MapQuest founder inspires local entrepreneurs
By Michelle Ganassi | Somerset Daily American [Read original story here]
SEVEN SPRINGS — MapQuest co-founder Chris Heivly said that any community, of any size, can become an entrepreneurial community.
Heivly was the keynote speaker at the Startup Alleghenies “Right Here. Right Now.” conference Monday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The event, for which 250 people registered, featured a variety of presentations on entrepreneurship.
Heivly, known as “The Startup Whisperer,” now serves as one of two managing directors of The Startup Factory, the largest seed investment firm in the Southeast. He has traveled across the globe to talk about entrepreneurship. He also wrote a book titled “Build The Fort: Why 5 simple lessons you learned as a 10 year-old can set you up for startup success.”
He grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and after attending West Chester University started working for a map company in Lancaster, where he eventually helped to found MapQuest, which was later sold to AOL for $1.2 billion. He said the first website was not pretty, but they were able to build the company.
“Everyone forgets Facebook was only available to college students for 33 months,” he said. “No one remembers that MapQuest looked like that or was started in a place called Lancaster, Pa.”
Heivly left the company before it was sold and eventually worked in Raleigh, North Carolina, starting The Startup Factory and a startup accelerator. In six years they helped with the formation of 42 companies.
He stressed that every city or region wants to attract people, business and investment. He believes that a startup/innovation community is a vital part of the 21st century economy. He now works for Techstars, a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed.
“We took that 3-month incubator model and blew it out all over the world,” he said.
He said there is no single recipe for success because every area is different. “Most of the people in community building are successful businessmen,” he said. “They’ve had success, the muscle, command, control and assignments. We bring those muscles to play, and it turns out they are the wrong muscles.”
He recommends listening to a community to determine which products it wants and how those products should be delivered. During his first year in North Carolina, for example, he scheduled 257 coffees, luncheons and other meetings.
After his speech, Heivly talked to the Daily American about Kelowna, a city in British Columbia with a population of about 150,000 people. He said that area was a summer destination for the wealthy that started a startup ecosystem.
“It punches way above its playing weight,” he said.
He said areas need to start organically, but the key is to bring entrepreneurs together.
“Support them and after a while, when companies mature, bring investors in,” he advised. “This can happen in any community. Are you going to get a breakout company like MapQuest or Facebook? I would bet against it. But that isn’t a reason not to do it.”
He said 20 startups in a community is a healthy start that can recharge a community and give residents hope.
MT Arms owner Mark Kasterko said it is important to learn from other entrepreneurs. Through the program’s Big Idea contest, he won seed money for his invention, a shotgun retention device for law enforcement.