Richard Thompson at the Belcourt Theater – Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Richard Thompson visited Nashville last Wednesday evening.  He played at the Belcourt Theater.  Great show.  Almost 2 hours of music.  Richard is playing solo this tour.  He stuck to the acoustic guitar for the entire show – last time he visited the Belcourt he played both acoustic and electric.

For those of you that know Richard, you know that he’s been around since the mid-60s.  He was a founder of the great English group Fairport Convention when was was still in his mid-teens.  In the years since he has had a prolific career as a singer-songwriter.  He noted during the show that he has 17 albums.  That’s lots of songs to choose from when crafting a playlist.  On Wednesday he explored a few pretty dusty corners of the Richard Thompson song library.  He spanned the years from the Fairport Convention years (2 songs) up to his most recent album (3 songs I think).  He mixed in some of his best known work such as 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Persuasion, Razor Dance, Valerie, Beeswing, and Uninhabited Man along with a few less well known songs.

Richard was really killing it on the guitar on Wednesday.  Richard at any time is a fantastic guitar player.  But it seemed to me that he was really on top of his game on Wednesday.   Several of the songs that I have heard several times had new guitar solos that seemed longer and more intricate than past versions.  It is so inspiring to hear a master like Richard when he is really cooking.

(the photo above is one I took of Richard at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2008.)

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Did We Just Make Our Screwed Up Patent System Worse?

Well, we just got done passing a major change in our patent system.  And the sense I get is that it makes what was already a pretty messed up system – at least from the point of view of someone in the software world – much, much worse.

Turns out I’m not the only person who sees it that way.  Here’s one view from Bob Zubrin’s editorial titled “Crushing America’s Inventors”:

On Sept. 16, at a ceremony involving some fanfare, President Obama signed the ironically-styled America Invents Act into law. While posed as an effort to “modernize” U.S. patent law by “harmonizing it with the rest of the world,” the bill actually represents an effort by multinational and foreign corporations to crush America’s vital culture of independent inventors.

Or, here is Henry Nothhaft:

When President Obama signed the new patent bill last Friday, he took a major step, not toward creating jobs, as he claimed, but toward destroying them.

(I could quote from a dozen more sources but we’ll focus on the two I’ve already quoted from.  But here’s one more citation in Forbes: New Patent Law Means Trouble For Tech Entrepreneurs.  Please go read the two articles cited above and the one in Forbes for more details.)

There are several changes made in the patent system by the new law.  All contribute to making the new law an inhibitor of startups and another full-employment act for lawyers.

The first major change we’ve made is to shift our patent system from a first-t0-invent rule to a first-to-file rule.  First-to-invent is how the U.S. patent system – you know, the patent system that has provided a foundation for the most inventive and innovative national economy in the world for the last 200+ years – has worked basically forever.  It’s one of the elements that has provided a foundation for our incredible entrepreneurial culture.  It’s a system that favors inventors and entrepreneurs over large corporations. The rest of the world (i.e. Europe) has used a first-to-file rule.

So given that we’ve out-innovated the rest of the world by a huge margin when measured against patentable innovations/inventions, what would you expect us to do in “updating” our patent system?  That’s right, you’d expect us to junk first-to-invent and move to first-to-file.  Huh?  Let’s move to the system that the sclerotic, statist, slow-moving Euros have used.  Are we out of our freaking mind?  Is it more Euro-envy?  Is it crony capitalism run wild?  Is it clogging up another artery of our economy with over-lawyered big companies?  Yes!!!  Yes to all of the above.  Continue reading

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Tech Startups Not Just For Kids

Think that internet and cloud computing startups are just for kids?  Think again.  Kenandy is a new cloud-based manufacturing software company founded by CEO Sandra Kurtzig, who was born in 1947 and was the founder of ASK Computer Systems.  Memories can be short in Silicon Valley but Kurtzig was the first woman to take a Silicon Valley tech firm public back in 1981 and built ASK into a ~$450M company. Kurtzig started ASK out of the second bedroom in her home and built it into a leader in the automation of manufacturing companies through its ManMan product line.

Kurtzig has been retired on the beach in Hawaii for almost 20 years but she’s jumping back into the game.  According the the Wall Street Journal, she walked into Kleiner Perkins without an appointment and walked out with a funding commitment: Continue reading

Posted in Boomerpreneurs, Entrepreneurship, software industry, Web/Tech | 1 Comment

TechStars Mentor Manifesto

I’ve been talking about mentoring a lot in my posts about Jumpstart Foundry.  Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about mentorship.  David Cohen, who runs TechStars (Jumpstart Foundry is a TechStars affiliate), just posted his manifesto for mentors.  Really good stuff, some of which I need to get better at.  Here’s his list:

The Mentor Manifesto

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

Looks like a great list.  Anyone see anything missing?


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Jumpstart Foundry 2011 Ends

Jumpstart Foundry 2011 came to a dramatic close with Investor Day on Thursday of last week.  There was a really great turnout for Investor Day – I’d say 250+, maybe even more than that.  A large number of angel and venture capital investors from all over Tennessee and beyond plus lots folks from the Nashville entrepreneur community and general business community.

There were really two events on Investor Day.  First, there was a 3 hour event at Houston Station where all six of the Jumpstart Foundry companies did their pitches, plus there were presentations from one of last year’s Jumpstart companies, from Michael Burcham of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Vic Gatto of Solidus, Marcus Whitney and Chris McIntire.

All six of the Jumpstart Foundry companies did great jobs on their presentations. I’m biased of course, but I thought that Ben Stucki of DAIO did the best job of all.  But RentStuff, Kahootz, Meevl, Cold Crate and GoodJob all did super jobs telling their stories.

After the main event there was an after party at the W.O. Smith Music School.  I wasn’t familiar with the W.O. Smith School but it looks like an organization that does great work.  If you don’t know about them I’d encourage you to learn about what they do.

The after party was an opportunity for all of the Jumpstart companies to mingle with a much smaller crowd of by-invitation guests – mentors, community leaders, and, most importantly, potential investors.  Many conversations were started at the after party between the companies and potential investors – hopefully those conversations will lead to funding for all of the companies at some point in the future.

Here are Ben and I at the after party.  I got caught in mid-utterance, hence the goofy look.  Or rather, the even-more-goofy-than-normal look.  Ah well.

Investor Day was a great end to Jumpstart Foundry 2011.  The general sense of all who attended was that Nashville had never quite seen an event like this focused on our startup community.  Hopefully we’ll all look back on August 25, 2011 as a major milestone in the evolution of the startup ecosystem in middle Tennessee.  My congratulations to all six of the companies for their great work all summer long.

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Jumpstart Foundry Counts Down to the Last Day

Jumpstart Foundry is almost done.  As I post this at approximately 1015 CDT, we’re down to well less than a day left in the program.  A few hours ago, I took this picture of the JSF countdown clock that has been counting down the seconds since the program launched almost exactly 14 weeks ago.  The clock says that there are only 20 hours and 34 minutes left of the program – and it’s fewer now.

All that remains is for the six companies to make their pitches at the JSF Investor Day tomorrow (Thursday).  Looks like we’re going to have a great turnout for the event.  I’ll be introducing Ben Stucki and his company, DAIO, at the event.  It has been a blast this summer working with Ben as he strives to launch his business.  Ben – thanks for letting me hang out for the summer and soak up some of the entrepreneurial energy!

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My Next New Thing – Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Belmont University

As this summer’s “new thing” – mentoring at Jumpstart Foundry – comes to an end the next “new thing” is getting ready to start.  I have agreed to take on a part-time role at Belmont University’s Center for Entrepreneurship as Belmont’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR).

Since it is a new role this is a bit of a start-up, which seems oddly appropriate given the title and my own interests.  I will be focused on running and/or supporting many of the co-curricular programs that we run for Belmont students.  This is a shift in role for me at Belmont since up until now I have been teaching entrepreneurship classes as an adjunct professor.  But it’s an exciting change since I believe that classroom education can only take one so far in learning to be an entrepreneur.  Our co-curricular, i.e. outside the classroom, programs complement our classes and provide our students with many other ways to learn the what, how and why of entrepreneurship.

Another exciting thing about our co-curricular offerings is that they are not just for entrepreneurship majors and minors, or even for business school students, they are open to anyone on Belmont’s campus who has a genuine interest in learning about entrepreneurship, who is starting a business, or who has a business.  Many of our practicing entrepreneurs (students who have a business) are majors in other programs, from art and design to music to communications.

It looks like my initial focus will be evolving and growing our mentorship and networking programs.  But there are many other potential co-curricular opportunities that might target students at different stages of the entrepreneurial voyage – from the earliest glimmers of “I want to start a business, but I’m not sure what it might be” all the way through “I’m running a growing business, now what?”.  We’ve got students at all points on that continuum so there is room for a range of mentoring options that meet our students at various points in their readiness and commitment to entrepreneurship.

It’s always fun to be starting something new.  One nice thing about this latest new thing for me is that it allows me to build on what I have already been doing at Belmont and to continue to work with the folks I already know at the Center for Entrepreneurship, especially my friend Dr. Jeff Cornwall.  Jeff, Mark Schenkel and Jose Gonzalez have been friends now for several years and have been very supportive of my efforts to learn how to handle the role of classroom teacher (an area still needing a lot of work).  And, I’m only one of the three new faces at the Center this year – Lisa Davis and Mark Phillips are also new this month.

I will be continuing to teach some classes at Belmont.  I will also continue to run my consulting business and our family tea business (Music City Tea).  And there may be more coming – mentoring this summer at Jumpstart has really got my tech industry juices going again.  I may have another startup in these old bones after all – we’ll have to see I guess.  But there’s definitely some fun stuff ahead at Belmont this year!


Posted in Education, Entrepreneurship, Nashville | 3 Comments