By BECKY GILLETTE
Innovate Mississippi works with about 100 businesses or potential businesses each year providing services designed to support technology and innovation-based entrepreneurial development throughout the state. Recently Innovate Mississippi upped the ante by hiring Rich Sun as “Entrepreneur in Residence.”
Sun, who has been involved in 30 startups as an investor, adviser, executive and board member, is working to help entrepreneurs accelerate the growth of their businesses and avoid many of the most common mistakes.
Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi, said Sun as the Entrepreneur in Residence is proving to have been a great addition to the state’s efforts to grow entrepreneurs from within.
“We are already seeing incredible value from Rich’s participation in this role,” Jeff said. “He certainly brings a unique perspective to the Entrepreneur in Residence role as both an entrepreneur and an investor. His experience outside of the state also gives him the ability to both benchmark realistic goals for success and bring new ideas to the table.”
Jeff said when they envisioned the position, they weren’t sure they would be able to find someone with the unique set of skills needed.
“Then things fell in place for Rich to be able to do it at the present time,” Jeff said. “Although we do expect it to be a rotating position, we are excited to have Rich for as long as he is willing to do it. Rich’s presence in the office is helpful for the folks we are working for. He is just a great resource.”
Jeff said Innovate Mississippi has collected a lot of wisdom from numerous conversations with investors and experienced entrepreneurs. But it carries even more clout when the advice comes from a person who been entrepreneur.
“We primarily work with individuals or small businesses. Perhaps a half dozen of the 100 companies we work with each year are larger companies. Most of the entrepreneurs are people who have other jobs and have come up with this other idea. It is often one or two people or sometimes a team of four. We really like to engage at the idea stage even before they have done anything. That is when we need to get involved.”
Sun said a lot of people are a bit intimidated by investing in or launching a technology business. But he said it isn’t really scary when you know what to look for in the deals.
Of course, not all ideas translate into market success. Sun said it is important if an idea doesn’t pan out to bail out fast and bail out cheap before you have invested large sums.
“If you going to have to fail, it is better to find out sooner so you can move onto the next idea which might be the home run,” Sun said.
For most entrepreneurs, it is their first time to start a company.
“They usually have a great idea, but don’t know how to commercialize it,” Sun said. “A lot of what I’ve done is invest in startup and early growth companies, so I can show them how to prepare their company to be investor ready.”
Sun said advantages of being an entrepreneur in Mississippi include having a huge network of mentors with functional specialties like marketing or industry specialties like telecom, software or clean energy.
“We can connect entrepreneurs to people who a.) know the business area, and b.) can help them achieve what is necessary in order to raise money,” Sun said. “We can provide additional insight into how to grow the business. There are usually a number of choices. There may be several good answers. We can provide some help in analyzing the choices.”
Sun said they aren’t in the business of telling someone whether their business plan will succeed or not, but rather telling them if they want to achieve, what they need to do.
“We do help them assess what their odds are,” Sun said. “It comes down to things like certain areas where there are highly visible problems and a lot of well-funded people working on those problems. Most of that time it is not a good idea to compete with a lot of experienced people with a lot of money.”
He said while there will be times when David beats Goliath, if you are a minnow swimming with whales and sharks, try to work with them in a way that will be successful.
“A lot of times if you present the facts, the facts will speak for themselves,” Sun said. “Someone starting a business will come to the conclusion [that] the odds are too steep for that business or idea. Most people who succeed and build a major company have had many ideas before they get the idea with which they succeed. You read about the successes, the people who have achieved against the odds. You don’t read about people who don’t succeed because they ran into someone with more money, better marketing or a better idea.”
People don’t always appreciate the fact that the best idea doesn’t always win. A case in point is IBM didn’t have the best mainframe computer, but it came to dominate because it had the best sales force.
“People who have developed good technology work on the assumption the technology will sell because it is better,” Sun said. “But even a better mousetrap needs good marketing, and a dedicated cadre of employees with a passion for and a long history of killing mice in large numbers.”
Sun earned a B.A. from Princeton University, a Masters of Business Administration from New York University and designation as a Chartered Financial Analyst. He also served as a banker for 22 years with Bankers Trust Company (now Deutsche Bank), Goldman Sachs, First Boston (now Credit Suisse) and UBS (once Swiss Bank Corporation). From 1994 to 2001, he was a private equity investor with Emerging Markets Partnership, a $6-billion firm backed by AIG and the Government of Singapore. Sun has arranged, advised on or made over $11 billion of private debt and equity investments.
Sun is vice chairman of the board and chief strategy officer for Best Tech Brands, an automotive chemicals developer and marketer. He was vice president for strategy and finance for WISEarth Organics from 2010 to 2011, a company that produces organic fertilizer and pesticides, and an investor and board member of TerraCycle from 2007-2009, which was named by Inc. magazine the “Coolest Little Startup in America.
Sun was named New Vantage Group/Active Angel Investors “Angel Investor of the Year 2006”. He has made 11 cash investments in early-stage companies and taken “sweat equity” in five others. Industries included energy, clean tech, software, Internet, telecom, biotech, consumer durables, magnetics, and agricultural and automotive chemicals.
For more information on the Entrepreneur in Residence program, please contact Tony Jeff at email@example.com or 601-960-3610. For more information on Innovate Mississippi, visit www.innovate.ms.