Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network’s Leaders Learning Early Lessons

5/8/14Follow @MichaelXBD

Two weeks ago, Blackstone announced it was putting up $4 million to create the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network in Colorado.

As this longer article describes, BEN Colorado’s goal is to help Colorado companies successfully “scale up” to become leaders in their industries while also deepening connections across various high-growth industries.

How’s that effort going so far? Xconomy caught up again with BEN Colorado’s executive director J.B. Holston to find out. Here are four things he’s learned:

1) Gazelles come in different species

“One of the interesting things that’s emerging is we’re really looking at three different categories of companies, and these are categories that cut across all the different industry segments that we’re looking at,” said Holston. The categories are based on how established a company is as a “gazelle,” the name Holston uses for companies with potential for rapid growth.

He divided them into prospective, emerging, and established gazelles.

Prospective gazelles clearly have a lot of potential, have demonstrated early success, and have bright prospects, but the possibility remains that they might “stall out.”

“Those are companies for which more direct work with the master entrepreneurship network might be most useful,” Holston said.

Emerging gazelles have clearly established themselves as fast-growing companies that have found successful market niches. They’re the kind of companies that tend to be attractive to buyers from out of state, and BEN Colorado would like to help them stay local.

“They’re not going to stall out, but they might sell out, so if we could help them in whatever ways possible that might increase the likelihood they’ll continue to grow here,” he said.

Finally, there are the established companies that “are clearly already there” and are or could become “tentpoles in their respective industries,” Holston said. They could benefit from greater exposure and deeper connections with people who have led companies in similar situations.

“In all cases the intent is we’ll get together with the companies to understand how we can help and on a regular basis after that check in,” Holston said. “The kind of work that’s done is going to depend on the needs of the companies.”

2) Success stories are being uncovered

While you could quickly create a list of gazelles filled with the usual suspects like Welltok, Ping Identity, or Orbotix, Holston said he’s already seeing companies emerge out of the woodwork.

“I’ve been surprised how many great companies are under the radar,” he said. “I’ve seen companies that in some cases have raised $100 million privately that no one knows about.”

“I’ve seen a number of $20 million-plus revenue companies that are growing at 50 percent a year that haven’t had to raise any capital and that have really compelling stories and really great opportunities,” he said.

That early evidence suggests that Holston’s prediction that there could be about 100 Colorado companies with the prospects to be gazelles could prove to be true.

3) Interest is higher than anticipated

With the Blackstone name, the buzz generated by a flashy kickoff event, and an A-list of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and politicians lending their support to the project, Holston expected a lot of interest in BEN Colorado.

But Holston said he didn’t expect as many inquiries as he’s gotten.

“We’re overwhelmed. Response has been great from two sides. There are lots of companies that are interested in connecting” and lots of potential mentors, Holston said.

“I’ve been surprised at the number of companies that have reached out to see how they can get involved,” he said.

Holston is also struggling to keep up with all the inquiries he’s received from individuals seeking to become advisers or master entrepreneurs.

“Folks are highly interested in helping wherever they can,” he said.

4) Connections already are being forged

Holston has said he wants to be able to make public some of BEN Colorado’s early success stories within 60 to 90 days. That means he’ll have to work quickly, and work already is underway.

“We have started conversations with a few companies that may become some of the early members of the network,” Holston said. “We’ve made some good progress on that front.”

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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