Josh Linkner knows a little about entrepreneurship because as the managing partner in Detroit Venture Partners, he bets on them all the time as part of an effort to rebuild Detroit via the growth of indigenous businesses.
On June 2 he brought his expertise to the Hill District as the keynote speaker for the Make It Happen conference at the Kaufmann Center’s Hillman Auditorium and urged residents to do the same.
“Pittsburgh and Detroit both have histories of innovation and entrepreneurship, but they both got away from that,” he said. “Today, Pittsburgh has the opportunity to become a vibrant beacon of hope.”
Linkner, himself an accomplished jazz guitarist, stresses creativity and perseverance when speaking to budding entrepreneurs. He also lives it interacting with the other general partners at DVP, which include Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Rockbridge Growth Equity founder Brian Hermelin and its newest partner, former NBA great Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
His Magic Johnson Enterprises is a conglomerate that includes three Capital Management Funds, over $4 billion dollars in developed real estate and $2 billion dollars in committed capital, SodexoMAGIC, Magic Airport Holdings, 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sports Centers, T.G.I.F. Fridays Restaurant, Best Buy and the recently acquired Vibe Holdings LLC.
“He brings a lot of contacts and cache, and he definitely ratchets up our coolness factor,” said Linkner. “But he’s also a very sophisticated businessman and a truly caring individual.”
Part of the message Linkner and Johnson are conveying is that places like the Hill District that don’t see the booms of economic investment and opportunity are nurseries for entrepreneurs. “Everyone starting in business runs into idiots and red tape, people in underserved and marginalized communities see that all the time,” he said.
“Homegrown entrepreneurship has historically created more jobs and hope,” said Linkner. “My message is that greatness is not often achieve in an elegant way and many success stories are those of people who grew up in adversity and succeeded through creative activity. People are in control of their own situations. If they have the dream and the grit, they can do it.”
Some locals who did it, including Cosmos Technologies founder Frederick Douglas, Shelton Masonry founder Steve Shelton and Sassy Gourmet Sauces founder Adrienne Brown, were also on hand for questions and answers with the roughly 250 attendees.
Anne Dugan, founder of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business, which sponsored the conference, said everyone would still be there talking if they could.
“It was wonderfully received,” she said. “We had people from Larimer, the North Side, Downtown, but half were from the Hill.”
Dugan also had representatives from banks, state and federal funding agencies and firms like Bridgeway Capital and Innovation Works, which have venture capital funds on hand. She also had several of her institute’s small business consultants available to help prospective entrepreneurs tighten their numbers.
“When you’re starting out, you don’t go looking for debt. You look to friends and family first,” she said. “As a rule, everything will take twice as long and cost three times as much as you think.”
Dugan said the entrepreneurs were so generous with their time and advice, that she has been inundated with requests to have another conference.
“Every neighborhood in the city wants us to come. We’re looking at doing another one in late summer, early fall. We just don’t know where yet,” she said. “In the meantime, people are always welcome to meet with us at the institute. We see about 750 people a year.”
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