Kent Oyler

Kent Oyler

by Kent Oyler, CEO of GLI

Starting and growing new businesses — entrepreneurship — is a critical piece of GLI’s regional economic development strategy. It is true that we now enjoy a robust startup culture in Greater Louisville, replete with helpful amenities like the iHub, Venture Connectors, the iMBA program, 5 accelerators, angel groups, seed funds, etc.

Yet many of the region’s biggest companies started small and started here. Certainly that was the case for today’s leading public company HQ giants: Humana, Brown-Forman, Texas Roadhouse, Papa John’s, Kindred, Steel Technologies and others.

Doug Cobb recognized the gaps in support for startups 16 years ago and created GLI’s EnterpriseCorp. Over the years, the EnterpriseCorp has served as the centerpiece and glue of the startup community. Its staff and advisory board members provide much of the leadership for other organizations that also serve early-stage entrepreneurs. And importantly, EnterpriseCorp has helped convene much of the capital that funded the cool young companies we love to write about. The EnterpriseCorp is also our region’s node in the Kentucky Innovation Network, and as such has led on the state’s work to spread innovation and entrepreneurship across the Commonwealth.

Today, EnterpriseCorp is headed by tested entrepreneur Terry Gill. His full-time staff, made up of Lisa Bajorinas, Nicole Eovino and Jeff Cummins, is joined by Dave Oetken and the Small Business Development Center crew. They are the largest and most experienced group in the region, focussed on advancing our critical startup and gazelle companies. EnterpriseCorp’s advisory board, which includes such experienced entrepreneurial leaders as Dale Boden, Bob Saunders, Mike Grisanti, Ankur Gopal, Ted Smith and Phoebe Wood, provide ongoing direction for improving early-stage funding, talent and corporate engagement.

My point is that while supporting entrepreneurs is an important part of the total economic development puzzle, I don’t think we perceive startups as true “economic development,” at least in the sense we cut ribbons and provide tax incentives for expansion and attraction at larger companies. That needs to change, and we need to do even more to nurture and incubate the next generation of potential corporate giants.

I am proud that GLI is investing heavily in its entrepreneurial initiatives and in turn truly advancing our mushrooming business creation ecosystem. In fact, the EnterpriseCorp crew is leading several of the key initiatives around entrepreneurship and innovation in the Advantage Louisville 2020 strategic plan. I’m also pleased that we are seeing an increase in coverage of entrepreneurial activity in emerging media like Insider Louisville (which was its own startup not long ago and is now a fast-growth company quickly adding jobs).

During my career as a serial entrepreneur, my family learned to live with one paycheck every three to five years — my average cycle time to found, build and sell a startup company.  Of course, my timeframe conveniently assumed that the new company (and my marriage) survived to a liquidity event.

Happily, the entrepreneurial accounting company OPM Financial, which I cofounded with Chuck Woods in 2012, was recently acquired by ARGI Financial, completing another virtuous cycle and paying down a few tuition bills. OPM Financial created 10 high-wage jobs, provided valuable services to other growth companies, and generated a return for its investors. Now, in the hands of ARGI, a rising Louisville-based wealth management firm, OPM is poised to accelerate its growth and add more jobs. Sounds like pure economic development to me.

By the way, if you’re interested in meeting the 12 latest businesses selected as the fast growth “Gazelle” companies to watch in our region, come to the March 25th GLI EnterpriseCorp’ s 2015 Fast Dozen Showcase.