Navigating Uncharted Waters: What it Takes to Do Something That Hasn’t Been Done Before

What do you do when you want to build a business completely from a scratch, in an area that no one has previously pursued? The prospect of starting a project from below ground zero can seem daunting and it takes a special mindset to venture into the unknown.

Materializing a dream from an undiscovered space requires three things: courage, self-reliance and determination. It’s not simply enough to just have a vision – you also need the mental fortitude and will to see your business through to the end.

First, you need the courage to jump right into the unknown. Courage can propel you to achieve what was once thought to be unachievable and to deflect doubt coming from any naysayers.  This can also help entrepreneurs like yourself confront any uncertainty or internal conflict you’re likely to encounter as you bring your vision to life.

Once you find that inner courage to start building, you need to foster self-reliance to sustain growth. With self-reliance, you can rely on yourself when it comes time to make difficult decisions and also trust your instincts as you push forward toward attaining your goal.

And finally, determination is a trait every dreamer needs to persevere. Determination means you won’t quit in the face of adversity and are driven to overcome any obstacle, no matter big or small. It can enable you to get through any negativity (both internal and external) and to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

Building your business from nothing is far from easy and is not for the faint of heart. But with courage, self-reliance and determination, there is little to stop you from achieving your goals.

The Third Wave, Steve Case and How to Create a Social Enterprise

One of my all-time favorite reads is a book by Steve Case called The Third Wave. Case, the founder of AOL, shares with readers his vision of the next technological revolution and believes there are only five sectors left that have yet to undergo complete change and re-innovation. These five sectors include:

  1. Education
  2. Healthcare
  3. Fintech
  4. Energy
  5. Social Enterprise

If you’re surprised by any of these sectors, you shouldn’t be. They all share a common denominator that prevents rapid innovation within each of these industries: government.

Unfortunately, investors tend to shy away from companies that are closely tied to the government Also known as “cross-sector partnerships”, there are two key things to keep in mind if you hope to get investors on your side:

  1. Your intellectual property is your ability to build relationships
  2. Your barriers to entry include taking those relationships and creating formal partnerships

When I used to work in the angel investing and venture capital space, I noticed a correlation between raising capital and selling it to the government. But raising money, especially in the first round, starts with a strong relationship between entrepreneurs and angel investors. I recommend meeting your prospective investor every few weeks for coffee and following up every three weeks with progress updates. Not only does this show you know how to cultivate a working relationship, it also demonstrates your ability to deliver promised milestones to your angel investors.

One thing you should be careful to avoid is treating the government like another customer as you try to solidify a formal partnership. While you can consider the government as a client, they aren’t going to be the ones you turn to for advice on innovation. Asking for the government’s feedback can diminish your credibility as a thought leader. Instead, I suggest finding board members and co-founders who share the same passion as you to add to your leadership team.

Start by positioning yourself in front of thought leadership working within your space and convincing them you have something of value to them. Look for individuals who come from a variety of industries and bring unique experiences to the table. Potential board members should see you as a relentless entrepreneur who can also help prospective partners with the network you’ve built up to this point. Remember to be patient; board members are going to evaluate your passion, ability and value before coming to a final decision. Only after you’ve won their trust can you approach them with the offer of joining your company’s board.

My directors and legal counsel, for example, come from diverse backgrounds and each individual brings years of experience to the table. Here are some of my directors and their work experience:

  • Ernest Sanders
    • Instrumental figure in creating the safe passage model and recipient of 2014 University of Chicago Medicine 74th Annual Community Partner Award
  • Todd Belcore
  • Jamal Jackson
    • Current legal counsel for Solve Smart Cities

Together, my directors fill the roles that are crucial to the success of Solve Smart Cities and have helped us quickly build and formalize relationships with our partners. Solve Smart Cities is currently meeting with employers and expanding our nonprofit partners.

If you’d like to learn more about our vision or would like to discuss potential partnerships, please visit SolveSmartCities.com.

Who’s behind all this technology?

 

Reid Compton Headshot

 

Reid Compton has been building the Solve Smart Cities web application. Reid is committed to advancing STEM education and sets aside a couple hours each week to volunteer with a robotics club in Southwest Chicago to train a team to build robots. Reid also helped build DonorPath, a technology used to connect a community of nonprofits, experts, funders, and provide a simpler way to raise more money to fund nonprofits

Reid and Matt met through a mutual friend, Travis Centers, and immediately connected over their shared passion for addressing social problems.  Since last fall, they have been discussing the big picture of Solve Smart Cities. Matt’s vision is grand, but Reid keeps him realistic and ensures they hit certain milestones. With Emile Cambry as their third cofounder, the three of them feel that truly anything is possible.

Here is what Reid envisions for Solve Smart Cities:

“A lot of talk about the future of ‘Smart Cities’ centers around self-driving cars or using big data to inform policing and utility decisions, but much of that conversation leaves me feeling cold about the human implication of things. I think the more important question to ask is ‘how can we build a city that takes care of it’s citizens in a smart way?’ When someone loses their job, can we step up and help them find another one, or connect them to a workforce training nonprofit to help them gain new skills? That’s the kind of city that I want to live in.”

Reid has been in the social enterprise scene for nearly five years, and he’s done incredible things. In 2013, Reid joined DonorPath as one of their first hires. In 2016, DonorPath was acquired by Network For Good. Reid summarizes how it was from early on to acquisition:

“In the beginning, there was a feeling that we were on to something that could really make a difference to nonprofits by helping them to scale their fundraising and be able to devote more resources to their missions. It wasn’t an easy road, and there were a few times when we almost didn’t make it, but it was a satisfying feeling to see it acquired by a company that cared about continuing the vision.”

Reid brings his ability to build lean startup web applications to Solve Smart Cities. Aside from being the CTO of Solve Smart Cities, he is also the project manager making sure we have realistic expectations for feature and product launches.

Reid, Matt, and Emile all speak the same language — impact and solving complex social problems revolved around Government shortcomings in technology. The Third Wave by Steve Case, a blueprint for using technology to revolutionize real world issues, is their rule book and vision. Follow them on their journey as they change social enterprise forever.

Learn more about Reid at his website Reidcompton.com.

 

 

 

Co-Founders: Finding Your Perfect Match

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Matt Strauss, Solve Smart Cities, Co-founder & CEO

Peter Thiel – Finding Co-founders is Like Finding Your Spouse  

Finding a co-founder is tough, very tough. All startups have an incredible amount of risk. You meet tens or hundreds of people who share your idea. Many people say they would love to help, but they ask for consulting fees or other payments. Resources are scarce in startups, so that is usually not an option.  

Websites such as CoFoundersLab and Founders Dating help entrepreneurs address the common problem of finding an ideal co-founder. But these websites are often full of people with their own ideas who do not want to implement someone else’s vision. As Peter Thiel says in his book Zero to One, “Finding your co-founder is like marriage. How many of you would marry someone after meeting once?”

Thiel is right — you must approach the search for a co-founder as you would a potential spouse.  

Finding someone you trust and who shares your values is essential. The ideal co-founder believes in the company, will work only for equity, and has a proven record of “executing” ideas to businesses.  

So let’s say you found someone you think could be a perfect match. Especially when it’s someone you don’t know well, it is critical to make sure you are on the same page.  You should view the world similarly, agree on the types of people you would hire, and have the same vision of the product. If you just met this person, you shouldn’t start building your product right away. Instead, talk two or three times a week, once in person and the rest over the phone. Share all the details about your vision, and get their feedback and input. Discuss the potential hurdles. Then, address equity. Make sure everyone is comfortable with their sweat equity incentives and amounts.

For us, it was easy getting along. First, I met Reid. We agreed on one key thing: being a mentor is awesome, but it is difficult to scale your impact. Seeing your mentee overcome hurdles and achieve their goals is one of the best feelings ever. But, it’s tough to recognize that you can only help your mentee reach a certain milestone;  the next milestone may require additional time or resources that you cannot provide.  We both knew we wanted to work together to solve this problem and scale our impact.

Then came Emile. After hearing Emile speak at a few events, I met with him to explain my goal of scaling social impact through software. Emile’s ears immediately perked as he knows software is key to scaling impact. I initially asked Emile to join as a board member, but instead Emile insisted on becoming a co-founder. That moment Reid and I realized we were on to something.

That “something” is the belief in solving the opportunity gap by providing new funding streams to workforce nonprofits and job training programs. Solve Smart Cities works with workforce development nonprofits, such as Cara Program, ReWork, UCAN, The Ideal Candidate, and others, to scale their impact. Solve Smart Cities is looking to partner with churches that offer job training programs and other nonprofits focused on manufacturing training. Please reach out to us if you know of any!

Welcome Emile Cambry!

We would like to give Emile Cambry a warm welcome to Solve Smart Cities. The future of our world depends on social enterprise startups and nonprofits. Collective impact is the buzzword everyone uses to ensure fitting groups are partnering better. These two ideas summarize why Emile Cambry is excited to join us. Not one person, not one nonprofit, nor one company can alone solve the problems our world faces. Together we can collectively make the best impact possible by partnering. Solve’s goal is to do that first in the workforce development space.

We are excited and so is Emile. Here is a short blurb from Emile:

With social impact finance around the corner, we (Solve Smart Cities) can build something five years ahead of its time.  Our roadmap for new products evolve from software product as Phase 1, to data analytics as Phase 2, to something we can automate as Phase 3.

By reading the below list of just some of Emile’s accomplishments; you will see how lucky we are to have him on our team. We are looking to be the tech team that partners all workforce nonprofits and the Government. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a handful of amazing things Emile has done in the last year:

Highlights: My 2016 Year in Review: Testified for Congress, 60 articles about BLUE1647, 22 Awards, 5 Trips to the White House, New York Times feature, Root 100 Award, SXSW Award, Chicago Innovation Award, Chicago Inno 50 on Fire, 2 Resolutions, 1 Law passed, 1 Film Festival, and a Hackathon in 8 states. WHAT A YEAR! Thank you everyone for your support and allowing me to chronicle the journey.

Nelly stopped by the office in St. Louis. Yeah, that Nelly.

My mother and I were featured on TV One’s Change Agents: History in the Making

Keynote at a Young Mens Conference

9 Tech Leaders in Chicago you should meet

Did my first live talk show in front of a studio audience

Received a SXSW Dewey Award as a top social innovator in the world

Received a Cook County Resolution for contributions to making Cook County better, by Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia.

Featured in the Root for getting my tech inspiration from Afro Futurism

Featured in PolicyLink for our ability to inspire public policy change

Received a Resolution by the Missouri House of Representatives, sponsored by State Representative Courtney Curtis.

FEATURED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES!!!

Had an Illinois law passed through our organization, Social Change

Recognized as the Root 100, top 100 most influential Black Americans.

Testified in front of Congress on Federal IT Spending

We had the best month ever in the history diversity in tech

Appointed to the Cook County Commision on Social Innovation

Appointed to the Polsky Council, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the University of Chicago.

We won the Chicago Inno 50 on Fire

Visited the White House 5 times in 2016

The White House did a presentation and event at BLUE1647

The United States Department of Commerce held an event at BLUE1647

A Portrait of Emile Cambry by Jeff Sciortino

Out With the Old And in With the New – Where the Future Of Non-Profit Funding is headed

Moving away from angel investing and venture capitalism opens the door to the limitless potential for resources existent in the Midwest and greater Chicago area. This progressive model is consistent with the Silicon Valley culture of deal flow sharing. The Midwest and Silicone Valley both value their tight-knit culture, which allows companies to quickly and easily gain resources in exchange for the opportunity of a long-term relationship, which mutually benefits both parties.

Thus far, the Midwest has provided copious opportunities for investors and for-profit entrepreneurs to engage in collaborative growth. Non-profits can look to the same tradition of Midwestern community values to combat the significant decrease of government spending in this sector.

Non-profits face numerous challenges when generating revenue. Non-profits must cultivate true partnerships, align with appropriate parties, establish cohesion between team leaders, navigate an extremely limited market, and create alternative revenue generation pathways during more stagnant periods. This list is by no way all encompassing, but highlights some hardships Solve Smart Cities aims to alleviate in the non-profit world.

Philanthropists and foundations are conventionally known to exclusively give grants to non-profit organizations that prove their positive impact. Quantifying impact is crucial to philanthropy today. Measuring the impact of a given non-profit is difficult due to the structure of a typical non-profit team. Understaffed teams typically work overtime just to ensure their non-profit venture stays afloat, leaving little to no time and resources to dedicate to creating a quota of impact.

The goal of Solve Smart Cities is to be the sales team for workforce development nonprofits. Solve Smart Cities wishes to be the new revenue maker for nonprofits by partnering proper groups and proving their positive impact to the Government. Government grants for non-profits are disappearing (2005 and 2013) and Solve Smart Cities is the solution.

We invite you to follow up and to help us grow awareness by sharing your passion for Chicago. Stand with us as we strive to partner workforce development nonprofits such as Cara, i.c. stars, Ideal Candidate and ReWork.