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Monday, April 25, 2016

CHANGES, OPPORTUNITY

Forum exit interview with John Grindley

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Forum exit interview with John Grindley

Cohabitat Foundation, the non-profit hub for entrepreneurs, is about to say goodbye to Executive Director John Grindley, who has accepted a position as director of business development and special projects for Straight Up Technologies.

Grindley’s move to Straight Up Technologies will be to another edgy corporate environment, not unlike Cohab in some ways. SUT accesses and solves problems in the field for businesses and their events, including such clients as Google, SalesForce, NBA, the British Open and film director Michael Bay. “SUT focuses on custom network solutions using Cisco Systems for events including sports, large conferences and special needs in the entertainment industry,” Grindley said. “I will still be based here in Shreveport.”

Grindley has been the driving force behind Cohab, providing entrepreneurs at all levels the traction to achieve success. The staff and board at Cohab believe the pathway to a stronger community begins with empowering home-grown talent and keeping them rooted in North Louisiana.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint at heart and not for everyone. It never has been and never will be. We can’t help anyone that doesn’t have passion or isn’t willing to put the hard work in to get their idea off the ground.”

– John Grindley

“Northwest Louisiana is uniquely positioned to grow in various different industries, from the tech space to manufacturing,” Grindley said. “We’ve seen graduates who have taken an idea on a napkin to successful venture in these areas and others. It’s never been cheaper to start a business, and we’ve seen scalable ideas that have international growth potential, like our Tadpole Tape Cutter as well as lifestyle businesses, like the architectural firm, iArchitecture.”

“Ideas can come from anywhere, and amazing things happen when connections are made and these ideas connect to programs with mentors and people who have been in the trenches with years of experience on what makes a business succeed,” Grindley said. “I sometimes see Cohab as the ‘Grand Central Station’ where all of these intersections of business meet. By far, the biggest thing we’ve learned is you have got to gain traction and validate your idea with customers before you know if you have a viable business.”

North Louisiana has some pretty substantial selling points as a home for start-ups in 2016 and beyond. “Obviously, cost of living is one thing,” Grindley said. “A great housing market and quality of life rank high when aligned with opportunity and resources, but we can’t undervalue our unique culture and southern hospitality. They are real, tangible assets that we cannot deny, and it makes opening a business here mighty friendly.”

On the other hand, there are issues that city, state and local business leaders have to deal with in order for local businesses to grow and thrive. “Our state is in an economic crisis on so many levels, and many of our revenues are tied to oil and gas, which makes it important to diversify our economy,” Grindley said.

“If you look at our state as a whole, we have a disproportionate amount of our employment based in local and federal government jobs. A well-balanced state has strong economic diversity with small business, large corporations grown from within, and in a variety of different industries that really contribute to our tax base.”

“I think the most shocking thing that I’ve seen lately is the United Way’s ALICE [Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed] Report for Louisiana and what it says about our working poor in our area and our state,” Grindley said.

“According to the report, 40 percent of our state is below the poverty line or in the category of working poor. In Bossier Parish, a total 33 percent of households are in the ALICE range. For Caddo, that number is 44 percent. Both DeSoto and Webster parishes had 46 percent of their populations below the ALICE threshold.

This cuts deep into all ethnicities in our area, and it’s something that should concern us all as a community.

“Many of these people are working hard and still can’t get ahead,” Grindley said. “So how can we help these people start businesses or get them out of this economic distress if they cannot afford their light bill? They don’t have the resources they need to get out of the hole they are in. If we can’t address this and reduce these numbers in a multitude of ways including through education, new job opportunities, etcetera, we will continue to suffer these ills that bring down our whole community.”

G r i n d l e y ’s p h i l o s o p h y i s “Entrepreneurship and small business are the backbone of what’s so great about our country. Entrepreneurship solves many of our economic and community ills with wealth creation and investment in our biggest resource: our state’s human capital. If we can grow and maintain a community of budding entrepreneurs here that continually put food on the table for not only their families, but their employees’ families, pay taxes and re-invest in our community, then the next generation will feel that impact and the game is changed forever for everyone in our community.”

Grindley, however, is also a realist.

“Entrepreneurship is not for the faint at heart and not for everyone,” he said. “It never has been and never will be. We can’t help anyone that doesn’t have passion or isn’t willing to put the hard work in to get their idea off the ground. We don’t always have all the answers, but a driven person that digs in to find the answers will succeed or ‘fail forward’ – and realize there isn’t a market for what they are selling, and that’s okay, too.”

The struggle is real for start-ups, but preparation helps. “The reality is most products will fail,” Grindley said. “We pour a lot of our time, money and effort into these products and services. These failu res can be a real setback, both emotionally and f inancially, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. Make sure you do your homework and read up on the lean startup methodology, which in my opinion, is a can’t-lose approach to testing your assumptions and seeing if there is a market fit for what you are doing before you spend a lot of time and energy into something that will never gain flight.”

Grindley said entrepreneurs need to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Why do products fail?” “They have to understand what we commonly attribute to failed ideas,” he said. “No money, poor team, poor product, bad timing, no customers, competition, lack of focus, lack of passion, bad location, not profitable, burn-out and legal issues.”

Grindley was quick to point out that the staff at Cohab never defines success for anyone. “We just want them to know the difference between a passion project that is essentially a hobby and what can be a full-fledged business,” he said.

“Cohab is for everyone,” Grindley said. “We have programs that can benefit a 5-year-old to a 75-year-old. We have an amazing network of resources and connections that help many part time entrepreneurs find partners, find smarter ways to work, and do business development with our members who give back and pay it forward. We strive to meet people where they are in their business, whether that’s the idea stage or knee deep in a business that could be doing better. Even a part-time business you are running out of your house could become your full-time job with the proper focus on the essentials and learning to maximize your productivity and revenues with the time and resources you have.”

Cohab’s interim executive director will be Jessica Schiele. “Jessica has been with Cohab as our director of programs and our lead grant writer since its inception in 2009. She’s really the one who helped me realize the mission, vision and values needed to tie to programs that support entrepreneurs and not just offer them space. The organization is in her very capable hands, and I’m proud to watch Jessica get the chance to spread her wings and soar even higher with what she loves and does everyday at Cohab.”

-Susan Reeks

LEARN MORE:

For more information about Cohab, visit www.cohab.org.

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