Home » Louisville entrepreneurship gaining ground and national notice, GLI CEO Oyler says

Louisville entrepreneurship gaining ground and national notice, GLI CEO Oyler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (June 19, 2014) — Entrepreneurship in Louisville is gaining traction and beginning to attract national notice, according to recently named Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Kent Oyler, who presented the annual State of Entrepreneurship address Wednesday at the EnterpriseCorp Signature Event.

GLI itself is in the process of becoming a leaner organization, but it “we’ll be just fine,” said Oyler, who became CEO June 1. His predecessor Craig Richard left abruptly in February during turmoil that saw a number of the organization’s top executive positions cut, followed by a severing of GLI’s relationship with Louisville Metro government, its main benefactor.

EnterpriseCorp is the entrepreneurial arm of GLI, and its Signature Event, billed as the entrepreneurial and innovation community’s annual reality check, takes stock of the past year’s progress and looks forward and challenges the community on what is needed to get to the next level of entrepreneurial. This year’s gathering took place at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts downtown.

Kent Oyler
Kent Oyler is CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.

It was presented by PBI Bank along with Strothman & Co., ARGI Financial Group, Crowe Horwath, the University of Louisville Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship, and Kentucky Technology & Science Corp. The program, in addition to Oyler, included a presentation by Erica Bell and Katie Finnegan, co-founders from the fast growth, fashion tech startup Hukkster.

The following is a written version of Oyler’s State of Entrepreneurship address:

“Tonight I’ve been tasked with giving the annual State of Entrepreneurship address, and, not to give away my thunder up front, but I think the state of entrepreneurship is pretty good. I have plenty of facts and stories to share, but one stands out. Apparently entrepreneurship is so compelling in Louisville KY that the head of GLI’s EnterpriseCorp, who was slated to give this speech, up and quit his cushy, highly paid job, so he could become CEO of a startup. I think he took a pay cut and is now working out of a shipping container, but in my book he got a promotion – Go Tendai!

“Now the downside of Tendai jumping ship was that I, as the board chair and serial entrepreneur understudy, was tapped for your update speech tonight as well a recruiting Tendai’s replacement at GLI. Little did I know that through my interactions with the GLI board as part of the EnterpriseCorp director search I would find myself being recruited for a day-job working for the Man. But things moved fast, as they often do in the entrepreneurial space, and I stand before you now as the new President and CEO of GLI

“Before I say more about the state of entrepreneurship, may I share a few very important observations about my first couple weeks at GLI? To begin with, they have way cooler office furniture than I had at OPM. It all matches and the chairs do amazing things. And because they are constantly doing events and meetings at the office, there is always extra food in the break room. There is more than just Diet Coke and rotten yogurt in the refrigerator. And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far…

“Now, like any growth company there are challenges. We lost our biggest customer, Metro Government. Ouch! There went 10 percent of our sales. There’s been plenty of bad press and handwringing about this, but we are going to be just fine. We will have to get a little leaner and execute a bit of a pivot, but I’m confident our new, more focused direction, will actually make GLI an even more-effective advocate for business and community prosperity.

“Going forward GLI will be focused on three key areas: 1) Business growth and expansion, 2) Workforce development and 3) public policy. The good news is that over the past year or so GLI has had a top-secret steering committee working on a detailed strategic plan code-named Advantage Louisville. I’m also pleased to tell this group that entrepreneurship is prominently featured throughout Advantage Louisville. Enough on GLI. So let’s talk about the state of entrepreneurship.

“As I mentioned at the top, from my vantage point I think it is pretty good. My anecdotal evidence includes a presentation we did recently for our Intern to Earn program. That is where big companies turn hundreds of college interns into cubical rats for the summer, and there are a good number of them here tonight. Raise your hands… Ankur Ghopal, aka DJ-Ang here, and others presented at their kickoff event and, during the Q&A, all the interns wanted to talk about was how they might become entrepreneurs. You’ve got to appreciate that 19-year olds find entrepreneurship wicked-cool. In fact, nationally 41 percent of college kids list entrepreneurship as their top career interest. You heard it here first, entrepreneurship is HOT.

“The good news is reflected in the explosion of accelerator programs. A couple years ago we had none, and today there are 5. Thank you to Tony Schy, Bob Saunders, Susan Barry and others. Plus there are new co-working spaces like the iHub, Velocity and JCTC’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Center. Not to mention hacker spaces like LVL1 and the new GE FirstBuild.

“Our angel investor community continues to grow. Enterprise Angels, which is managed by EnterpriseCorp and grown this year and now, includes 48 angels. And with the leadership of Marty McClelland, Doug Cobb, Tony Holland, Darren King, Charlie Moyer, Bobbie Ferreri and Doug Whyte, Enterprise Angels has launched the Enterprise Angels Community Fund, a new seed fund which has already raised $1.6M of its $2M first close. And we now have angel groups in Indiana. And let’s not forget Yearling Fund II, which deployed $1.27M last year. In total the local investors funded 45 companies with $24,861,840 for 2013 and 19 companies with $12,153,150 just so far this year.

“And in a huge victory supported by GLI and many here, this past session the state legislature passed a new 40 percent angel tax credit, which will go a long way towards attracting more angel investors and funds.

“With EnterpriseCorp and Ted Smith from Metro in the lead, we’ve started to engage our start-ups with the big boys like GE, Humana, Café Press, and Brown-Forman. General Electric’s ‘open house’ with entrepreneurs in the fall was a big win for the community. Product developers sharing problems and new ideas with other entrepreneurs with the community also led to GE’s very successful Hack-a-thon in February.

“NuLu continues to develop a district around entrepreneurs, and having a home base for startups is something that is separating Louisville from other cities. It is exciting to see the next large development initiative, the redevelopment of the Portland neighborhood that will become home to entrepreneurial artists, musicians and educators. Thank you Gil Holland for your leadership!

“And our companies are succeeding. Several early-stage companies have set a path of aggressive growth, including Rooibee Red Tea, Red e App, Bourbon Barrel Foods and PGxL Laboratories. In addition, we saw the funds raised through the angel community for USL Louisville, which will bring professional soccer to Louisville Slugger Field in 2015.

“Continuing on the good news front, Under30CEO ranked Louisville No. 3 of the Top 30 Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs in 2013. Isn’t it cool there are enough under-30 CEOs to have their own magazine? And the Kauffman Foundation reports that Louisville outperformed the nation in being home to fast growth companies and Kentucky was among the top states in the nation in terms of new start-up companies formed.

“With programs launched in 2013 like The Startup VISA and RISE programs, which focus on foreign born entrepreneurials, the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs for grade level students was introduced, and the Kentucky Angel Network, all round out and strengthen our entrepreneurial community.

“Louisville has struggled over the years to maintain a high level of educational attainment. With the inception of the nationally recognized 55,000 Degrees and other creative initiatives, we are finally seeing an uptick in the education stats.

“Our partnerships with postsecondary, including UofL’s Nucleus and the Institute for Product Realization, the state’s Cabinet for Economic Development and Kentucky Innovation Network, and the Community Foundation with the Vogt Awards will all grow stronger. And a big shout out to UofL which has been pumping ever bigger bucks into entrepreneurship through their foundation, as well as the business, medical and engineering schools.

“According to a survey we sent around a couple months ago:

  • Overall folks believe Louisville does a nice job nurturing its startup community. We also believe Metro Government officials including our entrepreneurial Mayor Fischer, GLI, EnterpriseCorp and other community leaders are supportive of the entrepreneurial community
  • On the downside the survey points out the need for a lot more work on talent attraction, startup office space and tax structure. And we need more grant funding opportunities and much more seed capital.

“So there is plenty of evidence of progress and I think the local ship of entrepreneurship is certainly rising. But where are we going in the future?

“If we look at our entrepreneurial ecosystem like a startup, you might say we’ve gone through our first round of seed funding and there’s great momentum and plenty to celebrate. But we still aren’t Austin or Nashville, and we still have work to prepare for that validating A-round. So we still need to scale up our efforts, show some more successes and stick to our business plan.

“The good news is that our overall goals for the entrepreneurial community align with GLI’s new Advantage Louisville strategic plan. As I mentioned earlier, this plan was developed by a diverse planning committee and prominently features entrepreneurship. Before I took the GLI position, I served on the Advantage Louisville planning committee, so I know what’s in it, and I think it provides a great roadmap for moving ahead. The plan won’t roll out until the end of the summer, but let me share a sneak peek.

“There are five top-level goals in the new strategic plan. One of these goals is to “foster innovation and entrepreneurial relationships.”

This is attacked through 4 major themes:

  1. “Mature Greater Louisville’s culture of entrepreneurship by telling its story and building more accountability; that’s the hype-it strategy.
  2. “Close gaps in funding and attract more seed capital; that’s the fund-it strategy.
  3. “Then we need to work to build a critical mass of entrepreneurial connections and talents; that’s the chemistry strategy
  4. “And finally, we must expand the corporate, university and non-profit sectors’ engagement in innovation and growth; that’s the engagement strategy.

“As the new leader of GLI, I’ve pledged to double down on small business. That includes our start-ups, which you know I love, as well as our fast growth gazelle companies. I want to carry that investment across our 26-county region.

“But we can’t do this alone. In order to take this entrepreneurial community to the next level, everyone here has to play a part.

“As good as it is, I ask that you go beyond what exists now and innovate based on tomorrow. And engage, truly engage in making things better. If you are an investor, invest. If you are a founder, found. If you are a doer, do. If you are a service provider, serve. If you are a connector, connect. If you are Tendai Charasika, well, keep doing whatever it is that you now do.

“No matter what role you play in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, if you do it with energy and purpose, we will be successful together. Thank you.”