Rob Katz

Entrepreneurs Hope to Make it to “The Show”

Minor League BaseballIronically enough, I found myself reading this article in the New York Times on an New Jersey Transit express train this morning.? The irony is that I was on my way to a meeting with the Acumen Fund, talking about ways WRI and Acumen might work together.–

Why ironic (cue Alanis Morrissette)?? The article, Entrepreneurs Can Earn Their Stripes in the Minor Leagues, Too, profiles a Baruch College professor who has developed a minor leagues for aspiring entrepreneurs.? For those who aren’t baseball fans, the system is analogous to a player development system that Major League Baseball uses.? Young rookie players start in development leagues, and then move up through Class A, AA, and AAA on their way to the big leagues (also known as “The Show”).I found this incredibly ironic, because here I was, heading up to NYC to speak with an organization that mentors BOP entrepreneurs – and there’s an article in their hometown paper about the exact same thing.? (Side note – I overheard that Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, was heading into the Acumen Fund offices to meet with Jacqueline Novogratz around the same time I was there.? Sadly, no CEO star-sightings to report).

In any case, check out the article – they’re building a system to feed venture capitalists and other investors, helping start-up entrepreneurs through a traditional incubation process combined with mentorships.? Could this work at the BOP?? Sure it could…it’s only a matter of time.? And maybe the right draft strategy.

Their model is likely to seem familiar to baseball fans. The Entrepreneurial League System features clearly defined talent levels–rookie league, single A, double A and triple A–along with general managers, coaches and scouts.

Just as the Yankees scour the bushes for the next Derek Jeter, the league is looking for the next Michael Dell or Bill Gates.

In two years, the pair formed leagues in West Virginia and central Louisiana with a third league starting this month in western Michigan. Nearly 150 entrepreneurs joined teams with the hopes of honing their skills to make ?the show.? In this case, the show doesn?t necessarily mean the major leagues, but it does serve as incentive for these entrepreneurs to learn as much as possible to steer their businesses successfully.

Professor Lyons and Mr. Lichtenstein have worked together for more than 15 years developing methods for training entrepreneurs and creating business incubators. Mr. Lichtenstein’s consulting firm, Collaborative Strategies, is paid a fee for building the leagues by several foundations, including the Kellogg Foundation, the Rapides Foundation and the Benedum Foundation.

The entrepreneurs are coached without charge, though the plan is to charge double A and triple A entrepreneurs a monthly fee as the concept gains wider acceptance.

?Our goal is to help these entrepreneurs create as profitable and effective a business as they can at the level they are at,? Mr. Lichtenstein said. ?Some will develop into major leaguers, but some will never make it that high. They?ll stop at single A or double A and do quite well at those levels.?

The Entrepreneurial League works on the theory that a structured group support system is far more effective in helping small businesses get off the ground, the founders say.

?Any system where you have a mutual support safety net is superior to toughing it out on your own,? said Ian C. MacMillan, professor of entrepreneurship and management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. ?This is a great idea. The sports metaphor is a powerful organizing principle.?