VOL. 10 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 8, 2017
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Accelerators, Startups And the Fear of Failure
Opening a business isn’t easy; keeping it open is even more difficult. The extensive education and mentoring available from startup accelerators and incubators helps prepare entrepreneurs for success, but the prep work must end at a certain point. And then the accelerator alumni – like all small-business owners – discover whether their venture will fall or fly.
The discovery isn’t always a pleasant one.
Mike Hoffmeyer, featured on page 19 as part of this week’s startup emphasis, knows the sinking feeling of a business going belly up.
His early forays into the business world in the 1990s “failed miserably,” to use his words. He took two different startups through the Seed Hatchery accelerator – one in 2011, the other in 2012. Neither survived.
But he learned from each experience. Now the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship, Hoffmeyer sees the value in failure.
It’s one of those lessons that can be incredibly hard to swallow. And it’s made harder when a passionate, driven entrepreneur is sidelined by forces outside his or her control.
Innovation doesn’t follow a procedure. Then again, innovation rarely manifests as a eureka moment the world instantly recognizes as the way forward.
Somewhere in between those two oversimplified extremes is an internal search that is as singular as a fingerprint, marked by plenty of trial and error as well as the unquestionable need for collaboration or, at the very least, advice to mull over.
The race in innovation doesn’t necessarily go to the innovator who never quits. Yes, perseverance is important. Chasing a big idea over hill and mountain is one thing. But when that idea leads you beyond the edge of town and deep into the desert, there’s usually a good reason why: It doesn’t work.
Innovators don’t need a never-say-die attitude. They need the ability to synthesize doubt and learn from it. They need a sense of reality to temper the optimism that leads them to create.
The startup game is a game of chance. Accelerators, incubators and labs all exist to help stack the odds a startup can scale into a successful enterprise that creates jobs and generates investment.
However, too much of a good thing can dilute its power. The focus of the movement should remain rooted in cultivating a diverse but select group of innovators and connecting them with capital, not trying to mint as many new startups as possible.
Perhaps a consolidation will come in time. The Summer of Acceleration is a step in the right direction by allowing local incubators to pool their resources and more efficiently work together. It is a way to emphasize quality without totally eliminating quantity.
It is essential that all these efforts remain agile and open to change, much like the startups they’re working to cultivate. The goal cannot be preservation for preservation’s sake.