Like many avid gardeners, I harbor a secret belief that I can someday make money on gardening’s big brother, farming. Since The Doctor and I have somewhat recently come into some acreage in Madison County, NY, my fantasy of someday becoming a gentleman farmer, growing hops (barley’s bitter buddy in brewing beers) is starting to become even more realistic – or at least in the realm of reality.
So, in an effort to educate myself a bit on the process and atmosphere of hop farming in the Northeast, I shelled out to be a remote webinar attendee for this year’s conference of the Northeast Hop Alliance. I learned a lot, and you can look for future blog posts on this topic, and I think there’s a disruption opportunity in boutique aroma hops, but that’s for another day.
One of the speakers, Rick Pedersen of Pedersen Farms, had a lot of great, practical advice about how to plant posts and burn crowns, but his mindset, especially when advising younger farmers, struck me as equally valuable for today’s entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, and future founders. That advice was this:
Plan to be big enough to be relevant.
This really resonated with me – if you’re going to build a business, whether it’s agricultural or technology or distribution, plan to be big enough that people will care. Make your plans too big to ignore. With size comes efficiency and a certain practical inability to be ignored. If you want to make a difference in your industry and in your community, don’t plan for small things. Demand this of yourself.
Last night at Startup Tech Valley, there were a number of presentations – notably the openers, Dumbstruck, a new media sharing app developed by a pair of Philosophy (!) professors at Albany that met with much interest at South by Southwest this year.
The presentation that really stuck with me was that by Mr. Robert Horan – he’s the superintendent of the Schodack Central School District, south of Albany, NY. There isn’t much media out there about him and what he’s doing with his schools, but here’s a little article from the schools themselves.
The short version is this: as his district’s population is falling, the number of students are shrinking, leaving school space underutilized or unused altogether. Rather than letting this space go stagnant or start demolishing buildings, Bob has opened this space up to local startups. The idea is that cross-pollinating the growing tech scene with educators and educational communities will benefit both. It’s an exciting idea, and one that might help many startups take the leap from garage or basement into a proper office setup. Bob’s goal is to exceed 8000 sq feet of available space by this time next year – which is ambitious!
I approached him after the talks, and he was gregarious and excited to discuss it – his district has some really interesting progressive policies, such as ensuring that every graduate is familiar with and able to use the full Google suite of tools, from Gmail to Google Drive, as well as requiring that every graduating senior have taken at least one class online. When I asked if he thought WordPress.com might have a place in the classroom, Bob was very excited – I hope to make the trip down to discuss a partnership soon!
Also, best of all, Bob agreed to come on the podcast. Awesome.
Every month or so, the Severino Center for Entrepreneurship at RPI hosts another session of Startup Tech Valley, a series of events described as so:
“Startup Tech Valley is a new monthly meetup for first-time entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, employees of startups, service providers to startups, and anyone else who wants to be involved.”
It also happens to be hosted at Brown’s Brewing, a great local microbrewery with a really great event space, complete with stage, overhead balcony, and drink tickets. This is only my second time attending – I come from a long line of business owners, and I’m always interested in seeing what is percolating around the area. Between RPI and the various small tech shops around the area, I do think we’re poised for some really successful tech-based businesses. It’s simply a matter of getting folks together and talking – and hopefully Startup Tech Valley can facilitate that!
As last month, I’ll be live-tweeting the event for those who can’t make it!