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Horses and Jockeys

August 2nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

Earlier today my good friend Marc Nathan put up a blog post pointing out that Houston has a vibrant research scene. The post was a response to my post about Houston’s dearth of research universities. The folks at UH strongly agree with my line of thinking in the form of their Tier One Initiative with some great numbers on Houston’s need for a research institution and the ROI from research dollars.

Marc’s diagnosis for Houston is a need for more show-runners, those mid-level managers who can make a startup tick. His prescription is mentorship through incubators, angels, and even VCs.

Of course Marc is right. But does that contradict my concerns about Houston lack of research? I don’t think so.

The conversation between Marc and me is just another version of the Horse versus Jockey debate that has raged for years. Academics like Steve Kaplan at the University of Chicago have “proven” that it is great ideas that make great startups (the idea is the horse). Steve Rogers at Northwestern-Kellogg has “proven” the exact opposite. That a great management team can make a mediocre idea viable (the jockey is the management team). Different VCs argue different sides of the debate, but everyone agrees that it is best to have both, a great idea with a great management team.

I wrote about this dual need last year. I call it the Ben and Jerry issue. Just like how Ben needed Jerry to sell ice cream, a great technical leader needs a great show runner to bring an idea to market.

So would the startup community benefit from more mentorship to help our budding entrepreneurs? Of course they would. Would our entrepreneurs benefit from more high quality ideas budding from world class research? You betcha.

But then who is right?  We both are.

Tags: Entrepreneurship · Houston · musings

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Shion // Aug 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    My 2 cents:

  • 2 Marc Nathan // Aug 3, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t want to continue the ‘you’re right, no – you’re right’ love fest that’s been going on between Aziz and I for the last few days, but suffice to say Aziz is absolutely right in his original assessment that we need more research dollars in our universities and Shion Deysarkar is right about Tech Transfer offices needing more attention:

    I’m very much a Jockey-type of guy when it comes to betting on startups. This is from my website which you’ll notice I haven’t changed for several years:

    With that said, I believe that the discussion on ‘What Houston Needs’ isn’t about ideas or entrepreneurs themselves – but about the mid-level group of supporters and helpers that make startups turn into winners.

    This is the ‘Trainers’ in the Jockey-Horse analogy. Both Jockeys and Horses need experienced people to help with training strategy, care and feeding whether a startup comes out of university research, tech transfer, a business plan competition or someone’s garage.

    If we used the analogy of chicken and egg – chickens are always people and eggs are the ideas that hatch into more chickens.

    It’s the people that matter and creating and fostering a tech community starts and ends with the people it produces.

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