Commentary

More Thoughts on Portugal, Raymond Vennare, entrepreneur


Raymond Vennare and Tara Branstad, Aveiro, PortugalI have always believed, if not intuitively understood, that entrepreneurship is fundamentally personal; that it takes human vision, intention and work to discover, innovate and turn an idea into a business. This is not a novel thought. Baum, Frese and Baron wrote an entire book on the subject entitled The Psychology of Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is ubiquitous. It transcends borders, genders and cultures. It is, and always has been, the very underpinning of economic growth, prosperity and survival throughout the history of civilization. Entrepreneurship is a major economic force.  It is, according to the Small Business Association, responsible for 51% of private sector output, the employment of nearly 51% of private sector workers, and the progenitor of 99% of all employees in the United States alone.

It is also true, however, that to be an entrepreneur is something quite different than being entrepreneurial. To be an entrepreneur is the personification of vision and tenacity; to blindly or bravely accept risk and uncertainty as a normal course of events. Entrepreneurs are inspirational and methodical, even if their inspirations are counter-intuitive and their methods unorthodox.

To be an entrepreneur is a singular event and it is very, very personal.

Being entrepreneurial is social. It is collective. It is to pursue a methodology or to tap into a process that someone else has already envisioned. It is a necessary process for companies, or countries, if they are to remain relevant, competitive and viable in a global economy.

One need not be an entrepreneur to act entrepreneurially. Steve Jobs was an entrepreneur. Apple, the company that he created and the people he inspired – those who translated his vision into reality – are entrepreneurial.

Portugal is an entrepreneurial country in search of an entrepreneur and, for several days in May, I was that entrepreneur.

Tara conducting workshop in Aveiro, PortugalI had the privilege of being asked by Babs Carryer, Tara Branstad and Lori Spears to participate in a workshop in Aveiro, Portugal as part of the Carnegie Mellon/Portugal Program and to participate in the University Technology Enterprise Network (UTEN) program. Babs is the New Venturist blogger and is an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship, as well as involved in all things entrepreneurial at CMU. Tara is the Associate Director of the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation and Lori is the Associate Director of the Information and Communication Technologies Institute. I am a serial entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of a medical device company in Pittsburgh.

This program, which is a partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the country of Portugal, is specifically designed to encourage entrepreneurship in smaller European countries. Together we led a two-day training workshop at University of Aveiro focusing on the valuation of intangible assets.

The reason for this focus was to emphasize the need to monetize the intellectual property, especially in universities and early-stage companies.  We addressed capital formation, licensing and joint ventures. We modeled valuation methodologies for university technologies, valuation strategies for early-stage companies, and whether or not universities should even own equity in startups.

But, as Baum, Frese and Baron remind us, precisely because entrepreneurs are individualistic prophets of their own vision, their ability to realize that vision is often fomented or frustrated by the environment in which they live, work and dream.

Aveiro

And, not unlike any other experience in life, I came away from my visit to Portugal with a very different perspective, not only of the people and the country, but of their motivation and expectations regarding entrepreneurship, innovation and technology commercialization. Expectations that are limited by their own history, government and infrastructure, or motivated by their desire to learn, grow and evolve as individuals and as a nation. Their commitment to education, experimentation and self-evaluation is staggeringly humble, sincere and untapped.

What I learned, far more than any knowledge that I may have imparted, is that Portugal is a country of tremendous opportunity for discovery and innovation. We saw this in the people we met, the companies we visited and the waiting-line of entrepreneurs, first-time CEOs, university faculty, and government officials all clamoring to meet with us. It is a pent-up society straining to break free.

As I was writing this entry for the New Venturist blog, I asked Babs if she remembered the name of the event that we witnessed on the campus of the University of Aviero – I didn’t and neither did she. It was a gathering of students from grade school to graduate school, all assembled in one place at the same time to celebrate their education. It was communal and sincere. It was a demonstration, both real and imagined, of who they are, where they are going and what they and their country can ultimately become.

I was inspired.

Although Babs couldn’t remember the name of this event, she did share her travelogue with me as a point of reference. In the last paragraph of her journal, which she share in her post, Thoughts on Portugal… she wrote:  “Portugal, which invented navigation and once ruled the seas, has put resources into education. The quality of the technologies that we see, the minds of the professors and students that we meet, the fact that they celebrate science and technology from grade school on up is impressive. If the Portuguese can continue this trend, producing novel technologies and if they can foster the entrepreneurial spirit, knowledge and experience to bring these innovations to market, I believe that we will see much influence on both sides of the Atlantic from this small nation.”

I couldn’t agree more …. and so would Baum, Frese and Baron.

Raymond Vennare

Raymond Vennare

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