well-staffed and funded, and closely tied to the larger corporate community.

EC’s are physical spaces and also have a digital counterpart in the form of a web presence that reinforces the physical assets. It allows the user to move through the site based on their own set of needs and curiosity. They work in tandem between the physical and digital.

Greater Louisville deserves this. We’re a community that loves to create, be it food, spirits, aging care, or technology-enabled service platforms. Think of the benefit of a comprehensive focal point welcoming, encouraging, and challenging our entrepreneurs and capital sources to be their very best.

For the past 17 years, GLI’s EnterpriseCorp has served as the focal point of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing the continuity, funding, leadership, and vision to advance our local startup and gazelle companies. There continue to be many successes, and now is the time to up our game and truly transform the way we cultivate fast-growth companies.

Our region is on the verge of a seismic shift as one of our most successful startups, Humana, merges with Aetna next year. A successful merger would unleash a historic amount of liquidity as stock options are exercised. Some percentage of this fresh capital should recycle within our community in the form of private investments in existing or newly formed private companies.

I hope we will also see the emergence of a new set of entrepreneurs. These folks have had a business concept for years, but the time hasn’t been right for them to take their disruptive idea — created and refined, no doubt, over the years of flight delays, long meetings, and longer drives — and launch their company, until now.

Wouldn’t it be great if they knew exactly where to go to find everything they need to get their big idea launched in the same community they already know and love?

Please join me in the pursuit of transformational entrepreneurship in our region. We need your ideas, participation and your vocal support as organizations like EnterpriseCorp lead this effort. I will be begin reaching out to many of you over the next few weeks to solicit your ideas for what a Greater Louisville enterprise center should deliver to our ecosystem, how we should measure success and what needs to be considered to ensure the long term success of this effort.

Lastly, I’d like to invite you to join me on Aug. 19 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. for the EnterpriseCorp Signature Event. I’ll share a bit more about our the year ahead, we’ll recognize one of Louisville’s most generous entrepreneurs and hear from the amazing Ross Baird from Village Capital, who will share some additional insights about our entrepreneurial ecosystem. To register, please click here.

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