People of all ages are striking out on their own to build businesses and careers on their own terms, and they are backing up their ideas with hard work. These businesses, both small and large, make up much of the daily fabric of our city and provide the foundation of its creative lifeblood. For a city of such modest size (about 50,000 people), Harrisburg has more than its fair share of risk-takers and entrepreneurs.
Whenever asked, I always say that the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is taking that first step and giving up your day job. My path exemplifies this. I studied hard, completed college and law school, took a job at a leading law firm and, after only five years into my legal career, decided to quit and take a 50 percent pay cut with stock options at a start-up company formed by two immigrants from Morocco.
Not long after taking this entrepreneurial leap, two other partners and I purchased the company from its founders, dramatically grew its revenues and, a few years later, sold it to another company in California. It was, by any measure, a tremendous success. Had we failed, however, it would have been a very difficult and long road back for me to replace the income and considerable perks and prestige that I enjoyed as a lawyer. When I made the decision to leave my stable legal career, the path before me was precarious and uncertain. But, as it turned out, it was the best career decision of my life.
At their heart, entrepreneurs are a peculiar group. Being one of them (and married to another, very talented one), I am familiar with their many quirks, ambitions, unconventional outlooks on life and otherwise wily ways that can sometimes make them a bit foreign to others.
An entrepreneur is a risk-taker. He or she eschews convention in exchange for freedom and control. Whereas some paths are predictable, entrepreneurs revel in the unknown. Whereas some paths extend the status quo, entrepreneurs seek to disrupt it.
Entrepreneurship is a mindset, a constant way of thinking and being. Its practitioners are relentless, resilient and self-assured (some might say a little too much), but the best ones also listen and consider carefully the advice of a group they trust most (my “personal board,” as I call it), even if they sometimes ignore it.
Entrepreneurs are bold, yes, but also humble in the deepest sense, and from that humility springs an indefatigable drive to stay focused “like a dog on a bone”—never letting go. They always seek to get to “yes.” “No” is just another step on the path to getting there.
In a word, entrepreneurs are different. Culturally, we like to celebrate (and also sometimes malign) the feats of the individual entrepreneur. Names like Jobs, Gates, Ellison and Musk are associated with incredible accomplishment and success, just like the names of Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt before them. It is true that entrepreneurs succeed (and often fail) individually like no other, due in large part to the traits described above. But it is equally true that success in entrepreneurship always contains a healthy dose of assistance from others who believed in them as much as they believed in themselves.
In that vein, just last year, Adam Porter and Adam Brackbill began an effort to formalize and promote entrepreneurship in the city. From their modest offices on N. 3rd Street in Harrisburg, they provide office and creative space for those who wish to dream and create. St@rtup is a terrific new venture, and they and many others (not the least of whom is Lori Fortini at WCI Partners—an employee of the company I co-own, but also a true entrepreneur in her own right) have inspired me to expand my investments in the next generation of dreamers and doers.
Therefore, with some pride and excitement, I am pleased to announce to you, our readers, that I, along with several established business leaders, want to encourage and financially support other Harrisburg entrepreneurs. In short, we want to invest in your business.
Here are the criteria:
- Own and operate a business that is either Harrisburg based or supports Harrisburg residents. We prefer that you live in the city, but having your business here is a great start.
- Have invested your own money already. If you aren’t “all in,” you aren’t really trying. Most investors want to see “skin in the game.” We certainly do.
- Fill a niche. Another restaurant or coffee shop will have to be truly exceptional to be considered, as we already have great offerings in those areas.
- Get started. A mere business plan, without some preliminary action to get rolling, is very difficult to evaluate, let alone invest in. Showing initiative to get at least part of the idea into practice is important and exemplary.
- Expect that initial investments will be modest—maybe $5,000 or $10,000. Follow-on investments are possible. But six-figure proposals will not be funded (at least not by us alone).
- Make sure you plan to be profitable and convincingly show how. This is not charity; it’s business.
- Apply. Send your idea, business plan and profile to Lori.email@example.com and to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TheBurg has always reported on entrepreneurs and businesses that we find interesting. With this program, I hope to complement TheBurg’s coverage of local success stories by helping to get new ones off the ground.
The United States is still the land of opportunity. Let’s get busy, Harrisburg.
J. Alex Hartzler is publisher of TheBurg.