“I was a military brat,” he said. “My dad was in missile development, and I had the opportunity to see and be a part of different cultures growing up.”
Through the years, he has been involved in over 30 startup and early stage companies, served as a private equity investor with Emerging Markets Partnership, and all told, has arranged, advised, or made more than $11 billion in private debt and equity investments. That’s certainly not chicken feed.
Rich sees Mississippi as a great state for entrepreneurs.
“I’m amazed at how many innovative and aggressive people are working to start and grow businesses in our state,” he said. “There seem to be a good combination of factors that encourage ideas and start-ups.”
From his point of view, Mississippi is on the cusp of significant economic growth and development.
“We’re in a great strategic location,” he suggested. “We have great resources. We have great people who want to succeed and help the state grow and progress. I’m really confident that we’re going to see great things in the next 10-20 years in this state.”
As he sees it, there are many oncoming opportunities in areas such as technology, biomass energy (something he’s really high on), transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and other areas.
He’s excited about serving as chairman for Innovate, because he sees it as an organization that is fully committed to supporting existing business and helping to grow new and emerging businesses.
“I think we need more diversification in our economy,” he said. “That means we need to support folks who are coming up with great ideas, and help them turn those great ideas into profitable businesses.”
That doesn’t mean that he thinks every great idea will turn into a great business, however.
“You know, you can do everything right and still fail,” he said. “There are so many stages along the way to success that it’s not unusual that an entrepreneur will stumble at some point. But the people I respect most will always pick themselves up and get right back on track.”
He sees one of the missions of Innovate as helping budding entrepreneurs avoid as many of those pitfalls as possible.
“Sometimes the lack of funding will knock a business down,” he said. “We work to bring together the right investor with the right idea.”
Overall, he said that venture capital firms invest approximately $30 billion annually in funding 3,000 new or emerging businesses. On the other hand, angel investors invest a like amount, but they fund 40,000-50,000 businesses, suggesting that the angel investors are backing smaller companies.
“It’s the small, fast-growing firms in this country that are responsible for 80 percent of the job growth”, he said. “Clearly, that’s the sort of place where we need to provide the support and capital.”
What’s really important for a growing business?
“You really have to be a good networker,” he suggested. “For instance, I have over 5,000 contacts in my own Rolodex, and I’m always looking for more great contacts.”
What sorts of obstacles does he see for the kind of growth and progress he expects?
“Well, you can argue that the regulatory pendulum has swung too far in a business-negative manner,” he said. “That’s certainly true of banking, finance, energy, and other areas. In Mississippi, I think we may be underfunding our economic development efforts, especially with the outstanding opportunities that are going to be coming our way in the coming years.”
A short video with Rich can be seen on our website, MSBusiness.com, or on our YouTube Channel, mbjournal.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1021.