Monday, March 30, 2009

Thank You letter to award recipients this year

I wrote a letter to the award recipients this year (I've been reading the Warren Buffett biography by Lowenstein, and Buffett is a fan of the personal annual update letter).

Thought I'd post it here.

-Howie

Hi everyone,

Thank you for the outstanding year we’ve had at Fuqua and at Duke in entrepreneurship. As I look back on our time, I’m really just so pleased with how much we’ve collectively accomplished. I think it’s important to look back a little at where we’ve come from to appreciate where we are now.

In 2003-2004, my second year at Fuqua, there was not much cohesive momentum in entrepreneurship. The EVCC was having a down year (I didn’t even bother applying for a position, I spent my energies as FuquaVision co-president) and there was no Entrepreneurship Week, there were no events (education series or otherwise); there wasn’t a VCIC team that year, let alone an internal competition; there wasn’t a cabinet, it was just two co-presidents. This isn’t a knock so much on the people involved, as much as just to say that situationally, there wasn’t a lot of momentum. It would have been hard for most any student to really get the “flywheel” going. (To be fair: the DSC was a pretty good, with the founder of Oreck coming in to speak, and a couple other events)

As some of you know, a group of young alums from the classes of 2003 and 2004 got together and created the “Alumni Advisory Board” for the EVCC. And we really collaborated with the 2005 presidents, Jeff Foley and Renee Hartmann, to add some momentum, some structure, etc… We had meetings at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, and had a great year. That year, the Duke Venture Fellows program was formalized, we created an internal VCIC competition, we had a cabinet! It was a fantastic year.

From there, things have gone up and down depending on the year, but overall the trend has been upwards. And I’m happy to say that, in my opinion, this year has been the best year I’ve seen, and possibly is the best year that Fuqua/Duke has ever had in entrepreneurship.

So, as I think about where we are here in 2008-2009 – there’s so many things to be happy about. Let’s see if we can rattle them off: Internal VCIC, Venture Fellows, the Education Series, Entrepreneurship Week (Fuqua & Law, RTP Company Day, One Day Startup, Technology Day, DSC Elevator Pitch Competition, etc…), Dine and Discuss, Week-in-Cities, “Planapalooza”, the Duke Start-Up Challenge (60 elevator pitches, up from 25; and 36 business plans, up from 19), the EVCC weekly newsletter; and looking even in additional things, the Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network, the Startup Matchmaker, the Concentration in E&I, the Program for Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship 360…and I’m sure I’ve missed a few other things.

I think the bulk of the credit goes to Bobby and Amy; Sean, Jessica and Anand. They spent so many hours planning, recruiting, and executing, they did a really wonderful job. My thanks to you.

Also, let me tell you who you all identified as needing praise (you were asked in your RSVP form for this event) – in addition to Bobby, Amy, Sean, Jessica, and Anand (who were all mentioned), you talked about Chris Komelasky, Michael Schwartz, Alejandro Sanchez, Rob Grether, Gunnar Weibolt (WEMBA), Thomas Chorathil, Stephen Dean, and Justin Healy. I think it’s nice to see so many different folks being singled out and hopefully this will give you a sense for how many people are really stepping it up.

It’s a little sad to say goodbye. As I’ve experienced with my own class – life takes us in so many directions it’s a little hard to keep up. I hope that you’ll stay in touch and perhaps as DukeGEN continues to grow that may be a reason for continuing to talk.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which actually came from my own graduation. Our speaker was Duke alum Bill Gross (of Pimco) - fantastic speaker. To this day I keep this quote nearby.

To use a playground expression, you must have “the love”. Not a love of hoops or the gridiron, but a fixation, an obsession, an exultation in what you do each and every day…

The true winners from this group will be those that can marry their education and people skills with their passion. It is a dynamite combination. If you haven’t already, find something eventually that makes you want to get up every morning and go in – not for the check and what it can buy, but for the love…

If, in addition, you want to climb the ladder towards the top, let me recommend one additional thing. You must be a risk-taker. How much and how often depends on you and your business environment and associates, but faint heart never wins a fair maiden or a handsome prince for that matter. You must take some chances…

To win at the ultimate business reality show, you can do no better than to love what you do and as you’re doing it to slough or molt your business skin by taking measured risks and calculated chances.

My best wishes to you in the next step in your lives and careers, and throughout your lives, and I hope that you find something where you have “the love”.

-Howie

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