It may come from one of the hundreds of clients working with the Small Business Development Center on a startup.It is entirely possible that right now, this very second, someone down at 712 Innovations is using the 3-D printer to develop his or her big idea.
"Been there, done that" is key. This means that the next big idea might dwell inside an employee who uses on-the-job-experience to come up with the next big thing. Or it could reside in any of our small business owners who, through their experience, have figured out something different, something new.
Creators, makers, thinkers, doers, intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs... maybe even you. I truly believe that the next big idea is always within our grasp. However, when we find it, will we know what to do with it? Big ideas are innovative, and at the very least, incrementally different. The entrepreneur sees something that no one else sees. This is exactly what takes the ordinary everyday “me-too” idea to another level. With innovation comes risk, and not all new ideas succeed.
The key challenge for any big idea entrepreneur is financing. Plain and simple. For the really big idea, it can be the hardest to obtain.
Big ideas are not usually bankable. They require a connection to investors willing to provide seed capital, often at an early stage when things are most uncertain. This willingness to invest in uncertain outcomes is precisely why these types of investors are referred to as angels, and for the big idea entrepreneur, absolutely critical to get from idea to implementation.
ANGEL SEARCHING For 23 years Jeff Taylor and Fred Polzen, co-owners of PT's Coffee, have been working on making meaning. Right here in Topeka. They have received a lot of help over the years as they perfected the art of coffee. During this time they have received numerous awards and have been recognized as one of the very best in the coffee industry.
Four years ago, Jeff and Fred went to work on their next big idea: to take everything they knew about the coffee business and grow.Their innovative plan was to have on premise small batch roasters for new retail stores in new markets, and source premium coffee in large quantities to fulfill new wholesale accounts. It included hard work, long hours, and yes, more risk than any bank would consider.
For Jeff, the search for angel investors was a painful process. There were no angel investor groups in Topeka at the time, so he made presentations to Mid-America Angels in Kansas City and St. Joseph, Missouri. He found the audience, but the audience just didn’t find a Topeka-based coffee company that compelling. Jeff didn’t give up. He worked individual Topeka connections, hosting and pitching to potential investors over a period of six months. It took time, patience, and most of all, perseverance.
ANGEL INVESTINGJeff finally made a connection to a local investor who bought into the meaning behind PT’s Coffee. PT’s Coffee is now growing. The warehouse is expanding, with new shifts in roasting and new positions in the office. In October, PT’s made its first shipments of Organic Colombian Tolima coffee to Costco stores located throughout the Midwest.
“We couldn’t be happier now, but it was painful getting here. We always felt we were a great investment, but it took months of preparation working on spreadsheets, our proposal, and then making presentations,” comments Taylor.
Right now, we have other entrepreneurs working on their big idea. Will they have access to local angel investors who support entrepreneurial development in Topeka? Or will those Topeka-based entrepreneurs be forced to look elsewhere?
The answer to that question is critical to our future.