Does your community have a catalyst? It should


In the race to succeed in the startup world, one of the worst things that you can do is get disqualified from the entire competition due to a false start. That’s why we’re here to help you start on the right foot as you launch your business, then stay steady and pace yourself to ensure you can endure.


You’ve undoubtedly seen how many enterprises can spend copious amounts of time and resources to rocket to the top. Yet seemingly inexplicably, some thrive, while others wither on the vine, stuck at square one. So what makes one a winner and the other limp away in defeat? Just as in highly competitive sports, it’s wildly dependent upon proper training, and this means ensuring that the environment that you are training in has the optimum conditions for achieving that critical success.


And even when you have the right conditions, the vital necessity most often overlooked is the need for the right catalysts. The right catalyst (be it one single person, a founding team, or a dedicated investor) can be the linchpin that your success or failure depends upon.


An example of this can be seen here in Ohio when Lebron James (a catalyst if there ever was one) returned to Cleveland and led the formerly struggling Cleveland Cavaliers straight to an NBA championship title. Now known as one of the greatest sports moments in history, James’ presence clearly shows how a “team” (company) can have all of the right conditions for success, but it takes that one catalyst (again…Hello, Mr. James) to ignite that flame that will bring it all home. Because let’s be honest, without James, the Cavs’ dream of a Championship win would have remained just that—a dream.


Here in the startup world, we need to introduce (recruit) that same star quality (catalysts) to shake things up and usher in disruptive change. And this has to happen not only among individual startups but also take place within ecosystems in areas as well, as it is in those broader and far-reaching realms where they can do the most good.


Embrace Change

Rather than looking at this disruptive change as a difficult challenge for your company to face, look at it as an incredible opportunity to open the door for smart and capable people to be encouraged to put their ideas out on the table and gain support. It can also be an opportunity for universities and investors to join forces in finding catalysts who will infuse their networks and ecosystems with all the right elements. Yet another opportunity this allows? Business communities nationwide to glean the overwhelming benefits that come from this fresh infusion of bright minds and capable catalysts (many of whom will have already been tried in the fire of the startup hotspot of Silicon Valley).


Bottom Line: Catalysts in the form of new founders and co-founders who already have experience working in a startup right through the hypergrowth stage—and are ready and able to do it again—are what’s needed. These are our future founders. These are the prime candidates for becoming catalysts.


Betting On—and Supporting—The Right Horse

It’s common knowledge that the Midwest is better suited than Silicon Valley to produce and nurture vertically oriented startups. Yet even with the “right conditions,” the rate of creation of high-growth potential startups has been declining since the 1990s. Even while more and more companies are being launched, those achieving any measure of real success have been dwindling. Simply put, the potential is there, but there remains a glaring lack of ability to scale and monetize in a meaningful way.

Research from the Kauffman Foundation has shown that startups that break out early in their life cycles and gain traction quickly are most likely to succeed in the long term. For this reason, entire communities must come alongside their local high-growth startups, and most importantly, provide them with the exact right horses (catalysts) they need to succeed.



Never underestimate how critical building the right connections can be. Universities are particularly well-positioned to aid in this process via alumni networks that make recruiting from a pool of prime candidates seamless. But the truth remains that alma maters need to be much more diligent in keeping tabs on their graduates, taking great strides to stay in contact with them post-degree. This sets up the framework for success, establishing an ever-growing pool of potential founders that are ripe for the plucking.

And perhaps the most important thing to remember as you are deciding on which horse to bet on as your catalyst? There is only one Lebron James, and he is an unsurpassable superstar. But that’s okay, as it’s really about finding the exact right star for growth that your company needs—the one perfectly suited to shine when situated in your specific “right conditions.”