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September 23rd, 2008

Somehow I got my beach and in-town weekends mixed up and unexpectedly ended up at the Inc. 500 conference on Saturday.  Fate was clearly working its magic – of course, it was the perfect place for me to be!  Inc. magazine annually recognizes the fastest growing private companies – this conference is intended to celebrate, meet like-minded innovators and learn from gurus like Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Tom Peters and Michael Gerber.  Surrounded by other bright, visionary business owners I couldn’t have been more inspired and energized!


Aside from fabulous learning programs, what made my experience so fantastic was interaction with the other business owners.  Although some of these people are on top of the proverbial ladder, many are still incredibly approachable and humble.  I especially loved hearing all the “underdog” stories.  One woman started her company in the tiny corner of her living room (she couldn’t afford a house with a basement or a spare bedroom) after her kids went to sleep and now it’s one of the largest private companies in the Midwest.  Oh and by the way, she was also the first in her family to get off welfare. 


It was also an amazing surprise to run into Chante Goodwin, the young woman I first met two years ago through NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship), the organization that YES!Circle supports.  I was fortunate enough to judge her first business plan competition.  Her company Your Way Computer Services later went on to win the national business plan competition.  Chante is currently a student at George Washington University as well as a business owner.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this young lady on the cover of Inc. in a few years! 


Themes that kept emerging in conversations among entrepreneurs of every type and stage of business imaginable were:


  • Persistence:  If you asked each and every person in the room what got them to where they are they’d inadvertently tell you that they persisted through some pretty tough times.  Occasionally they toyed with the idea of taking the path of least resistance and giving up but they didn’t – they kept going.  There’s something powerful about hearing it repeated so many times.  Don’t give up.  Change direction.  Do it differently.  Ask for help.  But never give up!
  • Passion & Fun:  Seeing how tough things can get on your way to the top, it’s easy to become tired and even jaded.  But successful entrepreneurs have never lost passion for their business or the fun of the chase that comes with growing it.  They truly light up when they talk about their companies, employees and even competition.  They have so much fun with their dreams (even when daily tasks to get there are not so fun), it’s contagious (and it sells!)
  • Peer support:  As honored as all the winners felt to win their awards and as enthusiastic as they were about all the learning opportunities, what compelled most of us to be at this conference was the prospect of meeting other persistent, passionate peers.  People who get it – get why you’d lose sleep over a new idea or meeting payroll or resolving a customer complaint. 

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this conference.  Not only did I gain invaluable new knowledge, resources and contacts, but most importantly, I feel rejuvenated, reenergized and re-inspired.  I am excited to get out there and network, to talk about what I do, and to find more kindred spirits who occasionally lose sleep over new ideas! 

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