CHARLOTTE — The weather outside Wednesday night was cold, wet and dreadful, but one has to say that the entrepreneurs gathered inside a ball room at the Omni Charlotte must have thought the sun was shining, the economy wasn’t in the tank, and the go-go Internet days were back.
“I’d say the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive in Charlotte,” said a beaming Mike McGuire, who runs the Grant Thornton accounting firm for the Carolinas. “We have to people, we have the attitude.”
McGuire’s ringing endorsement brought to a close the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council’s annual “Trailblazer Awards” night. More than 150 people turned out to network, to dine on beef tenderloin and rich chocolate cake, and to honor the three recipients of MEC’s top honors. John Yates, head of the technology practice for Morris, Manning & Martin LLP, also delivered a keynote address about the importance of true friendship in business.
Energy was in abundance. Excitement was evident.
Part of the reason has to be that the MEC is going through a transformation itself. A search team is looking for a new executive director, but in the interim MEC leadership already is setting a new agenda, planning for growth, and aiming to double its membership over the next year.
“We are re-inventing ourselves,” McGuire said. “We ready to move to the next level. — We are starting the MEC on a new journey.”
Looking at CED
I sat at dinner with Dick Handshaw, a former MEC president, who stressed several times how determined MEC is to grow and sees as an example to follow the strategy employed by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development in RTP. “We want to do the same thing here,” he said with a smile.
Ashe Lockhart, an attorney at Womble Carlyle, has been retained to provide management services to MEC position on a temporary basis. McGuire is chairing the search committee. Lockhart said the mission to hire a new director will resume at full speed now that the Trailblazer program has passed. up my position as a lawyer at Womble Carlyle to serve as interim director of the MEC.
The immediate focus Wednesday was to honor David Jones of Peak 10 as the Trailblazer winner (see separate story), Wayne Cooper of TelecommUSA as the Pathfinder Award (early stage company) winner and Stan Brookshire of Acentron Technologies (lifetime achievement).
The importance of friendship and teamwork
John Yates, head of the technology practice at Morris, Manning & Martin LLP, kicked off the evening with a keynote address that focused on the importance of true friendship in business.
The three winners seized on Yates’ point, talking about how they as individuals didn’t win the awards but their respective teams of employees.
“I buy in to John’s point of view,” said Brookshire. “It’s not the entrepreneurs making all the success. It’s the teams the entrepreneurs are able to create. Without great teams, you’re not going to be successful.”
Cooper talked about the challenge of assembling the team at TelecommUSA, which provides services for the “unbanked” Latinos in the United States who want to transfer money to their families. He talked about the importance of having a team with “tenacity and commitment.”
Jones pointed out that Peak 10 was succeeding in part because its more than 40 employees were contributing above and beyond the call of a 9-to-5 workday.
After hearing them talk, it’s easy to understand why they walked away with the top honors.
The master of ceremonies summed up the evening best. Danny Fontana, an entrepreneur himself of long-standing who now is managing principal and branch manager of Wachovia Securities, delivered an upbeat, funny performance as the MC. His imitation of Marlon Brando’s “Godfather” character was spot on, but the words with which he closed his part of the show captured the essence of entrepreneurship.
“Remember, it wasn’t a missile that brought Russia down,” Fontana said. “Our nation is built on hope. Hope that we can give our children a better life.”
Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.