``These are the important things, to be civic entrepreneurs. For those of you who have made it, it's a satisfaction of giving back to society. Your satisfaction is not money, your satisfaction is to see others make it,'' so says Dr. George Kozmetsky, addressing Commonwealth North in June of 1999.
Kozmetsky, founder of the country's biggest venture capital group, and champion of Alaska InvestNet, walks his talk. At the age of 82, this self-made multi-millionaire, co-founder of Teledyne and major shareholder in Dell computers, visits Alaska regularly. He sees that Alaska has the talent, and that we have the money, but that we are missing the mindset to create a vibrant high-technology sector through private investments in homegrown business start-ups. The challenge is not to develop technology but to make use of cutting-edge innovations as they occur.
In Alaska, wealth building by the civic entrepreneur is more than increasing our stock portfolio values. It is about increasing the number of long-term jobs in Alaska for Alaskans. A price cannot be put on the enormous satisfaction to be derived from investing in our own entrepreneurs, coaching them along and leaving a legacy of another successful Alaska business. And in an era when Alaska's economy desperately needs diversifying, government employment is shrinking and we are watching our neighboring states in the Pacific Northwest cash in on the technology boom, civic entrepreneurs have an opportunity to make a real difference.
Equity capital often provides the key leverage to attract debt financing. It is ``patient'' capital, structured to ensure the success of the business, and comes with the investors' invaluable commitment to the company. When civic entrepreneurs reinvest in their communities, they provide more than economic capital. They provide intellectual capital, mentoring formally if they sit on the board of directors or coaching informally as a consumer of the product with a vested interest in its success. Alaska InvestNet was founded to introduce investors to entrepreneurs.
Alaska InvestNet, inspired by The Capital Network, Kozmetsky's nonprofit group in Austin, Texas, seeks to match Alaska's talent with Alaska's capital. Kozmetsky coaches Alaskans to think globally, tap the world markets using our strategic location at the top of the world, and to look to the ``kids'' to find ideas: the potential businesses are in the minds of people under 35.
In 1974, I was one of those kids with an idea. I came to Alaska to strike my fortune in the restaurant business. We sold enough stock to friends and family to match the debt financing available. This equity investment, coupled with the input and ingenuity of our shareholders made it possible to grow the Fiddlehead Restaurant into Juneau's culinary landmark for over two decades, employing 35 residents with an average annual payroll of half a million dollars. In the long run, the advice we got from our shareholders was as important as the money.
Alaska InvestNet is a confidential matching service. We do not broker the deal structure. The idea is to promote economic growth by educating companies and investors on financing issues and to link emerging businesses with much needed professional expertise. Key to our success in Alaska is developing a ``Know How Network'' of service providers and the talent pool needed to manage the emerging companies. More high powered, fun jobs in the private sector will attract the Alaska youth who often remain outside after getting their education.
On the 3rd and 4th of April, some of the state's most innovative entrepreneurs will be gathered in Anchorage for a venture capital fair showcasing their products to Alaska's investment community. Former Gov. Walter J. Hickel will be the speaker on Monday. His speech on ``Civic Entrepreneurship, Growing Alaska One Business at a Time,'' will be followed with seminars by noted financial and marketing experts as well as a venture advisory panel with Alaska's leading entrepreneurs and service providers.
Thanks to Alaska Science and Technology Foundation's generous support, we are offering scholarships to the conference for a selected group of entrepreneurs. We will provide funding for transportation and lodging at the Hotel Captain Cook. We are actively seeking business plans from interested entrepreneurs who would like to take this opportunity to showcase their products and network with potential investors. For a conference brochure, please call (888-393-3662.) I hope to see you there.
Deborah Marshall is director of Alaska InvestNet.