Startup Dad: An open letter to my kids

I’ve spent a lifetime as an entrepreneur, starting a company in high school and spending every day of the next 30 years building, funding and mentoring many startups. But without a doubt the most rewarding — and challenging — startup of my life has been my family and the young women they are becoming. Now, many years have passed, and they will venture out into a world of their own soon.

The characteristics I’ve seen over and again among the best entrepreneurs I have known, and the traits that I’ve seen that help startup teams succeed, have much in common. I think these lessons matter regardless of what path you take in life.

I want my kids to be intellectually curious. To be helpful, courageous and reach beyond their comfort zone. I want them to be driven, to have passion that makes them work hard and love doing so. I want them to define their own success and achieve it. I want them to enjoy and be happy with the life of their own making.

So here’s an open letter to my kids, published by Entrepreneur magazine.

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Entrepreneurial Insights from Davos, the World Economic Forum 2017

The forward march of automation, much of which is being driven by innovation in the tech community, indicates strong industry advancement. However, it comes at the cost of economic anxiety for many of the people – often not the decision-makers – who are potentially displaced by this tech progress. As entrepreneurs and tech leaders, we have an obligation to offer solutions to ease this uncertainty.  Thoughts following the World Economic Forum in Davos.


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Bringing the next generation of innovators to the frontier

The work that TechNexus does to bridge the gap between incumbent industry leaders and entrepreneurial ventures includes bringing the next generation of innovators into the mix.

Terry Howerton delivers a TEDx talk to students about the innovation ecosystem.

“The power is in your hands to not just be disruptive… but to create an entirely new reality in business today.”

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The market doesn’t need another app to find a cupcake

Blue Sky Innovation in the Chicago Tribune: “Too much of what passes as a startup venture today is really just a good new product, not a scalable business. Entrepreneurs need bigger problems to solve, and big, industry-leading companies need the agile, creative forces of a startup,” Howerton said. “Meaningful disruption of major industries is cheaper, faster and easier to achieve than ever before.”

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My friends in Ukraine

For almost 14 years, I’ve worked with a software team in Kyiv, occasionally in person there, sometimes with team members visiting Chicago, but mostly through Skype, chat and mail. Still, they have become my good friends and coworkers. It’s a remarkable relationship (especially at the start) that obviously wouldn’t have happened without the internet.

The team has grown from just a couple of guys, and over the years we’ve built software solutions behind the scenes for some of the most recognizable internet brands.

My earliest days visiting Kyiv were fascinating. I came of age just as the USSR was dissolving. That was the most significant geopolitical event of my lifetime (arguably since surpassed by the rise of global terrorism). My new friendships were intriguing… these were mostly people who grew up in an independent Ukraine, building a business together, unrestrained by history.

There have been plenty of moments when I felt like the proud American, and saw the growing effects of westernization on the Ukrainian economy and friends. There have also been moments when I’ve acknowledged America and western Europe is on unstable ground to be moralizing, particularly in areas of income inequality and the occasional trampling of our own Bill of Rights.

Ukraine sits as a resource for both Russian and Western influence. The politics and oligarchy dictate much of what makes the news, but its people are usually far removed from all of that. They are busy building a bustling economy, and connecting with the world. Except times like today — or during the Orange Revolution of nearly a decade ago — when these people rise up together with passion that we in the west should envy.

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Scouting calibrates its moral compass

Twenty years have passed since Scouting chose to join the culture war and began a shameful period of telling gay teenagers they were the one kind of child unworthy of being a Scout.

In 1990, the Boy Scouts of America kicked out 19 year old James Dale (over the objections of the boys and adults in his community), and fought him all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to set their own membership standards.

Today they have taken the first step back on a path that leads to equality, respect and honor for all kids. The organization has voted to ban discrimination against gay kids, and compel all of nearly 100,000 local Scout units to be welcoming. This progress was brought in part by a remarkable group of young, straight Eagle Scouts lead by Zach Wahls and the incredible work of Scouts for Equality who recruited thousands more Eagle Scouts and nearly 2 million petitioners.

Nonetheless, this is a contrived compromise that kicks gay kids out when they turn 18 and become an adult. Doing that sends a ridiculous message to kids that Scouting will tolerate who they are, just not the person they “might” become.

I wrote a piece for Forbes in January when the BSA announced a possible change in policy, highlighting the terrible business decisions that Scouting had made, not just what I believed to be poor moral choices:

“The movement of Scouting continues to be one of the great opportunities for light and goodness in the world. But in my opinion, and one shared by millions of parents with kids who could benefit from Scouting, the corporation that administers Scouting in America lost its moral compass a long time ago.” — more from me in Forbes

The BSA released their own broad survey of current members: it was convincing that a majority of Scouting parents under the age of 50 favored non-discrimination, and revealed an even higher percentage of young parents in America that weren’t even considering Scouting for their kids. By and large, the voices to maintain the status quo were older Scout leaders hanging around the program long after their own kids had grown, and specific religious institutions using the supposedly non-sectarian Scouting as a tool (though even among churches, there was growing dissent).

At the time I argued the only sane and right policy change would be to let each of the local parents and chartering partners (tens of thousands of churches and civic groups) decide for themselves whether to accept gay kids and adults. With such deeply held passions, many on religious grounds by local partners, I believed the “local option” was the only way Scouting could escape the self-inflicted wound tearing away at the future of the organization.

Last month the BSA announced details of the only resolution they would allow to be put to a vote today: one that allowed gay kids to stay in Scouting across the country, but still banned gay adult leaders.

My first, visceral reaction was that it was an even worse scenario than kicking gay kids out of the program; that Scouting had set itself up as some sort of “conversion therapy camp”, expecting kids would “grow out of the gay”.

I saw this untenable compromise – no doubt hard fought within the organization, as further proof that the BSA was still lost in the wilderness.

But today I see a real opportunity for the BSA to emerge with an even better solution than the “local option” that I previously argued was the best we could expect. By banning discrimination against all gay kids in every local community, the organization is doing what’s morally right.

Following this vote by the membership, the National Executive Board should now move swiftly to allow parents and local chartering partners to choose the right adult leaders for their Scout units, gay or straight. Legally, practically and morally, this is an inevitable position the BSA will some day take, and it’s within the authority of the National Executive Board to make that decision soon.

I’ve always believed… and for generations so did the BSA, that parents should have the right to choose adult mentors for their own kids.

If a shrinking part of America thinks gay adults are inherently unsuitable role models, they’ll still have that right as parents. They just won’t have the right to deny the Scouting experience to any kid. And they shouldn’t have the right to deny other parents the choice of adults leaders for their own kids and communities.

Today was an important first step, and if it is soon followed by another step that allows local communities to set their own membership standards for adults, Scouting will have found its way back onto the trail.

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“Get them to go to ChiTech”…

16 year old student Shaquiesha Davis from Chicago Tech Academy just presented to the President at the White House Science Fair moments ago! When “Science Guy” Bill Nye and “USS Enterprise Engineer” Lavar Burton asked her “How can we get more girls interested in coding?” she said “Get them to go to ChiTech!”

Really proud of students like Davis who are taking full advantage of the tech and entrepreneurial mentoring delivered by Chicago Tech Academy. And the fact is, well over half of the students studying there are girls, and they’re some of the most promising future innovators that walk those walls.

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Chicago Tech Academy and our fifth student lottery

Almost five years ago we hosted the first student lottery for Chicago Tech Academy in our conference rooms at TechNexus, with about 150 parents, grandparents and prospective students huddled into the room. It was such a remarkable experience for me. That night I saw first hand the unbridled enthusiasm, the hopes, dreams and high expectations for a bunch of kids that just needed a chance to break their way.

In a few months, we’ll celebrate as those first students walk across the graduation stage. Someday soon, I will have much more to write and share about these kids and their four year journey (each emerging as some of the most important “startups” that I have ever had the honor to serve).

But tonight, we host the fifth student lottery…. nearly 1,500 kids have applied for one of 150 positions in next year’s freshman class! It’s completely open enrollment, and luck of the draw. I’ve written before about how bitter sweet these student lotteries are… you see such excitement from kids and family members, and so many others just sitting, hoping to hear their name called. But after tonight, ChiTech will have its fifth freshman class, and another group of inner city kids will be on their way… with two hours a day, and four years worth of technology skills, matched up with mentors, and fostered to think like entrepreneurs.

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Someday soon, all families may once again associate Scouting with good character

There was a time when I expected my entire life would be spent in the service of Scouting, and give back to a movement that had done more to shape and mold the man I became than anything I learned in school, from my parents, or from any other influence.

The Scouting of my youth was a welcoming place for all kids to learn and grow. But twenty years ago, Scouting in America chose to become a culture warrior, and has increasingly marginalized itself and eroded its brand.

I left Scouting because I couldn’t change the institutional prejudice that I had witnessed, and in fact I didn’t believe anything but the passage of a lot of time would alter the destructive course the Boy Scouts of America had chosen.

That time seems to have finally come.

The Business Of Scouting And A Crisis Of Our Own Making

FORBES: – For twenty years following the Supreme Court case, the only obvious answer for Scouting has been to allow local chartering partners and parents to make these morality decisions. Now only time will tell if the business of Boy Scouting will rebound from a two decade old bad business decision.


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