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How I Became an Independent Researcher of The Tangled Net Of Economic Development Funding

 

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Rarely do I find myself in a state of seemingly unattached free-form physical depression of the sort that makes one’s energy lethargic and body heavy as I have been feeling over the last two days, as I commence this story.

“Seemingly” is the key word here for even when I find myself in such a state, I have realized that the reason for my depression is staring me in the face and I am resisting acknowledging it.

The time before the last two days when I remember falling into such a state was in the year of 2009. Then I was on the verge of tears, a state which took me by surprise. I had no idea why I was overcome by such strong emotions until I took an look into the not so distant future when the next day I was to attend a Maine entrepreneurial networking event called “The Juice Conference”. That was the obvious cause, why did it take me so long to recognize it? My emotional state was an effect of deconstructing a wall between myself and my feelings about the Maine economic development culture. The wall was dissolving into tears. I dove in, understanding that by immersing in emotional intensity the day before the event, my mind would be clear to enter the zone at the moment I needed to be there. In the zone one’s mind and body needs to be free of all distractions so that one can completely focus only on ones purpose.

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Many years ago, when I was in college, I was afflicted by roaming states of free-form depression. One day I observed that after the dark clouds dispersed, a rainbow of well beingness manifested. I came to understand the emotional storms as a cleansing process which let in the sun and created the rainbow effect. Thereafter during the storm my focus was on the rainbow after the storm, and the storms withered away.

Thenceforth my daily norm was not basking in an ever present rainbow but my state of being was more consistently balanced. Since I was not experiencing the storm, my mind was not focusing on the rainbow. I was at even keel floating in the waters of here and now.

Back in 2009, that day when I was overtaken by an inexplicable verge of tears, was the day before I was to attend one of the networking events popularized during the Baldacci administration. At first the event was marketed as a cream of the elite meetup of Maine’s glorious innovative class, a place where, for a generous fee, one can rub shoulders with the mover and shakers but there must not been enough takers because by the time there was an offer I could afford, the event was being marketed to the general public as a weekend of fun and entertainment.

I was interested in only one program. It was the year end of the Obama stimulus. All year I had been receiving announcements for grants from the Maine Arts Commission but they were for non-profits only. This was the only event that the Maine Arts Commission has sent that applied to the free enterprise sector, a contest in which small businesses present an elevator pitch competing for a small award from an anonymous benefactor.

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The Sun makes a mysterious appearance 

About a week before the event I was at our local recycling center, where I was attracted by the cover of a book left there. It was a beacon beckoning me through a simple image of the sun embossed in gold metallic on a kelly green ground. 

The book’s content was a version of Think and Grow Rich from a Christian perspective. At the heart of the book is simple prayer that asks for God’s blessing for today, but if events should not turn out as I intend, then help me to understand God’s intention for this day. There are two simultaneous streams of intentions articulated, those which we can formulate with rational thought, and God’s intention which is revealed through acceptance.

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The contestant waiting room was filled with people from Maine’s Main street business community representing the heart of the entrepreneurial culture existing at the roots of an economy. A panel of five people from the banking community and from the Small Enterprise Growth Fund gave speeches. 

Afterwards the contestants were divided into groups and each group was assigned a member of the panel to whom to present their presentation. 

While I was waiting to give my pitch, I encountered a woman returning from her presentation with a dejected look on her face. She reported that she delivered her speech and did not receive a single word in response. It was a serendipitous encounter which turned out to be a significant one.

I was assigned to deliver my pitch to the director of the SEGF. I was pitching for a mold making project but we were also instructed to put our project in the context of our larger vision and so I explained my concept of reinventing production as a network of independently owned slipcast studios. When I finished the director said “Excellent! and wanted to know if I had anything to add about the network. 

It was a five minute pitch and I had about two seconds left, not being able to think of something to say in two seconds, I said no.

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In retrospect I surmised that the director was fishing for my “exit strategy” statement and wanted it to be an exit strategy for the network, rather than for the mold making project which was calibrated to the amount of the award being offered. He wanted to hear me say “As an exit strategy, I will sell the network!” but I did not give him that, nor would I have done so if I had understood the code in that moment. Given the director’s focus on the network, I surmised that he did not take in the key concept that the slip cast productions would be independently owned, preferably by the people who operated them.

Why did the director want the network? because networks signify a big idea and big ideas associate with high growth profit. At that time the SEGF website welcome message said it was for high growth investors. If I had known that the SEGF were the anonymous benefactors in the competition, it is unlikely that I would have entered the contest, as the high growth investor does not fit our company, which value is centered in the work process itself,

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I spent the time between delivering my pitch and the announcement of those going on the next round, at a hillside park overlooking the ocean. When I returned to the location where I expected those continuing to round two be announced I learned that they had already been announced at the ballet performance.

It struck me in a profound sort of way that the organizers of the event expected to control the activities of the attendees to the degree that they would make a crucial announcement at a ballet performance. 

I was at the event to deliver my pitch, a nerve racking challenge. I wanted to process the in between time my own way. 

When I got to the room where the process continued, I learned that I did not make the cut. I watched a few of the presentations, enough to learn that “have an exit strategy” means saying the words “For an exit strategy I will sell the business”.

The winner selected from my group was pitching a running Tee Shirt made out of organic cotton, and spoke at length about the importance of organic clothing for runners. I do not recall it said that the business would make the organic cotton. When the presenter said “As an exit strategy I will sell to a bigger company”. I wondered if the bigger country would have the Tee Shirt made in China. The product he was pitching depends on the trust the public places in the brand. I wondered how easily that trust can be transferred.

The woman with a very dejected look on her face made the cut. She operated a family business producing a product of generic design out of recycled materials. She said that if a certain law would change, her family would do very well but I do not recall that she mentioned an exit strategy. Perhaps in her group, no one did and someone had to be selected.

Many contestants claimed to have invented a way to produce power from ocean water or other miraculous things, in the vein of discovering a way to test for any disease from a single drop of blood. One contestant bragged about the millions of dollars of grants he had already received to establish a billion dollar company. I wondered why he was wasting his time pitching for such a picayune grant.

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I didn’t see any pitches from Main Street entrepreneurs that had populated the waiting room. The pitchers seemed to know the winning formula well. Many claimed to be already abundantly funded. I caught a glance from someone in the audience and we rolled our eyes over yet another high roller’s pitch. I left the presentation before it ended, feeling disgusted. 

I though I should at least drop off some fliers off at the event. By the time I found a window to drop off the fliers, the emotional state of the day before returned and could not be concealed. I said that the contest was just about the money and nothing else before I quickly left the event.

Shortly after the event I received an email saying that I was not accepted to round two because I did not have an exit strategy. The email also announced that the winner of the grant was the woman with the dejected look on her face.

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I engaged in an email exchange with the SEGF in which it was explained that the winning project was so compelling to them, as though there were no competition from anyone else. There is no way they could know about my encounter with the winner in which she said she had presented her pitch to dead silence. Is that how the organization responds when something so compels them? I found the explanation insensitive since, like the winner, we are a family business in manufacturing but we have hundreds of products of our own original design and make everything from raw materials. The winner has one product of a completely generic design made from recycled materials. If one were to believe that they found her presentation so compelling that it literally left than speechless, it begs the question does it have anything to do with the product she is producing or because she is cleaning up the environment by using a recycled material? Either way, it is hard to swallow that the project was so compelling that they could utter no words! Something else was going on but I will speculate no further.

During the exchange, this explanation was given about the award:

The $25,000 was given to the Juice Conference by an anonymous Maine resident who wanted to promote the concept of “angel investing” (see website http://www.maineangels.org/). Typically, investments of this kind do go to high growth companies.- due to the nature of equity investing. Equity investing is the same as purchasing “stock” or shares in a company. The investor becomes a shareholder and gets a return when the company is sold

That sounds like truth talking.

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After that I wanted to learn more about the Small Enterprise Growth Fund, which goes by the name of the Maine Venture Fund today, and so I read the statute that created it. That is how I became involved in reading the Maine statutes and other history. I have not stopped reading the statutes since, along with other historical documents. 

Back to the present, after two days of dragging myself around, my normal energy returned the day before I had an appointment scheduled via an MTI form with the SBIR STTR grants counselor. I had that conversation yesterday and will leave it for another time. Considering that I only felt lethargic and was not going through the day on the verge of tears, I am learning to integrate the reality of a world run by the command economy much better that I once did. 

The command economy has become incrementally entrenched since the 1970’s. Today we are in a time of rapid and sudden transformation brought about most unexpectedly by corona virus. As remote working takes hold large companies are dispersing into smaller ones with every independent contractor operating as a small business.

The command economy will continue to try to control all but the dispersion is already a foot and the command economy had nothing to do with its sudden manifestation! We live in interesting times and maybe, this time, it is a blessing.

 published at https://www.datadriveninvestor.com on October 23, 2020.


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