June 6, 2018 11:23am
The Second Inning Stretch: Recapping the Rise of the Rest in Louisville
Throughout the Rise of the Rest bus tour on May 11, at various stops around the Louisville region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, AOL co-founder and entrepreneur Steve Case made use of a sports analogy in assessing the ecosystem’s health and progress. “This is just the second inning,” he said to each audience, “you need to be in it for the whole game.” While Steve himself may have intended this analogy to only describe the progress of the community since his past visits, I think there are more layers and challenges within this comparison. Indulge me:
- If a community is a team, we need all positions to be engaged in the game for every play, even if not directly involved. If our entrepreneurial support organizations and mentors and investors are the infield, we still need the outfield of corporations and early customers and service providers engaged in case the ball comes that way. No picking dandelions in right field! An awareness of what bases have runners, the strike count, how many outs are left, and who the cut off is can lead to smart and efficient plays. We each need to know who is on the field in our entrepreneurial ecosystem and their role, even if we aren’t involved in every play. And if there is a gap, we need to act as a community to fill it. A successful entrepreneurial ecosystem is a team effort.
- Baseball as a sport that relies on a pipeline of talent. Players start off young, overshadowed by their giant hats and mitts in the t-ball league, learning basic mechanics of hitting and fielding and the order in which to run the bases. They advance upward, through Little League and junior league and varsity school teams, each level affording them more practice and layers of skills and experience. Should they choose to advance further, there’s college ball and the farm leagues, and eventually that pinnacle of being called up to the major leagues, with years of experience and coaching under their belt. Entrepreneurship can benefit from a refined pipeline as well. We have great organizations in our community tackling pieces and parts of the pipeline, but more could be done to create a seamless progression of “next steps” that guide entrepreneurs along the way to the big leagues.
- While there may be only nine players on the field, the whole community is needed for a successful game. Coaches, fans, sports announcers, ball boys and ball girls, umpires making sure regulations are upheld, hot dog vendors, and the maintenance team that keeps the bulbs changed on the lights for night games are all part of the event. Each of us in the Louisville community plays a role in creating a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, even if we never start a company or create a product on our own. Each of us identifying and engaging with the ecosystem is critical in the long-term success of our community. We are all part of this game.
- We don’t remember the great hitters for their strikeouts, even though their batting averages contain those statistics. Even the mightiest batter has a terrible at-bat now and then, but we are captivated by and cheer on their great talent nevertheless. We know we might see a strike out, but, given their capacity, we might also see them point off to the distance and knock it completely out of the park. Our entrepreneurs need that support as well. They may fail at the plate on occasion, but we as a community must believe in them and cheer them on until there comes the grand sound and sight of the bat connecting with the ball in the sweet spot and sailing over the fences.
- The demographics of baseball have changed over the years, and the demographics of entrepreneurship are changing too. Throughout his visit, Steve Case referenced the minute proportions of venture capital being invested in women and minority founders across the country and the need for this to improve. Just as the faces of baseball look very different than they did decades ago, our entrepreneurial ecosystem should more broadly reflect our community. Seventy-one years after Jackie Robinson, it’s high time more of our female and minority entrepreneurs get called up to the majors. They don’t need a league of their own, they need to be on our roster for the smart, driven, and talented entrepreneurs they are.
- “If you build it, they will come,” the iconic Field of Dreams quote goes. I’m not saying venture capitalists are the gambling ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, but if we build a thriving, world class entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Louisville, more investment will emerge in our city.
- Louisville has contributed uniquely to the game of baseball for more than a century (perhaps you’ve noticed a large bat downtown?) and we must identify and elevate those unparalleled advantages we can bring to the entrepreneurial game as well. What icons of entrepreneurship will we lean against buildings in the century to come?
Steve’s analogy hinted at our progress to the second inning in a single game. Our focus should extend beyond that game alone, and really, truly set our sights on winning the World Series of entrepreneurship. If that is our ambition, what does that mean for our community? What extra mile of conditioning, what additional practice, what unquenchable drive will bring us closer to that goal? Who are we scrimmaging and what are we learning from them? How are we benchmarking our progress? Are we as a community committed to the long haul, supporting and cheering our entrepreneurs onward during the droughts between the times when we get to fly the W?
As the saying goes, baseball is as American as apple pie, but so also is entrepreneurship. Now is the time for Louisville to dream big and swing for the fences.