Editor’s note: Monica Doss, who led the Council for Entrepreneurial Development from a fledgling dream to reality before stepping down in 2008, spelled out in great detail the mission of entrepreneurs as she saw it in a blog written for WRAL TechWire at its launch in 2002. As part of TechWire’s observation of our 15th anniversary, here is what Doss had to say then. The words still ring true. By the way, Monica remains very active in working with startups, her focus being on emerging companies in the Triad.

Entrepreneurs Must Do More Than Focus on Growing a Company

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — When CED convened groups of growth company execs and founders throughout last summer to chart a long term vision of the Triangle as an entrepreneurial technology hub, they spent some of their time talking about the what you’d expect — financing, management issues, etc. But, over the course of several focus groups fully 70 percent of the discussion explored issues outside of their companies.

Call it quality of life, infrastructure, quality of place, or as Ted Abernathy at the Research Triangle Research Partnership hones it, “quality of place to raise a family,” entrepreneurs, scientific and technology founders, and their employees are speaking up to share concerns and work toward solutions in order to create an entrepreneur friendly Triangle.

K-12 schools have been on entrepreneurs’ radar screens for several years, consistently racking up one of the biggest disconnects between what’s important to building an entrepreneurial economy and the Triangle area’s performance on our Entrepreneurial Satisfaction Survey. The fairly obvious connection to their need for highly trained technical workers from universities and community college programs begins with students who can enter these institutions with the background to learn what they need to.

But concerns with K-12, even here in the Triangle where we have some of the state’s best systems, go way beyond technical employees. Competing with the best companies in the world means having customer service, production and administrative employees who are good readers and writers, well-spoken, and are problem solvers who come ready to work and with a sense of mission. Triangle founders were among 12 focus groups conducted nationally by the National Commission on Entrepreneurship that almost unanimously lamented the competence and work attitudes of high school graduates.

“I can’t teach the basic skills of being courteous –“

One typical view: “I can teach our business to anyone, but I can’t teach the basic skills of being courteous to customers and bringing real commitment to the job.”

Perhaps where the issue comes up most pointedly is in employee recruitment. As companies grow and reach to other national tech centers to pull in polished CEO’s, senior executives, and technology experts, once the favorable housing prices, university system, and cost of living have hit the plus side of the decision, invariably the candidate or spouse raises the issue of K-12 quality. Transplanting an entire family depends on the candidate’s comfort with education; class size, academic achievement, teacher quality, technology and safety are all issues of concern for parents and employers.

Entrepreneurial growth companies also depend on a well-educated community in general, to support their efforts day-in-day-out. Good neighbors who care about their company’s community, and who make wise decisions in zoning, leadership, tax and fiscal issues, set the tone that helps a growth company create value that returns to the community in good jobs and a corporate tax base.

Last but not least, we have been experiencing an entrepreneurial baby boom as companies grow and their employees are moving into their late 20’s and 30’s. (Think about it; how many technology company employees do you know that have started families in the last 3-5 years?)

These kids have reached or are moving toward school age and as parents; entrepreneurs are beginning to personally feel the importance of K-12 quality. And as entrepreneurs, they are not interested in furthering a sub-optimal status quo, especially considering the ramifications. Plus, there’s no better way to know what your kids are doing and learning than by immersing yourself into their world.

Getting involved in schools will help

Phil Kirk, Chairman of the State Board of Education and head of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, points out that of all the players, parents and businesses can create the most positive impact on school quality, purely by being meaningfully involved in the day-to-day educational activities of the school and in the community decisions that steer the schools. For entrepreneurs, especially those with no school age children, the path to involvement may not be crystal clear since schools are not “open” institutions. In fact, because of our driving and questioning personalities, most entrepreneurs don’t remember our own K-12 experiences as halcyon days (what was it — “talks to much”, “constantly questions authority”, “can’t keep mind on school work?”)

For those who don’t have a direct channel, there are many ways to bridge the gap. CED has matched entrepreneurs and companies with classes for in-class and on-site activities that have lead to long term company to school relationships; the Wake Education Partnership is providing resources and support for schools; and all systems have a community foundation or business partners organization. If you’ve wondered how some educational decisions get made, you will be surprised how easy it becomes to be part of them. I’ve worked on everything from high school governance to countywide bond issues.

Entrepreneurs should and will become more knowledgeable about the schools in our community just as they do any other critical resource to their business. Good entrepreneurs keep tabs on every channel that supplies them with key services or goods. Go to budget hearings; understand the impact of bond proposals and vote accordingly.

K-12 shortcomings are clearly not unique to the Triangle, but until they are aggressively addressed, they will be an obstacle rather than the boon they can be. In addition to being the right thing to do, supporting and engaging with K-12 schools has a multiple return on investment. And that’s what entrepreneurs are all about.