Entrepreneurs have a major role to play in solving some of today’s most challenging business problems, said Brad Keywell, the CEO and co-founder of Uptake Technologies, during his opening remarks at this year’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.
“There are not many geographies, industries or parts of our country and our economy where entrepreneurs can’t provide major value through disruption today,” Keywell stated. “What we need most to solve problems that have become clear from a business standpoint are entrepreneurs and a sense of disruption, as well as a willingness of those who may not want to be disrupted to partner with the disruptors to unlock some of that value.”
This is as good a time as any to start a business, according to Keywell, who noted “there’s more capital chasing deals now than in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” Areas of interesting entrepreneurial opportunities include:
Connecting what’s not yet connected – “With all the social media that exist and this amazing super-computer in our pocket called a phone, there are still things that are not connected. There are still people in neighborhoods and communities who are not connected. There are entire countries such as India that need to be connected. There are small boutiques that might not have a way to present what they have in an organized manner.”
Solving hard problems – “While it’s easy to look at all the technology infrastructure that exists and say everything is working great, the fact is, computing power will continue to increase, and the data that is being created will continue to tax that computing power. Hard problems around solving technology riddles need to be addressed. There is a whole wave of interesting, behind-the-scenes technologies, cloud-enablers and other infrastructure-related businesses that geniuses at many schools like Michigan are rethinking.”
Unlocking opportunities – “While a number of blue sky new constructs have been created by pure technologists and technology teams utilizing the Internet, there are also opportunities that exist within companies and communities all over the world. How do you unlock those? How do you take domain expertise and interesting data and get at it? Often those who have the data and the problems that need to be solved don’t have the entrepreneurial construct to address those problems.”
Keywell’s personal role in the entrepreneurial realm has expanded greatly over the past 15 years. As the co-founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Lightbank, he has made investments in 93 technology companies. He also has spearheaded the launch of the Illinois Innovation Council and established a foundation to teach entrepreneurial principles to kids. Recently, Keywell has come full circle and returned to his favorite role, starting things, with the founding of Uptake Technologies, an industrial predictive analytics company.
While Silicon Valley has long been the pace-setter for innovation and entrepreneurship, its lead has narrowed considerably in recent times, according to Keywell. “The obsession over Silicon Valley as the only place where great things can start is old,” he said.” I think great things can and do start all over the country.”
The key ingredients for fueling a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem are: big companies that engage with risk-seeking, bold-thinking entrepreneurs, universities with a big appetite to facilitate technology transfer and capital providers. “When those four things exist, a lot can happen,” Keywell concluded.