John Dearborn, president of JumpStart, spoke to the Western Reserve Academy community about What the Future Holds: Why it May Not Be a Traditional Job as this year’s Burton D. Morgan Foundation lecturer.
Head of School Christopher Burner ’80 opened the program by welcoming Dearborn, the 20th Morgan Foundation lecturer, to the Chapel, along with Morgan Foundation President and CEO Deborah Hoover, Chief Financial Officer Denise Griggs, Senior Program Office Leslie Nelson and Program Officer Alison Burner.
Dearborn began his talk by defining what an entrepreneur is, saying it is “someone who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a particular enterprise.” He encouraged the students to work on those attributes so they can be prepared for a rapidly changing future, something that Dearborn, a successful entrepreneur himself, admitted he was not ready for as a teenager.
“I was not prepared to be an entrepreneur – I did not have the education or the finances, and I came from very unremarkable beginnings,” he said. “But I worked for an entrepreneur for four years in high school and I learned more from him because he was a scrapper and he was self-taught.”
While in college, Dearborn worked as a salesman for Xerox, learning the sales skills that he would eventually use to sell an idea to investors. While at Xerox eventually had what he called his “aha moment” and decided to start his own business, developing the first image editor for the PC, which he later sold to Micrografx.
“From that moment until I acted, it was just six months,” he said. “Starting a business was a scary prospect, but I realized that if I didn’t do this, someone else would. I was turned down by two dozen venture capitalists so I just went and got my own clients. Eventually, an angel investor gave us $200,000 and we were able to reach profitability.”
During his career, Dearborn has worked as CEO and served as a board member of 3Guppies, a mobile social networking company in Seattle. Before that he was senior vice president and general manager for new ventures in the Interactive Division of American Greetings, where he served as an entrepreneur-in-residence. He led new product and business development activities, partnering with leading companies to develop content offerings aimed specifically at the mobile and instant messaging audiences.
He came to Jumpstart, a Cleveland-based nonprofit organization that works to increase the economic impact and sustainability of Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, because of the opportunities presented in the area.
“Northeast Ohio was ranked as the least-friendly area to entrepreneurs during the ’90s,” Dearborn said. “Several groups got together and decided that this must change and they started looking to plug the gap with finances and experience to help accelerate the success (of entrepreneurs).
“The ideas were already here – we just needed the ecosystem to support them.”
Dearborn cited several local companies, among them Echogen Power Systems in Akron and Juventas Therapeutics in Cleveland, that are success stories, and pointed out that President Barack Obama recently brought his entire cabinet to Northeast Ohio “to find out why Northeast Ohio is successful and learn what Washington can do to help.”
Because of the work done by Jumpstart and several other similar groups, funding for entrepreneurs has grown over the past seven years to the point that Northeast Ohio now has the fifth-largest angel fund in the country.
In addition, the companies that JumpStart has helped fund over the years have gone on to raise $200 million in new capital, with 80 percent of that money coming from outside of Ohio.
Dearborn, the father of Jed ’03 and Mandy ’04, told students that they have a unique opportunity to take control of their own careers as more than 2,000 colleges now offer entrepreneurship training, compared to just 16 in 1970.
“Start a group, take a class, intern at a start-up company, network, participate – take a leap,” he said. “Prepare to stand out and start preparing now.”
Dearborn closed with a quote that motivates him from President Theodore Roosevelt. The quote is from Roosevelt's speech, Citizenship in a Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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