Where "fail" isn't a four-letter word
By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews
More than 100 entrepreneurs crowded onto an indoor soccer field Friday and settled in front of a stage decorated with a row of mismatched chairs, two pink flamingoes, a garden gnome and an Australian sheepskin rug.
While many lead thriving businesses and have other success stories under their belts, the entrepreneurs were there to celebrate their failures.
“The idea is to get a cross section of Maryland business people, entrepreneurs and thought leaders to come in and talk about what failure means to them and what they learned,” said Jason Hardebeck, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, which organized on the BmoreFail conference.
“The idea is to get everyone to learn from those failures so they’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “Maryland has a real opportunity to leverage its assets and its resources more effectively. You only do that by being more efficient. You have to take those lessons and apply them.”
Indeed, the message from the speakers — they included a doctor, a clinical psychologist, and an airline pilot — was that failure can be a good thing. From failures come teachable moments. Lots of failures can be an indication of a vibrant entrepreneurial community that is also churning out plenty of successes, too.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not learning,” Ron Schmelzer, CEO of Bizelo, told the crowd on the field at the Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton.
“Failure is a necessity of life,” said Tracy Gosson, president and founder of Sagesse Inc., a marketing and business development consulting firm.
A slate of successful Baltimore tech entrepreneurs and executives offered their own examples of failures that were not catastrophic, and in many cases, proved instructive.
Jason Pappas, the chairman of GBTC’s board and president of Hannix Inc., recounted buying up residential properties with two partners when he was still in law school. The portfolio included houses in Canton.
“This is probably ’92 or ’93. We were on Hudson Street, just behind the Can Company,” said Pappas, “The three of us were sitting there and we said ‘You know what? Canton is never going to get redeveloped. It’s just not going to happen.’”
So Pappas and his two partners unloaded their properties. And now, two decades later, one of the companies that Pappas started is in the Can Company building and he lives in a revitalized and vibrant Canton.
Tom Loveland, CEO of Mind Over Machines, recounted his rudderless college days that spanned three universities and countless interests.
“I really enjoyed computers, so I knew that I should not take any computer classes and turn this into work because then it would be awful,” said Loveland, whose IT consulting firm has made him one of the most visible tech entrepreneurs in Baltimore. “It would ruin my hobby.”