5 Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs in Urban Innovation

June 4, 2024

On May 23, I had the honor of presenting to a group of entrepreneurs for the Smart City Works Venture Studio Demo Day as a part of ClearBlade’s sponsorship of the 2024 cohort. It featured a group of founders pitching their ideas for urban innovation and improving lives. 

The event combined two things I am passionate about: urban innovation and entrepreneurship. 

I believe deeply in the need for urban innovation. Whether it’s transportation, buildings, public safety, or infrastructure like utilities, roadways, and bridges, there is a critical need for the evolution into Intelligent Infrastructure. 

I often quote this stat, but it bears repeating: America’s infrastructure has a score of C-. A water main breaks every 2 minutes, 43% of our public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition, and 10,000 miles of levees have unknown locations and conditions.

Shocking as it is, this is one small facet of infrastructure in desperate need of innovation. I strongly believe that private sector leaders are in a unique position to leverage technology and begin improving safety and sustainability. I was privileged to see some of this emerging technology firsthand at the event.

Of course, being a serial entrepreneur, I can’t help but reflect and impart my wisdom to this passionate group. I’ve had a very unique and non-linear journey. From a Dungeons & Dragons “nerd” to a Purdue alum to your average corporate Joe to startup founder to improv student to short-film producer to non-profits to apparel and back to software startups … it’s been a fantastic ride! 

Looking back, it was a lot of fun; these are the five pieces of advice I shared with these urban entrepreneurs:

  1. Forget About the Finish Line: The goalpost will keep you motivated, but you will find it moves quickly and sometimes unpredictably. It’s best to buckle in, go with the flow, and accept that reaching the finish line may be an elusive concept.
  2. It’s About JUMPING IN: Once the entrepreneurial bug is within you, you’ll never be satisfied with a normal 9-5. If that light burns within you, you’ve got to chase it. Jump in headfirst and chase that big idea. Does it sound a little insane? Good. That’s what it takes. 
  3. Have a Spirit of Curiosity: In improv, the central idea is “Yes, and…” meaning when someone brings you a new idea, continue to build on it instead of shutting it down. Always be open to exploring what’s possible, even if it seems impossible today. Trying something new may take you somewhere uncharted and brilliant.
  4. Be Humble and Build Careers: If you build a company solely to make money, I have bad news. You’re in it for the wrong reasons. The best leaders are those who praise their teams and not themselves. Hire great people, give them the freedom to create, and watch them thrive. That’s the prize.
  5. Do it Your Way: Being an entrepreneur can be terrifying! You’re going to get a lot of advice. Take it, adjust, pivot when needed, and don’t give up. Focus on impacting the world, and you can’t go wrong. There is no blueprint. This is the main reason I read autobiographies of musicians instead of business books.

ClearBlade may not be the largest IoT software company, but it is the most innovative. We are involved in some BIG initiatives in the Intelligent Infrastructure space, and it’s fantastic to be part of improving the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of cities, states, and countries.

I marvel at how far this scrappy little startup has come. And the future is bright, as is the future of the founders I met at the Smart City Works Demo Day. Kudos to all, and I wish you the best!

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