The Startup Quest® Program is coming to close in Brevard County. A program like this, which offers innovative entrepreneurial training, has many moving parts that are vital to ensure success. Our mentors are the linchpin for the program’s success. Watching these mentors work has given me an incredible education into what it truly takes to be an entrepreneur, what makes them tick and what the “secret sauce” is to business success. One could say that volunteering to mentor in a program like this is, in itself, an entrepreneurial endeavor – long hours over uncharted territory with a team of professionals striving towards unified goals.
So what does it take to be an entrepreneur? Over the last three years, 19 individuals have volunteered their time to serve as mentors for CareerSource Brevard’s Startup Quest®. This month, as a tribute, we are highlighting a few of this year’s mentors. The group has (on average) 25 years of entrepreneurial experience each. We interviewed them to learn about their backgrounds and advice for entrepreneurs.
First let’s get to know them.
Stewart Bush (SB) has been a Startup Quest® mentor since the very first year and has led three teams through the process. He’s the CEO of AtLink Communications, a custom software developer building custom systems for Oil & Gas, Financial, Aerospace, Transportation, and Software Startups, among other types of companies . He has worked for startup/venture funded startup software companies since 1987.
Kenneth DeVeau (KD) started with Startup Quest® as a co-mentor in the 2014 class and returned this year to lead his own team. Ken is a manager for Finnet USA, a startup subsidiary of the Brazilian EDI company Finnet Tecnologia. His goal is to help Finnet establish operations in the US market. Additionally he owns and operates Format Cash Flow, a b2b microfinance company, and is a director for Rising Industries LLC.
Dr. Greg Howes (GH) is a new mentor to Startup Quest® this year, but by no means new to mentoring in the entrepreneurial world. He is the founding CEO of Treaty Consulting Group and the author of the hit book “Business Optimization: Six Steps to a Sustained Performance Culture.”
Michael Judith (MJ) has also been with the Startup Quest® program in Brevard since its inception in 2013. Michael led a team in his first year (coming in second place in the pitch contest) and has served as a “floating” mentor in 2014 and 2015, filling in if mentors are absent, and lending his sage advice to all teams. He is the Managing Partner for Innovative Space Technologies, LLC. IST transitions research and development (both basic and applied) efforts from government, academic, and industry partners to mature technology offerings.
James Stanley (JS) started as a mentor for CareerSource Brevard’s Energy Launch program in the fall of 2013 and returned to mentor the Startup Quest® program in 2014 and is back this year. He is currently a principal partner in Innovative Space Technologies (IST), LLC as well as a Subject Matter Expert in electromagnetics (RF, EMC, etc.) for Government Contracts for a Virginia based company.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
SB – I’m an entrepreneur because I like how wide open these companies are, the strong talent they can attract, and the creative freedom you have to make the company successful. Lots of ways to skin the cat, and this sentiment is more active in startups than in larger companies.
GH – Because I can be. There is nothing more exciting and liberating as being responsible for your own success or failure.
JS – I enjoy building the company most (all aspects including sales, accounting, technology, execution, planning, etc.). If you enjoy the “hunt” then may get a fast growing outcome. Experience is that if you stick with it long enough, it will have the rapid growth.
What has been the greatest business lesson you’ve learned in your career?
KD – Partner only with people you absolutely trust, who have the same moral compass and loyalty to the same vision.
MJ- Don’t buy into other people’s dogma.
SB- One good lesson I learned was to listen more to your customers. I was with Talarian selling our command and control infrastructure, which had some real cool technology – real time expert system, and real time graphics in particular. The customer told me that the real time data distribution was the most valuable part of our offering. While I didn’t disregard this input, I didn’t run it up the flagpole either. Long story short about 18 months later we did a total repositioning of the company and completely redirected our efforts to focus mainly on the real-time data distribution – which was the beginning of us becoming a serious middleware vendor. This ultimately led to a successful IPO.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone looking to start a business?
GH – If you aren’t committed to success, if you aren’t able or willing to work 18 hour days for days on end, if it isn’t something you love; then don’t start.
JS – You absolutely have to have a customer first of all. It really helps if that customer has money to spend on what you have to offer. Don’t give up!!!
KD – Again, the decisions about who you work with are the most important decisions you will make.
MJ – If you are in the position to; build a well-rounded team and go for it taking note not to get bogged down by analysis paralysis. Sometimes you need to fire the first round and learn how to aim when you see the results.
Why did you decide to get involved with the Startup Quest® program?
SB – I moved back to Melbourne in 2009, where I was born, and I found I missed the technology startup/entrepreneurial scene. Also, wherever I lived in the past … for instance San Jose, Dallas, Boston, etc. I would help startups get off the ground. Usually I had friends trying to startup. So I heard of StartupQuest when I gave a presentation at Founders Forum. And I was happy to find something in Brevard that was tied to tech based startups. And that’s how I got involved.
KD – I have a teacher’s heart, and had been consulting with struggling businesses via Format Cash Flow. When I learned about Startup Quest, I first thought about being a participant, since I seem to perpetually be in a startup phase myself. After getting acquainted with the program, I felt I could add value to it.
GH – Since starting Treaty Consulting in 2011, I have been focused on optimizing business performance and enriching peoples’ lives, and can’t think of a better way of doing this than mentoring others how to do the same.
MJ – Community development of Entrepreneurial Eco Systems is a passion of mine and I loved the opportunity to work with the other Mentors, NASA and the Universities and their talented people.
JS – Mainly to “Give Back” or “Pay It Forward”. The bigger picture is there are many unemployed people in Brevard and need a way to make a living. Most people will just complain, but Startup Quest provides a path to get involved as a Mentor or Student.
So, dear readers, as you step forward into your entrepreneurial endeavors- ask yourself, “What makes me tick? Why do I want to do this?” My advice? Find a mentor who will impart their knowledge upon you. Learning from someone who has already forged their own path will be the best education you can get.
As always, CareerSource Brevard and the Startup Quest® Program appreciate and thank the incredible contributions of our volunteer mentors, judges, and presenters who make this program what it is. In the last 3 years, over 175 individuals have received training, over 100 have gone back to work, and 36 (so far) have started their own companies.