Last month I bid farewell to the home I created in Los Angeles, packed up the Camaro, and drove cross country with my father and brother on an epic road trip. We left comfort out of the equation, yet had 4 solid days of bonding time while driving through deserts, mountains, and cornfields. I spent a weekend in Chicago and a week in Kalamazoo before arriving to Louisville, and had an opportunity to spend a weekend on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland Kentucky with my Kalamazoo buddies and watch Federer and Roddick play in Cincinnati before getting settled into my new home in the South.
Over the next four years I will be enrolled in a PhD program at U of L, specialized in Entrepreneurship. The program is designed to turn us into ‘social scientists’ that publish in top academic journals while teaching college level Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy classes. My initial research interests are in Social Entrepreneurship, however I am keeping an open mind, and will likely be influenced by mentors and the seminars throughout the program. The next time you see me, I will probably need to wear reading glasses, as my vision is fading with each empirical study I read.
Academic life has surrounded me since I was born. My father is a Professor of Finance and I developed close mentor/mentee relationships with professors at LMU. I have a new perspective on the profession, especially regarding research in Entrepreneurship. There are some interesting questions being asked by these folks. The scientific research applied to build economic theory is starting to fascinate me, which is a bit shocking if you knew me over the past 8 years. I have a long way to go out here, but I am confident that I am surrounded by the right people and resources to build this career… I just need to work hard at it.
I am still getting used to life in Louisville, but have found a strong community in Butchertown where I am considering moving to next year. Louisville is packed with interesting history, and I am just scratching the surface of it. There is an odd obsession with the movie THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which I noticed in recommendations on my Netflix account when I moved here (It was the most popular movie rented in the city) There is an annual festival to pay tribute to the movie in addition to numerous posters and books for sale throughout the town.
Also, I recently learned that the most popular song in the world GOOD MORNING TO ALL was written by Kindergarten teachers in Louisville. It later became known as the HAPPY BIRTHDAY song. So it’s not just fried chicken, baseball bats, horses…there is more…much more. The Kentucky Derby Museum is phenomenal, with a 360 degree movie theatre unlike anything I have ever seen before. IDEA FESTIVAL is coming up in a month, and will feature 5 days of talks given my global scholars and leaders to encourage innovation and creativity to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people.
There is vibrant entrepreneurial community that is closely tied into the university, and just like California, people ride bikes everywhere and love their dogs. There is a style to the city that blends a small town charm with a progressive mindset of a big city. Yet, as a custom frame store owner from New York described to me, invisible boundaries still exist here, and there are clear differences between geographical regions of the city that can be startling on first impressions. Near my apartment, boarded up buildings resemble Detroit, and kids on campus have already reported being robbed at gunpoint 1 week into the semester. Still, the art culture and local music seems to be thriving, with an art gallery open 24 hours a day. There is so more for me to see, and it will be interesting finding a balance between work and play out here.
I have an idea for a new business venture that is inspired by recent research into the field of social entrepreneurship. I hope to launch the venture within 2 years after I raise enough capital and make the necessary strategic alliances – It is a fun idea incorporating my passion for the guitar, education, and building a community to help lower the enormous high school drop out rate in Kentucky.
I am the new guy in town though, so it will take time to create synergies, I am still trying to learn the local language and suspect that the difficulty of my coursework will be slightly more challenging than the MBA program I just finished. Our cohort is comprised of 5 other folks, all highly educated with global experience in venture capital, hedge fund management, and corporate marketing. I am likely the least serious out of the group, and need to be disciplined in time management to succeed out here, the program has failed 2 students in the past 4 years.
Recently I submitted an abstract for our research in Europe this summer to a conference hosted by NYU on Social Entrepreneurship. If it is accepted, I will have an opportunity to present our findings in New York to the academic community this November. I won’t start teaching classes until my third year in the program, but will be working as a research assistant to an active researcher in the business school that may give me an opportunity to get published before starting on a dissertation. Calculus and Statistics are vital to a few of the Seminars I have this semester, so I am switching gears from what I was used to before, which is taking a toll on my social life. However, I am very optimistic about what lies ahead, the people I am going to be working with, and becoming part of the Louisville community.
It’s not quite a concrete jungle, but dreams have been made here…. just look at Tom Cruise, Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders, Diane Sawyer, Papa John Schnatter, Hunter S. Thompson, Phil Simms and Thomas Edison – He left Louisville after getting fired from spilling sulfuric acid on the office floor, only to have his invention of the light bulb demonstrated in Louisville 16 years later.
In 1991, the US and our coalition were paid by $17 billion by Kuwait for war efforts that freed the country of from Iraqi occupation. The monarchy was reinstated, and after 2 years and $50 billion of infrastructure expenses, the country bounced back into prosperity leading the Arab nations in educational and economic statistics.
Today, while sipping on a Tecate in the Townhouse in Venice Beach, California, I told my good friend from Kuwait the story of Paul Revere. It’s a story most American’s studied in early childhood. I recently read about how the famous midnight ride was a prime example of the importance of “connectors” in our society. (The Tipping Point)
I grew up listening to punk rock and always wanted a cause to fight for, but never really found it. Today, instead of anti-establishment melodies and lyrics, I play flamenco renditions while rapping and parody singing R&B songs. I consider the defect of my musical activism embarrassing, yet honest. But on this 4th of July weekend, anticipating the arrival of my best friends visiting LA before I migrate inland to one of the former largest slave-trading city in US history, I have allowed myself to be impassioned with rebellious stories of other nations.
The Secretary-General of the National Democratic Alliance Khalid Al-Fadhala was sent to a 3 month jail sentence in a controversial court case after criticizing the prime minister HH of Kuwait. Recently a journalist was released on bail from prison for similar charges. There is a growing resistance in the country of people who want the prime minister to step down, after several accounts of corruption, including writing checks worth millions to MP’s. The specific offense that Khalid Al-Fadhala was convicted for was related to slandering the prime minister at speech themed “go, we deserve better.” He accused the prime minister of teaching people principles of money laundering.
It’s the 5th richest country in the world, with 10% of the world’s oil reserves. The country has a 94% literacy rate, and the median gross income per capita is almost $100k. 2/3 of the country is made up of foreigners, however, and 90,000 people have been banned from leaving the country because of debt issues outlined in the constitution. The recent budget passed by the government has a $14 billion deficit, with almost half of the $56 billion expenditures exhausted on government salaries. The country needs to sell over 1 million barrels of oil a day to pay these salaries. More than 1/4 of this budget is for subsidies, ‘which guarantee low prices for fuel to power plants, petrol and other essential commodities.’ 8.5% of the budget is for defense spending, while $3.8 billion was spent on a “one off payment for government pension.” Almost 90% of the country’s revenue comes from oil, and 10% of this revenue is allocated to the’country’s sovereign wealth fund, whose assets are estimated at around $277 billion.’ That is decent chunk of change.
Despite the reserves, The liberal movement seems to be fighting for a future. With a finite supply of oil, it makes sense to The Hyderabadass for this country to diversify. They are effectively paying their government salaries with oil money that will eventually run out. Then what? How many pearls need to be dived for to pay the $25 billion salaries? Where is the incentive for people to work in private industries if government salaries are so inflated. $300 billion will run out very fast in a country that spends $56 billion a year, and any cuts made will certainly effect the lives of the majority of people depending on it.
All people, like the colonists that Paul Revere rounded up for the American Revolution, respond to incentives. Even the most complacent person may resist control from authorities when certain liberties are taken away. In general, I believe that people tend to have a strong interest for the freedom and rights of their children, regardless of their interests into their own individual futures. In Kuwait, government salaries have tripled in recent years, yet today 50,000 people protested this violation of a person’s freedom of speech. There are less than 1 million actual citizens in Kuwait, with less than 40% eligible to vote. It seems like the injustice of a particular individual being imprisoned for a speech is providing incentives to a nation for a much needed reform. Today there are 1.6 billion people in the world living without electricity. Perhaps its time for this oil rich nation to see a light at the end of their tunnel and build a sustainable society that continue to prosper in an everchanging global economy. Just this week, Tesla, an electic car company went public with a very successful IPO exceeding a $2 billion stock market value.
In conclusion, I am very interested in seeing what happens from here. Will the prime minister continue his stance at punishing his critics? Will the courts support it? Will the people unify and form an opposition? What’s the prince up to during all this? How long will Khalid Al-Fadhala stay in jail? Will social media be ammunition for an opposition? How will the western world react? I have heard 30 times today about the Nigerian soccer team being banned for 2 years by their president, but have yet to hear this story broadcast, even on the BBC. At one time, there was a global concern for democracy in this country, a concern that profited the coalition handsomely. Will this concern continue even in the absence of Sadam? According to Kuwaiti law, it is forbidden to speak out against the monarchy, but is it wrong for the people to protest corruption of their democratic leader? Finally….Who’s taking the camel out for a midnight ride?
I’m watching 2 year old kids in Indonesia blowing circle shaped smoke from cigarettes on Italian television while airing out my clothes in the window to get rid of the tobacco smells from the nightclub last night. For the first time in Milano, I am not regretting not using the 7 series “How to speak Italian” that was uploaded to my iTunes folder. I’m certainly not homesick, but I do miss the no smoking indoors policies of Los Angeles.
It’s frustrating to watch video clips of babies smoking 40 cigarettes. I don’t understand the whole story because of language barriers. Initially I thought babies smoking cigarettes was just a YouTube phenomenon, but now realize it’s a global crisis, with kids starting to smoke at the age of 5. How does this happen in the modern world? The reporter shows maps and stats from around the countries, including India, and I am a little relieved that I can’t understand exactly what is being said.
In my study of social entrepreneurship here in Europe, I have met people who have dedicated their lives to solving problems in their communities. How can the world allow this problem to keep growing? I thought we started addressing tobacco issues a few decades ago, but I am starting to think we just exported the social problems elsewhere. Has there really been progress? I once heard from a distinguished CEO that it is actually better to have your employees smoke, because you end up paying less in healthcare in the long run because they don’t live as long as non smokers.
It seems like companies are exploiting the third world on new levels now, but I am clueless how this began. In this situation, I think that they are being somewhat counterproductive, because creating acceptable environments for toddlers to start chain smoking removes them from future labor markets, which is like short selling their future assets.
Let’s give the tobacco companies the benefit of the doubt… I think that the local cultures and families ultimately carry the responsibility and accountability for their children to not smoke. This is a critical time for social entrepreneurs to design programs that can educate and inform these families to change. The families in the video clips I watched seem to think it is cute that their babies can blow smoke into shapes. Lets figure out a way to get these kids building blocks and toy bubbles instead of cancer sticks, yeah? This is a prime example of a global issue in need of a social entrepreneur to step in.
Milano is a place where you can’t get by on your good looks alone….Everyone is gorgeous. People take great effort to look fashionable. I started learning the differences between Prada, Gucci, Armani and the other name brands while shopping with people who could afford to buy their products. I have no sense for fashion, but I love a good bargain, and Milano gave me several opportunities to practice negotiating. Among my few expenditures were european style military shirts (i got a great price for them at a street market) and haircut, and a 40 Euro classical guitar that provided several moments of entertainment throughout the stay. 3 weeks without playing music was miserable, and I saw the instrument in the train station and made an impulse purchase. The only buyers remorse is that I have to now use the guitar case as my suitcase/backpack while I travel Scotland, because I flew RyanAir and they have the strictest policy for luggage.
No updates on the research project…our time in Milano was unfortunately during a holiday, so many people were out of town. We will be conducting the make up interviews through skype however when we get back in the states. Italy has always been one of my favorite places to visit. I love how the people are so passionate about everything they do, and hold nothing back in confrontations. We arrived to the hotel and immediately there was a mustached italian in a truck yelling at us from the window for blocking traffic, making all sorts of hand gestures. We had our share of rude waiters, but I didn’t really take offense because although the waiter showed no sympathy to our inability to read his menu, he was incredibly genuine with his interactions with us, giving us tough love and encouraging us to put effort into pronouncing the menu items properly before he would serve us. Another restaurant waiter simply gave up on us, and said ”your food a will be a surprise, ok?” 20 minutes later he brought out several amazing dishes which still remain a mystery to me. My style of restaurant, like the house of nanking in SF.
I didn’t find a wife in Italy this time around, but I found a few more dance moves. It’s weird traveling alone now after spending 3 weeks with such a big group. Next up on the agenda is Scotland and England. World Cup fever is in the air in the latter, while the Scottish are apparently only interested in seeing England lose in the matches. I’ll post more from the queen’s country soon.
This is how the tour guide described eating Chocolate’s in Zurich – it is an event in your mouth. After eating 20 Swiss franc’s worth, I agree.
This city is no friend to my wallet, but nonetheless her charm keeps getting me to spend more and more money on her in a courtship that I hope allows us to continue our affair, and maybe someday live together. If there was ever a reason to learn four new languages, Zurich would be it.
I ride the public transportation back from the city center, which is one of the few reasonably priced purchases available to visitors. I am amused watching an indian baby in a stroller, who resembles a young Jason D’Mello, flirt with a blond swiss baby brought into the train and parked opposite to him. The blond girl is in a slightly more upscale ride, or whip, or whatever slang can be referred to baby vehicles.
At first, the Indian baby ignores the blond girl’s advances, and looks elsewhere while the swiss child makes motorboat noises and funny faces. But soon the brown baby initiates a game of peek-a-boo, which get’s both babies in a uncontrollable burst of laughter. The train itself resembles a playland, with what appears to be handcrafted wooden seats and yellow painted hand rails and has no plastic in sight. The ride only lasts a few minutes, since one of the strollers is removed from the train, but the youngsters exhange a genuine goodbye from their new friendship that brings a little joy to the other passengers onboard.
In my two days in Zurich, I have noticed that people here live better. Not because they earn 50% more money than us (they do) or pay less taxes meaning that they earn 80% more money than us (they do this also) but because they they have found a rhythm that does not exist in any other place I have traveled to.
The city is spotless and clean, priding itself on the ability to drink water out of any public fountain structure that most other cities are filled with coins from desperate wishes. Money is not wasted in fountains here, financial privacy is valued immensely. My friends and I brainstorm how this city can run so well with people paying less taxes. We realize the savings they have from not having to fund a military, and other unique situations the Swiss are famous for.
Soon after filling my waterbottle, I enter the weirdest public bathroom I have seen. With an efficient design and impeccible hygiene, The luxurious port-a-potty hosts an additional waste drop off for siringes. This city apparently has acknowledged a drug culture and taken a proactive approach to deal with it to make other people’s lives more enjoyable. (Unless there is another reason why they would have a waste basket for needles in public) I have yet to see a demand for this disposal, as there are very few poor people in public and no one that looks like a drug addict. It is a nice change from the Venice Beach drug parafanalia that you can’t avoid. But I am lead to believe that this subculture must exist, and the city has just found a solution. It’s this attitude of the city that perhaps wins me over the most.
Outside of my fountain and bathroom experiences, I must note that the city puts a lot of trust in visitors. They offer free bike rentals, with pickup and dropoff locations all around the city. Its not rare to see nice, nonrental bikes without locks in public either. On a Tuesday afternoon in May, citizens are lounging by the river and lake in their swimwear, jumping from bridges into the water and soaking in the sun while staring at the snow covered Alps in the landscape. There is a woman’s only pool where ladies can sunbathe topless without insecurities, or so I am told. But a few hundred meters away from this secluded area, woman sunbathe topless next to the lake anyway. I discover that my day pass for public transport includes a free boat ride across the lake. This is almost as cool as the ability to rent a bicycle for free. I am no longer frustrated with paying $30 for a burrito.
My friends and I grab a beer a waterside cafeteria while a band provides a soundtrack for few dozen dancers at 3pm in the afternoon. Not a single couple is under the age of 65, but their dance moves energize the band, with dips, spins, and even lifts while maintianing coordination that I did not know existed. I keep wondering how they would react if a house beat suddenly came on, with the words “Put your hands up in the air, put your hands up in the air” or a “Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah Roma, Roma-ma, GaGa, ool la la Want your bad Romance.” Even though these numbers never get played at this venue, it is refreshing to listen to music in Europe in absence of fro hawks, Jersey Shore look alikes, or simply away from men in tight jeans.
We have scheduled two amazing interviews in the upcoming days. On Thursday we will take a train to Bern, the capital, to meet the Swiss Social Entrepreneurs of the year, Paolo Richter. Tomorrow we have a meeting at 9am in Zurich with an entrepreneur who has helped keep kids away from clubs and parties by providing nightime sports events and facilities.
I am already feeling sad to leave this place, The short romantic comedy on my train ride is like a poem carved into my memory with the precision of a Swiss knife and to the timing kept of her watches. I am drinking 200% more clean water here than anywhere else in Europe….and I have yet to take a sip of water and taste the awfulness of sparkling water, something that Europeans constantly try to slip to me to frustrate. I have realized that all my preconceived opinions of this place from stereotypes were naive…..Except for how good the Chocolate is. That is something that I can’t be neutral on.
Usher gets bumped at 10:30 am on a Friday in Munich in a low-key coffee shop in the central part of the city. Meanwhile, I am interviewing Franz over coffee and ice teas. A man a few years older than me with a 5-week-old kid, he inquires about certain issues in the US that a handful of people know about. We are talking about yellow houses in Detroit.
Franz has no idea I am from Michigan, but he is well read and found a common point to start dialogue that would continue for hours. Men cut from the same cloth; Ali, Anthony and I find too many common chords with this Bavarian entrepreneur, who has funded over 400 entrepreneurs in East Germany.
He considers himself a hybrid between a politician and a social entrepreneur. In a country full of red tape, he found a way to bypass the painted town to raise millions of Euros to fund simple yet productive startups in his home state. He convinced each mayor of the regions he works in to collaborate, and founded an incubator that supports local enterprises. Schools even benefit. Kindergarten programs are funded if they are able to find innovative practices. Franz takes half of his money from Brussels, while the rest comes from private equity. Many former entrepreneurs succeed in his system, and give back, with a modest 5% return expected from their investments. This is community building at the most organic level.
This man is the catalyst for progress in the rural parts of Germany. He recommends we talk to his close ally, who has collaborated with him to initiate the same movement in urban areas in Berlin and other cosmopolitan cities. Tag teaming bureaucrats, these guys refuse to be outcomes of their environments. They realized at early ages, through street smarts and enlightenment that they have power to influence the system that others have become complacent in. Systems are designed by humans, and can be bypassed, changed, and even broken. Franz realizes that the next generation has endless potential.
He finds creative ways to incorporate universities with the businesses he funds, to prevent talent from leaving the community but instead staying local. He boasts that these businesses offer opportunities that bigger corporations can’t, and the young people recognize this in his programs. He shows his frustration with facial expressions and a raised tone when my colleague points out how the German Ambassador told us that his countrymen value security and seek safe jobs that last 30 years. Franz quickly says this is a state person’s point of view that is outdated hundreds of years. We find a common interest in Hyderabad, ironically. Arrange a future meeting that may or may not occur. But I am inspired. I hold on to the broken English that I hear this afternoon to get me through a jetlagged day (its been over a week and I still can’t adjust)
Calm and composed, I get home, strategize how I will attack a generous breakfast and bike tour of Munich, and pray that the local football team is victorious. This trip has been incredibly productive, and with two cities left, I am extremely motivated. Usher – OMG – you have no place in Munich during my business meetings damnit.
Prague has hosted my comrades and I for 3 days and too many nights. From my window seat I am looking out at at the exact view that wikipedia has taken for the Prague Castle. Phenomenal.
Crediting jet lag, I have had exposure to this city at her earliest moments and certain times past curfew. Her cab drivers have both disappointed and aided this certain vagabond. But what I have gathered in my limited time is this.
Prague’s tourist attraction shadows its potential. The people here are intelligent. This city is ambitious. Progress is riding through the streets on electrically charged vehicles. We visitors come here for delicious beer, not knowing that the Budweiser shoved down our throats in Superbowl ads and Nascar marketing is actually a name stolen from a legit beer company from the Czech. These people don’t fret. Their other beers are actually better, and they create experiences that are both memorable and forgettable.
But the Hyderabadass did not come to Prague to drink beer. He did not come to judge her people, or engage in city walking tours that promote churches that are a strange mixture between Jesuit history and Monarchial devience. He came here to study Social Entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship is not Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Spacebook, or any of that. It is entrepreneurship at its finest, using innovation, ingenuity, creativity, and brilliance to solve social problems through sustainable business models. Seldom are these entrepreneurs businessmen(women). Like Daja Kabativa, founder and president of http://www.letohradekvendula.cz/, these ventures achieve success from the tenacity and endurance of ordinary people committed at progress. People who want to leave the world better. They identify opportunities in area’s that have multiple bottom lines for profit. And they find unconventional ways to prosper.
Our interview with Daja was a once in a lifetime opportunity. A woman who lost a child from a mental disability, she has dedicated her life to create an environment where similar people (that she calls her clients) can live, learn, work, and teach. Her facility has been constantly expanding over 10 years to the point where they now house state of the art appliances for healthcare, physicaly therapy, retail store, bakery and even an elevator. Her philosophy is to treat clients as equals, as they are often diagnosed and limited to certain roles appointed to them by others. By creating a family where all are expected to work to their capacity, people are empowered to reach their potential. She had 65 clients, 15 employees, and generates income from quality products produced in both her workshops and bakery.
Although I read her background and Ashoka’s report of how great her business is, nothing impacted me as much as actually meeting Daja, her clients, and touring her facility. She was a powerful woman who projected confidence in her native tongue while I anxiously awaited my mediocre translator to communicate back to me her words in English. Her instincts were so powerful, that when she invited us to come back next year, she made a point to tell us that she would learn our language, or provide a professional interpretter for the meeting. Nothing against our translator, who was doing his best, but it was obvious that there was a better form of communication with this entrepreneur.
2 weeks before taking our meeting, she was invited to Brussels, with all expenses paid, to meet with the World Economic Forum. Her little project in the Czech had caught the attention of world leaders, and she was asked to present how and why her business has been working. On a macro level, the EU is facing challenges of a shrinking workforce and growing population of people alienated from the workforce. Instead of inviting city officials of Prague, or national politicians, they invited Daja in a group of 15 people to help start the dialogue on how to make a change. This social entrepreneur has dedicated 10 years to a very small location and specific cause, but now has understood that her actions and passion serves value to a worldwide need that could benefit millions. Watching her express this in her language was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a city that lacks none. No translator was needed to see the pride she shared with us.
In a city that escaped communism, she credits her country’s history for the founding of her company. If not for the end of communism, she would not have been able to obtain the resources needed to start this venture. Her credit to luck, ideas and friends for her success is something entrepreneurs often say but rarely think about. Humbly she admitted that her venture was close to failure several times before someone stepped in and saved them. Her advice is simply to never give up.
And as I waive goodbye to the city of Prague from my fancy hotel window seat, I offer the same advice. In a city where it seems the people are confused about the political future, with an election 2 weeks away and much doubt about the decision to join the EU, I wish them the courage and resilience to find their place in our world’s future. Not to be exploited by cheap labor and inexpensive products and services, this place has the potential to be an entrepreneur’s dream and a place for true progress that can benefit our global community for centuries to come, while quenching our thirst.
I will be spending the next month researching social entrepreneurship in Europe. The goal is to meet and talk to as many business leaders as possible and learn about what they are doing in community development through entrepreneurial ventures. Below are the dates and places I will be traveling. I will try to update frequently.
Prague (current city) – May 16 – 20 Munich – May 20 – 24 Zurich – May 24 – 28 Milan – May 28 – June 2 UK (Scotland and England ) June 2 – 10.
This post comes after the recent video game that I posted, which has distracted a certain friend in Detroit all day from doing very important tasks for our auto industry…. Found an interesting article about the monetary impact of being lazy, especially in an entrepreneurial lifestyle…I have to admit, I am guilty of several of these, from waiting till the last minute to send mail, rebate offers, and for finding the best savings rate online…check it out