“Torture the numbers and they will confess.” – Monica Doss

RALEIGH – No one knows entrepreneurs better than fellow entrepreneurs, so the compliment paid Monica Doss by Doug Speight, a CODEO2040 entrepreneur-in-residence in Durham, after she was named to WRAL TechWire’s Hall of Fame last week bears repeating:

“Monica Doss is mentor to a whole generation of founders and entrepreneurial support organizations. The Hall of Fame is a well-deserved honor.”

WRAL TechWire chose Doss as one of the first five HoF inductees in recognition of her past and continuing contributions to the state’s entrepreneurial community. After building the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, where she took over as president in 1986 and ran through 2008, into the nation’s largest such organization she has moved on to The Kauffman Foundation and other startup-related positions. Her latest efforts spanning nearly three decades now includes New City Ventures in the Triad. (Other honorees include: Jim Goodnight, Charles Hamner, Venessa Harrison and Dennis Dougherty.)

But as cited in her favorite quote, which she inherited from Triangle venture capitalist Mitch Mumma, Doss is much more than a believer in startup hype. She demanded – and produced – results. And her drive has helped many entrepreneurs enjoy success through their own ventures. (The “first lady” term fits not only because of her leadership efforts but also in part because among her heroes is former First Lady Michelle Obama.)

As for being cited as a leader and mentor, Doss said quite simply: “I am honored, surprised and very pleased.”

In a Q&A, Doss talks about the challenges and successes of her career – and much, much more.

  • Whom would you like to thank most for your career at CED – and post-career.

The entrepreneurs who were and are CED and two decades of board members and stakeholders who brought everything to the table. They let me take CED further than any of us could have imagined in 1986. I also have to thank my family who, with good humor, regularly let CED take over our lives.

  • How were you drawn to the CED president’s position? Why did you choose to accept the job with a still-new, fledgling organization?

We moved to North Carolina from Tuscaloosa Alabama, where I ran circulation for a national arts magazine, in 1985 because we had a 2 year old and we wanted him to grow up in a progressive and optimistic culture.

My “bridge job” was membership director of the North Carolina Museum of Art and I had just left it so I was looking hard. There was an ad in the paper and I interviewed with Horace Johnson and Fred Hutchison.

I was definitely an outlier (English major, arts publishing, museums) and knew nothing about “entrepreneurship” — but that was okay because nobody else did. They were so animated that I had the feeling that either of them would have loved the challenge — if they weren’t already leaders in their professions.

It was uncharted territory, which I couldn’t resist.

  • What is your proudest memory of your CED tenure?

Seriously, there are far too many memories – winning the national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Goodmon Award for Leadership were tops, personally.

I am proud of the startups and founders.

But I think I am proudest of the team and my role in their development.

We were fearless.

Beyond the incredible work we did (and the fun we had doing it), we knew how fortunate we were to work with innovators who were creating big opportunities and changing the world. Those team members took their passion along with everything they learned at CED to join startups, venture funds, universities and technology organizations and they continue to be part of the Triangle’s future and part of each other’s lives.

  • In contrast, what was your biggest disappointment and how did you/CED overcome it?

There really weren’t any big disappointments. There were challenges, but honestly, our glass was always half-full.

We were entrepreneurs and our job was always to skate to where the puck was going.

  • Why excites you most about entrepreneurship?

It’s how game changing ideas and discoveries become solutions for the world’s big problems It creates energy and fuels vitality in communities.

Once unleashed, it’s irrepressible and resonates throughout the community with jobs and permeates its institutions and systems.

It’s also how we put our values and passions into action, whether it’s a side hustle or a high growth venture. It’s an assertion of optimism, an opportunity to control your own destiny, a pledge to constant learning and a channel to do those things you believe are important.

  • What is your proudest achievement outside of work?

My son, Brendan Doss. He’s smart, caring, resourceful, responsible, funny and collects dogs. He’s a UNC-CH alumni and he works to live vs. living to work.

Part Two: Entrepreneurship and NC’s future