Editor’s note: Writing today’s Skinny is Bill Warner, a regular contributor to LTW about angel capital investing.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – This is the 25th year for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) Venture Conference. More importantly, over the last 25 years, CED has provided leadership and support to a community of private and public companies, professional services firms, and financial and financing firms, all for the benefit of entrepreneurs who are in need of assistance in creating and launching their companies.

In perspective, this organization has done more for entrepreneurialism than any organization I can think of, and stands out nationally as an example of what a business community can do to support entrepreneurial growth, by generously applying some of its own time, money and know-how towards helping entrepreneurs.

What Makes it Work?

CED has grown in every way measurable over the last 25 years. What is the secret sauce that makes all of this work? Here’s the receipt:
Start with a few dedicated business leaders who really care about entrepreneurial growth and are willing to do something about it by providing leadership and advocacy.

Add a substantial amount of business community buy-in to the idea that if they all give a little bit of their time, money and know-how, the collective support will be incredibly powerful.

Fold in some dedicated organizational leadership to pull everything together with specific entrepreneurial support programs and make them happen.

Throw in some dedicated people into the organization who have program development skills and incredible excitement for what they are doing and who have no idea what they cannot do.

Of course, add some money, as membership fees, from the entrepreneurs. And, from the supporting business community, add membership fees and donations from them too.

What’s in it for Everybody?

This is all about the entrepreneur and giving them the best possible chance for success. There isn’t a week that goes by that CED isn’t having some program for entrepreneurs. It could be a roundtable for CEO’s, marketing people or sales people just to share business experiences. It could be a speaker panel on any business subject under the sun, like forming companies, financing, business planning, marketing programs, sales effectiveness, people management, and the list goes on.

It could be a Fast Track program, where entrepreneurs get well over 40 hours of hands on time with local business leaders that are helping them put their business plans together. It could be one of the many public events that bring together hundreds of members of the entrepreneurial and business community to network and share business ideas.

Well, the business community that has given their time, money and know-how to this effort benefit too. As entrepreneurial companies are formed and grow, they will all need the services provided by the business community like, corporate legal services, accounting and tax preparation, banking services, angel financing, venture financing, staffing, human resource assistance, company benefits programs, insurance, office space, furniture, equipment, communications services, marketing support, sales support, business consulting and much more. And, they will need them for a long time.

The beauty of this is that everyone benefits. The business community grows with new companies every year, and the companies that service them grow by providing them the services they need. Entrepreneurs get tremendous help and their chances of success are greatly increased.

So, there are many moments where the business community pulls together to support entrepreneurs, and then followed by many moments where the business community is competing for their business. It’s another example of positive “coopetition.”

What Sustains it?

We all know that most companies don’t survive past a couple of years. Why has CED not only lasted, but has grown over the last 25 years? Where can you go to get 40 hours of business coaching for a few hundred dollars? Where can you go for 90 minutes of interaction with business leaders and free pizza for $20? Where can you go and meet some of the most important business leaders in the southeast for a few hundred dollars. CED runs on a show string budget and these programs are top notch and well attended.

But, the key sustaining differentiator is the volunteers. All those business coaches in Fast Track, the panel members, the roundtable facilitators, the presenters at the luncheon meetings, the reviews in Streak, the people who select the companies for the conference events and the board governance is provided by volunteers from the business community. What keeps this whole machine moving is the fact that the business community believes in CED and what it is trying to do. It is good business for them and a great opportunity for entrepreneurs.

I would be remiss in not also saying that the CED staff has always had incredible energy and resourcefulness in planning and executing all their programs. These people pull all the strings in the business community in order for all their programs to come to life.

On to the Next 25 Years

Monica Doss is moving on. She has provided the leadership for most of the last 25 years. There are lots of supporters and critics of CED, and there is no stronger supporter and critic than Monica herself. She is delightfully never satisfied and is always looking for the better idea for the next program. She has remained focused on a specific mission and has fulfilled it beyond what any other entrepreneurial support organization in the US has been able to accomplish.

She and her staff have achieved incredible success. Every organization needs a change in leadership from time to time. I am sure that the business community is poised to support the next CED leadership team in order to continue the expansion of entrepreneurial success.

Bill Warner is the Managing Partner of Paladin and Associates, a business consulting firm in the Research Triangle Park area of central North Carolina, and is the Chairman of the Triangle Accredited Capital Forum, an angel investor network with over one hundred members throughout the southeast.