Motivation to get into business should transcend money matters, Big Think panel says

Business Report

Businesses looking to make their mark need to be worried about their impact on and relationships with communities, employees and stakeholders—not just their bottom line and relationships with shareholders.

That is the tenet of the Conscious Venture Lab and a concept that the business world needs to adopt for society to accept the oft-reviled term “capitalism,” Conscious Venture founder Jeffrey Cherry told the audience this morning at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Big Think event at the Manship Theatre as part of Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week.

“If we want capitalism to be accepted, capitalism needs to be broadly accepted and this is a way to do it,” Cherry said.

Cherry joined Francisco Cervera, CEO and co-founder of eMoneyPool, and venture capitalist Ron Ondechek Jr. on stage for a discussion about where entrepreneurs can find startup capital.

Conscious Venture Labs in Baltimore offers between $25,000 and $50,000 of seed money each year to 20 burgeoning businesses in exchange for 5% to 10% equity in the company.

More than 400 apply for those 20 spots, Cherry said. He pointed to companies profiled in the book Firms of Endearment, which spotlighted more than two dozen companies that stakeholders admire because they work to make the world better and are not solely motivated by money. Those companies include Amazon, Chipotle, Disney, FedEx, Panera and Whole Foods.

“We think that the horse is out of the barn; this is not a nice-to-have capability anymore,” Cherry said. “Anyone who tells you that starting a business is about making money has got it wrong. Starting a business is about purpose and mission and what you believe in.”

Ondechek kicked off the event by discussing where entrepreneurs can find seed money in Louisiana, including Angel Funds in Shreveport and Lake Charles, Innovation Catalyst in Baton Rouge and Innov8 in Lafayette.

“There is no better time than now in Louisiana to start a company,” he said. “You’re finding small pockets all over the state that are coming together as investors and entrepreneurs to start companies and support this ecosystem.”

However, before entrepreneurs go hat in hand to one of those groups for seed money, Ondechek said they need to answer the following questions:

  • Have you done your due diligence in studying the market and competitors, and is the market ready for your product or service?
  • How much money do you actually need, and what is a true valuation of your company (rather than how much money do you want)?
  • Have you received feedback from industry experts and people you don’t know who could offer ideas and suggestions on how to change or improve the product or service?

Francisco Cervera rounded out the discussion by talking about money pools, a 1,000-year-old tradition in which a group of people put money together and each person gets to withdraw a certain amount at regular intervals. The company he and his brother run, eMoneyPool, was founded on that premise.

The system works on trust and transparency, Cervera said, and is a good way for someone to get some startup money if going to the banks for help proves fruitless.

He said money pools are used by 1 billion to 2 billion people worldwide, including 40 million to 60 million people in the United States.

The half-day Big Think event kicked off this morning with presentations by Laurie Aronson of Haspel, Trevor Theunissen with Uber and intellectual property attorney Russel Primeaux with Kean Miller. Brad Showalter with lululemon athletica in New Orleans was the event’s luncheon keynote speaker.

BREW, which kicked off Monday and closes on Friday, reaches its climax tonight with the 2015 BREW Pitch Night, in which local entrepreneurs try to jumpstart their businesses with brief pitches before a live audience and panel of judges for a shot at winning $1,000 and startup assistance from Louisiana Technology Park, Horne LLP, Emergent Method and Kean Miller, among others. The event takes place at Creative Bloc downtown, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

On Wednesday morning, BRAC unveiled its 2016 Economic Outlook in conjunction with BREW, and on Tuesday evening, Rapid Rounds took place on the LSU campus. Also Wednesday, Failure Fest was held in conjunction with BREW.

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