Sheltowee Outpost

Challenges for those of us in Fly Over Country

Challenges for those of us in Fly Over Country

Jul 14 2014

I have been working with technology startups for over 20 years.  There are areas of the country where the startup thrives.  Places like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York City.  When you visit these places, places such as Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee are considered "fly-over" country.  They are just places the "important people" have to fly over to get back and forth between these corridors of commerce.  I have had people look me in the eye and tell me that we can never be successful in Kentucky, because all of our good entrepreneurs will come to Silicon Valley.  Now keep in mind, in these areas, the idea of the entrepreneur is the pop culture idea of the Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or the Larry Page of Google.  I want to talk about what we can do in "Fly Over Country" to create a culture that is conducive to the true entrepreneur, the small business owner who never makes it to be a billion dollar company. 

How we view ourselves:

This is so important.  I have found that many Kentuckians, particularly our so called "leaders", have a lower opinion of Kentucky than those outside the state.  I can remember many conversations I have had with people (names you would recognize), who truly don't believe we are smart enough in Kentucky to compete.  Words and beliefs are very powerful.  We have been told this so long that many of us have started to believe it.  As someone who has travelled to: New York; Silicon Valley; Boston; Tel Aviv, Israel; Rome, Italy; Cologne, Germany; Amsterdam, Holland; and Porto, Portugal, I can tell you that some of the most talented and skilled people I have ever met are in rural Kentucky.  I know people who are mechanical geniuses, who have never had more than an 8th grade formal education.  I have met incredibly talented individuals, who play on the world stage, and many of those individuals end up leaving Kentucky, because the culture says, "if you were really good you wouldn't be here!". 

We have to stop telling ourselves we can't compete.  Our leaders have to stop telling us we can't compete.  I KNOW that we can.  But we need to provide a culture and support system that allows individuals to assume the risk, without being ridiculed and driven out of our state.  We have to keep those smart people.  And that is not just the "formally educated" smart people. 

One of the key areas where I see that we need to change things is how we view failure.  As part of being an entrepreneur, you have failures.  In Kentucky, I have seen it many times, that those who have started a business and failed are shunned for further investment.  If an entrepreneur does make it on his first time out, he is lucky.  Most of us have to endure many failures before we have that first success.  In Silicon Valley, it is a given that people are going to fail.  Instead of saying, "he has crashed a deal, stay away from them", the attitude is, "I bet they learned a lot from crashing that deal, let's back them". 

The fact of the matter is, is that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.  You take that learning and apply it to your next endeavor.  Endurance is a requirement for an entrepreneur.  It generally is not an easy road, and often times you will get little support from those around you.  "You have tried the whole entrepreneur thing, now be smart, and go get a job"- these are words you are likely to hear from your closest confidants. 

Those entrepreneurs who are successful maintain their vision and move forward, even under excruciating hardships.  This is what defines and molds entrepreneurs.  Now don't get me wrong.  They don't always do this with a smile, and they are not immune from pain.  Trust me, they feel the pain.  But they endure through it.  We need to start molding a culture in Kentucky that recognizes that entrepreneurs fail, and support them after their first deal fails.

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