Technology Ventures Summit
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February 22, 2007
Publisher upbeat on Heartland
By LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer

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Now is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur.

Record amounts of risk capital are available for entrepreneurs to tap if they know how to do it. The global economy also is booming, which gives many entrepreneurs a large market, says Forbes magazine publisher and author Rich Karlgaard.

On Wednesday, Karlgaard, who writes about technology, entrepreneurship and regional economic development in his column "Digital Rules," was the keynote speaker at the Technology Ventures Summit downtown.

Taking time for a phone interview prior to his luncheon presentation, Karlgaard spoke not only about opportunities for entrepreneurs, but the opportunities that exist in America's Heartland to attract entrepreneurs.

"The U.S. economy is a lot stronger and on a more stable footing than it gets credit for," Karlgaard said. "I think a lot of people wonder if there's a perfect time to start a company. There's never a perfect time."

Being an entrepreneur has never been easy. During isolated pockets in the late 1990s, becoming an entrepreneur may have appeared easy as venture capitalists were promiscuously investing in companies. That tended to draw in a lot of fake entrepreneurs, he said.

Karlgaard thinks the winds are shifting in favor of America's Heartland, which he sees as being poised for a long run of entrepreneurship and prosperity, particularly in those areas that can attract young talent and grow their ability to finance entrepreneurs through angel investing, venture capital and commercial lending.

Communities often focus more on importing companies, offering tax breaks to attract a Wal-Mart distribution center, for instance.

While those types of endeavors are important and can help a community grow, Karlgaard said cities also need those local heros, or indigenous entrepreneurs who come out of nowhere and start a business from scratch, because they create a more solid kind of growth.

"Both are great, of course, but I think that city planners, economic development people, sometimes chase the imported growth a little too much because they can check off a box if they are successful," he said.

In today's global economy, with competition from countries such as China and India, industries face more price pressures than they have before. U.S. industries can't afford to get caught with a high cost structure, Karlgaard said.

The Heartland offers lower housing and living costs than urban coastal areas.

The Internet also levels the playing field by giving smaller communities the same access to information and markets as the larger cities have, Karlgaard noted. It opens the way for companies to do business from anywhere.

It's important for communities that want to encourage entrepreneurship to provide access to capital.

Communities also want to nourish their educational system, both kindergarten through 12th grade and the college system, by investing in those areas and raising the quality of the educational institutions.

"Industries of tomorrow are looking for people who are proficient in math and science first and foremost," Karlgaard said.

He also pointed to the importance of attracting young people, providing amenities such as "cool coffee houses" and entertainment opportunities.

Young couples with children also want to live in places where they can afford to raise a family, which again gives the Heartland a huge advantage over places such as California or Boston, he said.

Some young people may long to return to their roots, but they may have an outdated notion of what their original community is like. Communities must get the word out and be good at marketing themselves, Karlgaard said.

Entrepreneurs also need to feel honored by the communities where they live, said Karlgaard, noting that he has visited communities that feel closed to outsiders.

The summit was co-hosted by the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board and Oklahoma Equity Partners LLC.


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