Stephen Fraser has gone through some major changes in his personal and professional life over the last 18 months. Now he’s taking on the challenge of even more change as the new chair of the board at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. And he has big plans.
With a new CEO and an executive board reshaped and refreshed by 21 new members, Fraser, the co-founder of growing startup Spoonflower, says he and the leadership are planning to “refine the organization’s strategy and approach.”
Why? Because opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs “have changed quite a bit over the last 10 years.”
In an exclusive Q&A, Fraser, who was announced as the new chair on Tuesday, talks about what CED is thinking about doing under new CEO Ravila Gupta, who succeeded long-time leader Joan Siefert Rose, earlier this year.
- What do you see as your key duties as head of the CED board?
As an entrepreneur myself, I think I can assist the organization and the board in remaining attuned to the needs of our area’s entrepreneurs, who are CED’s most important customers. As chair I plan to work closely with Ravila Gupta, the new CEO, and the CED staff to help refine the organization’s strategy and approach to supporting entrepreneurial companies in the Triangle.
CED has a lot to build on, but the opportunities and challenges for people starting and growing companies in our region have changed quite a bit over the last 10 years, and they will continue to change. Observing Rich West, the departing board chair, over the last year has been educational and it will be a challenge to fill his shoes.
- With new leadership in place on the board and in the CEO position, what kind of changes can we expect to see in CED this year?
CED is embarking on a strategic planning process to carry the organization into the future.
The two conferences we put on each year, the Tech Venture Conference in fall and the Life Science Conference in spring, are pillars of the services we provide to the community, and serve as important platforms to bring our state’s entrepreneurial companies to the attention of investors from within and outside North Carolina.
Tech Venture is right around the corner, but by spring I think we’ll have had a chance to think about how we might expand and improve upon the conferences.
- What are your personal feelings about the chair role – the opportunity, the responsibility. Why do it?
CED played an important role in helping Spoonflower as it grew through various stages. When we started in 2008, I enrolled in CED’s FastTrac, a program that no longer exists, but that offered a sort of boot camp for starting a company.
Gart Davis, my Spoonflower co-founder, had gone through the same program some years before as he was starting another company. Several years later, CED — through its Connections to Capital program — played an important role in introducing us to North Bridge Growth Capital, a company that ended up making a significant investment in Spoonflower.
I see my role now as an opportunity to repay some of that help and to play a role in helping make sure that other growing companies have the support they need to succeed. While I am no one’s idea of an archetypal chairman of the board, I am looking forward to helping in whatever way I can.
- Many new faces on the board of directors. How can the transfusion of talent lead to improvements for the CED? New ideas? Fresh thinking?
As you point out, new faces bring the opportunity for fresh ideas. If you look through the list of new board members, you’ll see an exciting combination of entrepreneurs like myself, institutional investors, representatives from some of the Triangle’s larger, more established companies, as well as service providers who work closely with both new and established companies and who play an essential role in their success.
I am very much looking forward to working with this board and to learning from them.
- How is life at Spoonflower? How is the business doing? Seeking new funding?
Spoonflower is doing well, I am happy to say, and is under excellent leadership — something I can now safely observe from my standpoint as advisor and board member.
I stepped down from the executive team in January of 2016 and, after a stressful year of playing catchup in some important areas, this year the company is focused, profitable and growing well again, while at the same time pushing in some ambitious new directions.
We have no plans to pursue new funding at this time.