Idea Mensch is a simple premise: help nascent entrepreneurs by bringing them together and having them listen to presentations by not-so-nascent entrepreneurs–those who’ve “broke through” and can tell their tales of inspiration, ingenuity, and insight.
I was alerted to one of these events right here in Minneapolis Monday night. It wasn’t a large event, maybe 60 people sitting in chairs in a large office space near downtown. To my surprise, most of the people I met were manning hopeful Internet start-ups. One middle-aged gentlemen with a black-haired comb-over and cool cross around his neck was crossing his fingers about a social network for Christians to send and receive prayer requests. Another young woman, Sarah Young, started RockYourBlock.com, a site for teenagers seeking work and those who need them. She was one of the speakers, in fact.
Sarah started the night off with the entrepreneurial gusto that often exemplifies these types. I’m jealous, actually. A roomful of people that I’m in front of means that many more to impress. To these speakers, it seemed to simply mean that many more people they’d get to engage. It’s those differences I like to learn from.
Emily Torgrimson presented her story of starting Eat For Equity (EatforEquity.org), a non-profit that organizes meal socials to raise money for chosen causes.
Both women revealed that undeterred nature of the successful entrepreneur. Emily’s story is particularly compelling. She lived in a female housing complex at college and decided to cook a meal with a Cajun theme for Hurricane Katrina relief. The 25 women in the house invited people and around 100 showed. That was the start of it all. Since then, Emily’s been organizing a monthly meal and it’s gotten to the point to where NBC’s Today Show even featured them.
All this from a simple deed, an idea that you or I or most anyone could’ve had. For most, though, when faced with the idea–the pressure of cooking, the fear of no one coming, and the temptation to just chill out and watch a movie instead– would’ve won the day. That’s the difference right there. You can almost pinpoint those moments that make all the difference, that push the stone over the hill to get things rolling; to feel secure enough to step out into the exposure of being the person responsible for an event, an organization, a movement.
Or a product.
If one presenter Monday night was the black sheep, it was inventor Sid Tincher. Sid’s a middle-aged woman with dark, wavy hair. Her story is the quintessential “everyday inventor” tale. She presented like she was having a conversation with the crowd–an informal, aw shucks manner. Sid’s a musician and simply came up with the idea of needing a place to put a drink when she played guitar and sang. So she went home and created a coil that connected along side a microphone stand. She got a manufacturer, brought them to Guitar Center, saw them sell out quickly, and now has them in many outlets. Her invention has been used on the Grammy’s!
If Sid was the quintessential inventor, Dana Severson was the quintessential entrepreneur. The 30-something, blonde-haired gentleman from the northern suburbs told of his earlier years of tryingly holding a job. This wasn’t for lack of skill or work ethic, but because he saw himself as a cog helping make his boss money. Why was he spending all this time making someone else rich?
I tell ya, in all my years having different jobs, I’m not sure if that thought ever crossed my mind. I’ve typically been happy just to get a paycheck! But so is the attitude shift from me to Dana. God bless ‘em. Because he took this outlook and found his way into journalism jobs I’d personally be thrilled to have. To Dana,though, this was just a means to an end.
After owning and selling a bar, he decided to jump headfirst into an idea that long teased him. Eventually, Wahooly.com was born, a website for well-known, talented people to team up with start-ups. The start-up, of course, loves the help; the expert hopes to make some money if the start-up takes off. With this journalism know-how and go-for-it-all ethic, Dana got press from some of the biggest business and tech outlets in the country. His site had 25,000 users before it was even created.
So is the roller-coaster ride for the go-getters out there. It was fun to witness, look into the lives, and see through the eyes of these presenters. Even the 20-something young man who sat in the seat to my right impressed me. I thought I was Mr. Techie, Tweeting throughout the presentations. This recent college grad was shaming me by pulling out his MacBook Air, finding all the websites being talked about the presenters, adding them to his database, and connecting with the presenters via social networks all before he even had a chance to shake their hands. Oh, and he’s got a start-up of his own. (Oh, and he has a day job at Boston Scientific.)
Wired to be wired.
I had the chance to speak with Dana afterward. I shared with him my admiration for his style. I said that most people are happy to be employees, to get their paychecks on Friday, that some even look forward to tax day because it means a refund. He just shook his slightly, by friendly, asking why would you look forward to seeing how much money you overpaid to Uncle Sam? It was a good point; one blatantly clear to a man with his outlook.
Lastly, I got a chance to correspond with the Idea Mensch (IdeaMensch.com) creator, Mario Schulzke. A German immigrant at 16, he, too, had a bright idea and has seen it through. He made the phone calls, organized the events, and got on the road for this series that sees him and his crew of four visiting all 48 states in the continental U.S. The days prior saw them in North and South Dakota and Iowa. Yesterday was Wisconsin. Today, not sure.
On a shoe-string budget, he drives to the next location with the firm belief in what he’s doing–just like all the others who presented this night.
to New Plateaus,