This week, we're sitting down with Michelle Parvinrouh and Corey James. Michelle and Corey are the Executive Director and the Director of Operations over at Innovation Portal, a non-profit entrepreneurial hub dedicated to accelerating startup growth in southwest Alabama. Listen to this week's episode to hear their stories and how Innovation Portal can help you grow your business.
Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama
Michelle Parvinrouh: I'm Michelle Parvinrouh, executive director.
Corey James: I'm Corey James, director of operations, and we're with Innovation PortAL.
Marcus Neto: Yay! Well, guys, it is so good to have you on the podcast. One of the ways that we normally get started is we want to hear some of the backstory from the two of you. So tell us the story of Michelle, tell us the story of Corey. Where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? I know you did. What did you graduate with a degree in? Married? Just all that stuff.
Corey James: I'm originally from New Orleans and went school up in St. Louis. I studied philosophy and theological studies and got really interested in social enterprise, which is just a business movement of creatively accomplishing positive outcomes, positive impact outcomes. Ended up starting a chocolate social enterprise which was a joint venture with a farmer's cooperative in Belize and the university and passed that on essentially to the university in order to come down to Mobile and to work with Innovation PortAL. It's been a great two and a half years since I've been here. My wife and I-
Marcus Neto: You totally just glossed over a bunch of the information. I'm going to stop him because you can't leave that out. Where did you go to high school?
Corey James: Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
Marcus Neto: Where did you go to college?
Corey James: St. Louis University.
Marcus Neto: I'm going to hold his feet to the fire. One of the things that I always ask people is, would you consider yourself a good student?
Corey James: Yes, I think I would.
Marcus Neto: I usually get a sense, like I think you're a good student. I think you didn't really care. I think you excelled-
Michelle Parvinrouh: I was in school for the social aspects.
Marcus Neto: There you go.
Marcus Neto: See, I got you guys pegged.
Michelle Parvinrouh: ... until college, and then I had to learn to become a student.
Marcus Neto: You and I, I think, would be along the same lines in that respect.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: But Corey, I have a different feeling. I just get that sense that you are very... and I love that. I just think that's really cool. You talked a little bit about creating this enterprise with the college and handing it off. I want to come back to that, though. Michelle, why don't you tell us your story?
Michelle Parvinrouh: Absolutely. I'm originally from Mobile, born at Mobile Infirmary. I can go back and say I went to Nazarene for daycare, and then I went to Mary B. Austin. Then I went to St. Mary's for middle school, and then I went to Murphy for high school. I was a cheerleader. That comes up to be relevant later. Then I went to South... or actually I went to Faulkner and then South and got my business degree at South. That's really where I learned to become a student because it was the first time I was studying something that I was interested in and that I felt like I could apply that mattered in the world.
Corey James: Go Jags.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Thank you, absolutely. Then I-
Marcus Neto: Hold on. What were you studying?
Michelle Parvinrouh: Business and marketing. Then I decided I needed to get out of Alabama because I have a very strong family here. If anybody knows Nasser Gymnastics, my dad is Nasser, and my older sister had taken over the business. So like a normal 20-something-year-old with a lot to prove decided I needed to get out of those shadows and figure out life for myself, so I packed up and moved to Colorado. I was in Denver for about eight years. I went to the University of Colorado Denver. Got my master's in business. Then got my first start with facilitating and helping entrepreneurs right after grad school and ran an entrepreneurship center out of the school, and then job hopped for a bit until I found a really good fit. Eventually moved to Colorado Springs, which is just 60 miles south of Denver, and was doing similar work as what we're doing at Innovation PortAL. But all along in that 14-year period while I was in Colorado I was always working with entrepreneurs because it's what I began to know really well.
Michelle Parvinrouh: The reason cheerleading is important because that's what I feel like my ultimate role has been for the past 15 years almost is just cheerleading and really promoting people and really getting people where they need to be through a massive amount of sometimes tough love but a lot of support in making sure that they are staying on the track that they want to be on actually. It's not the track that I think they should be on. It's a track that they actually want and have a belief for themselves and getting them closer to whatever those next milestones are.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Then about eight months ago, it was a decision that I had to be closer to family. I actually said never, that I would never return to Mobile, so that was a big shock for me and everyone in my world. I made the decision and within two months had moved back. Then after being back for a few months I started looking because I wasn't doing anything at that time that was helping entrepreneurs and I missed it a lot.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I'll be very honest, I wasn't expecting Mobile to have any kind of startup knowledge actually, and I was amazingly surprised when I found the opportunity with... when I found Innovation PortAL at all, found there was an open opportunity there, something that makes all of my experience up until this point and something that I had done in other markets and had really wanted to still be a part of but also even more so that it was in my hometown. I always say that I have mission alignment with this work because I really strongly believe in economic health, and if I can help drive that here in my hometown, I don't know what better thing I could be doing.
Marcus Neto: I want to come back to that because I was just saying lip service. I love the fact that you are more of that philosophical person in that you are definitely more of that cheerleader person because I think the two of you make an incredible team. Like, when I met you for the first time-
Michelle Parvinrouh: I think we complement each other very well.
Marcus Neto: You do. You very much complement each other. When I met you at the... there was an event, that was like a meet your candidate or something like that at the Chamber, and we were talking there, I really just got that sense from you. Of course, Corey and I have known each other for a bit now. I just thought it was a really good pairing, so I love that somehow this has happened. It's very cool.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I think us, too.
Corey James: Yeah.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I think I can speak for Corey.
Michelle Parvinrouh: ... we're both pretty jazzed. I don't think I could have a better colleague to be pushing this movement forward with, and I mean that truly.
Marcus Neto: We're going to take a little bit of a different tack with this because Innovation PortAL is kind of a different bird. I'm going to ask some of the same questions, but also wanted to use this as a platform to share what the Innovation PortAL stands for, what they're trying to accomplish, and why this is so important for our city. One of the things that you, Corey, mentioned before we started recording, which I stopped because I was like, "Ah, I want to get into this," is this whole idea of the importance of something like this for economic development.
Marcus Neto: Before I release you to answer that question, I just wanted to state, I think it was almost a decade ago I was having a conversation with Bill Sisson. There was a seafood place out on the Causeway. It's now the Mexican restaurant. We were having a conversation about the various cities that I had been to, and you mentioned Chattanooga specifically, but I had been to Chattanooga. I had been to Huntsville. I had been to Portland. I had been to a couple of other places that are all now hotbeds for innovation and for startups and stuff like that. I kind of foresaw what some of the things that were going to come out of that. I was just relaying to Bill, I was like, "Man, I wish that there was something here in Mobile."
Marcus Neto: That's when he educated me on the fact that we were already moving in that direction. I think it was really just like a glimmer in his eye as far as the idea of an innovation portal because none of the funding, none of the people, none of that had really been set. I just think it's really cool. I am an absolute advocate for what it is that you are doing, and I'm just excited to share that with people. Go ahead and share with us some of the economic impact that something like this has seen in other areas.
Corey James: Yeah, for sure. Innovation PortAL, we kicked things off in 2016 when we got an initial grant from the federal government, and that was for a regional innovation center. So Hayley Van Antwerp and a number of leaders around the city took a trip to St. Louis and a few other cities and these leaders exchanges and got this inspiration that you're talking about of just creating an engine for innovation-based economic development. So Innovation PortAL has evolved a lot since we initially were founded, and we basically got four components now.
Corey James: So that's a building which will open up in early June that'll be more or less a center of gravity for entrepreneurial and innovation and startup initiatives. Then we have startup programs which are just working directly with early-stage high-growth companies to identify and achieve milestones, and that's mostly network-based so connecting them with people and resources that they need. Then community programs which is growing the volume and quality of entrepreneurs in the area. Then a fund which is our most recent initiative to direct investments into these companies.
Corey James: As far as the impact we've seen these types of entities have in other cities, it's incredibly encouraging. We're talking about Chattanooga prior to hitting record, and there's these amazing stories and case studies about how they've gotten over $2 billion in startup exits in the last four years. The impact it has on the local economy is just incredible. I mean it's a ripple effect really. I think that in terms of peer ecosystems, we have a lot that we can learn from those places and a lot that we can look forward to ourselves.
Corey James: I think one thing that we consistently pound the table to try to say is any sort of notion in our world specifically in startups for understanding an Eastern Shore versus a Western Shore, that whole dynamic really is just not thinking large enough when it comes to the mission of Innovation PortAL. We consider ourselves more in competition with places like Chattanooga, Savannah, Asheville, Greenville, places like that that are basically peer-sized market and have potentially a little bit more activity than we do. But the potential is there, and we have just a tremendous amount of industry presence. We have a great creative presence. I think culturally the ingredients are there. So we have a great runway set for us for the work that we're doing.
Marcus Neto: Going back to your four core components, the educational aspect, one of the things that I think we have tried to put out there into this world is that Mobile is always thought of as the city of perpetual potential. Michelle, literally her eyes just-
Michelle Parvinrouh: I have never heard potential used as a native thing ever in my life. Mobilians, we've got to get over it. I don't know what it is that you want but having been away and being the person who was like, "I'm never coming back," Mobile's got-
Marcus Neto: There's a lot going on.
Michelle Parvinrouh: ... so much going on. Again, I can talk about the economy all day long. It's not just that it's got a lot going on. It's very impressive, and it's very surprising especially for a community this size. It's funny because I only ever hear that from Mobilians who maybe haven't left, and it's like, "Well, what do you expect, and what do you want?" because I'm telling you, it's here. Everything that you could possibly want and look for and what other cities that I've been in are looking for is already here.
Marcus Neto: Is already here, yeah. I was just going to say-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Interact with it. Be with it.
Marcus Neto: ... the educational component is something that is extremely important because if you can't change people's mindsets about what is possible, then, one, those that are in poverty will never get out of poverty-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: ... and those that have that burning desire will never actually take that first step to executing on what it is that they're called to do.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Also, you kind of have to change the mindset of or the relationship with failure.
Marcus Neto: Oh, yeah.
Michelle Parvinrouh: In startup-
Marcus Neto: It's a data set.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Yes. In startup world we say, "Failure is progress. Fail forward." You can't get to the next step sometimes without failure because that's where you start to pivot or see, maybe this wasn't the right thing, and you learn from it constantly. I feel like maybe there's a little less tolerance for that is I what I have seen. So instead of celebrating that somebody tried something and we learn from that, that they're just like, "Oh, well, they weren't able to make it happen either." I think that's the only thing that I would maybe criticize or wish were... that I hope we can have an impact in of all things.
Corey James: Shifting the mindset?
Michelle Parvinrouh: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: I was at a conference a couple weeks ago... I hope I haven't mentioned this before in another episode, and a couple weeks will probably be a couple months by the time this goes out. But a couple weeks ago we were at Funnel Hacking Live and Tom Bilyeu spoke. One of the things that he talked about is that the reason why AI is so powerful is because it doesn't have the same relationship with failure as what we as humans have. That we judge ourselves based on that shortcoming. When really what we should be doing is viewing failure as a data set that allows us to rethink-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Preach.
Marcus Neto: ... the direction that we're going, and then it makes us that much more successful when we actually get on the right path and go.
Michelle Parvinrouh: That's exactly right.
Marcus Neto: I agree with you. We need to change the tenor around failure. We need to change the tenor around what is positive and happening in this community. I think one of the things that hit was when Uniti was purchased, what, now two years ago or something like that for $700 million if I remember correctly. I mean it was some astronomical figure. I think there was a buzz that happened in the business community that was like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe this just happened." So I love the idea there's going to be this innovation portal that's starting to push these businesses out that maybe they're not 700 million. Maybe they're 20, or maybe they're 50, or maybe they're 2. It doesn't matter what it is, but just seeing those kinds of things happen where people are creating something and then that there's some value assigned to that. I just think that's extremely powerful because what it does is it has a ripple effect for all those other people that are thinking, "Oh, I could never do that." Then they realize, "Well, maybe I could because that's really cool. I want to make that kind of money."
Michelle Parvinrouh: We're talking about energy. Activity helps spawn energy and helps energy stay active, and it helps it move forward versus having stagnation. We talk about shifts a lot and however you want to define it. I just think you're not going to do anything if you don't have energy. So those kinds of activities in a community really keep that alive and help people be engaged and have a point to engage and be a part of something that's in the future, or that's forward-looking.
Corey James: I think one of the educational hurdles, too, I think you're alluding to is in other places entrepreneurship is seen as a potential career path. So with these success story, things Uniti and even things like Shipt across the state, I think it begins to plant the seed of the idea that you can actually have a career in startups. It's people that have these core traits or have the capacity to have these traits cultivated within them. It's resourcefulness, grit, creativity-
Michelle Parvinrouh: A little bit of insanity.
Corey James: ... a little bit of insanity, fixation, obsessive.
Marcus Neto: Hey, I resemble that remark.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Exactly. I bet you get super obsessed about things that you're working on, right?
Marcus Neto: I do. Honestly, I get obsessed about a lot, whether I'm working on them or whether they're just things like... Full disclosure, yesterday I went and bought a new laptop, and the reason why is I knew I needed to go and buy that laptop because it had consumed too much brain cycles over the course of two weeks. So I was just like, "If I don't do this, then it's going to steal away from productivity. I'm just going to end up getting it anyway, and so just go and buy the stupid laptop." We needed one because I need for somebody here to actually have a laptop so that he can do some work in a more positive way. Anyway, so there are things like that where I get latched on to something and I have to do it because if I don't, then... Yes, I'm insane, so quit. I'm feeling uncomfortable now.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Case in point.
Marcus Neto: Game, set, match. I'm very curious about the whole chocolate enterprise because I didn't know that about you. What was that like?
Michelle Parvinrouh: I love this story.
Marcus Neto: Because you've obviously got some experience there.
Corey James: Yeah.
Michelle Parvinrouh: What a fantastic journey.
Corey James: Yeah, it was wild. Speaking of failing forward, by all metrics it was more or less one elongated, emotionally taxing failure. In my junior year of college I got a couple of grants to do a feasibility study for a social enterprise in Belize. I ended up there more or less through connections that my university had and ended up living with this Mayan family. The whole concept was doing a feasibility study, but the stars aligned more or less, and I finished the feasibility study in two weeks. I was supposed to be there for about two and a half months.
Marcus Neto: Oh, wow.
Corey James: A lot of traction around that news took place in St. Louis at the time, and there were talks about there's potentially funding for this. Let's really try to get it off the ground. So I oversaw the project up until the end of the first round of production for bars. In terms of the nature of the whole deal is maximally scrappy. Highlights include convincing a priest to smuggle roasted cacao into the country.
Marcus Neto: Gosh.
Corey James: So there were some kinks to be worked out-
Marcus Neto: You think?
Corey James: ... which in my-
Corey James: In my defense somewhat, it's less articulate the actual laws around cacao.
Corey James: Is it agricultural import or is it...? Yeah. But it was an amazing learning experience. It ended up fizzling out essentially because the social impact model was to share a quarter of the ownership with the farmers who are this amazing group of people, first Fair Trade certified cacao suppliers in the world.
Marcus Neto: Whoa.
Corey James: More or less the university wanted a larger chunk than I thought was reasonable, and so it would have de facto made it not a social enterprise, which was the purpose for its existence to begin with. So I passed it onto a friend, and he ran it for a little while, and it's since fizzled out a little bit. I think the lessons that I learned were primarily things to avoid or mistakes not to make. Fortunately, I'm basically in a position now, I oversee the chunk of Innovation PortAL that is our client or startup management, and I get to help people avoid the mistakes that I made.
Marcus Neto: That's awesome. I love that you have that experience, too, because I think you'll be able to relate to people in ways that somebody that doesn't have that experience wouldn't. For those of you that are not familiar, when you think social enterprise, you think Tom's and all the companies similar to that where they're selling a product but there's some back end, like Warby Parker where they give glasses to people in foreign countries that can't afford them and stuff like that.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Bottom line versus just profit.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, exactly. Well, one of the questions that I do ask is if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them? So I'd ask each of you to... You're not running businesses, but you're advising people that are. What's a piece of advice that you would give to them?
Michelle Parvinrouh: Mine, I think, it comes in a pair. If you're looking to get rich quick, then you're in the wrong game because, one, there is no such thing if it's real. I think, again, from lessons learned where I have seen the most frequent failures are around not really focusing on the market. The founders are too attached to their idea and to their solution versus is this a solution that helps relieve a real problem and is this solution designed in a way that the people who stand to benefit from it and want to pay for it or receive it? The term is product market fit. Have you actually done the work to get out of your head of what you think you know and find out what the market actually needs, wants, and how they want it and need it? Because what happens is you just keep going down this cycle of making these assumptions and building things on your assumptions without ever get it out, and then you get too far gone, and then who wants something? Like, you've designed it for yourself basically as opposed to-
Marcus Neto: Listening to what the market-
Michelle Parvinrouh: ... something that could be commercialized. Again, whether it's social or not, the whole point is that you got to make something that makes money so it can sustain, whether it's profit, nonprofit, whatever. If you miss that component, then why are you in business?
Marcus Neto: I love that you said that because so oftentimes we think of nonprofits as something other than, but the truth is that if a nonprofit can't sell, and I'm saying that very-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Or can't sustain.
Marcus Neto: ... specifically, that if they can't sell, if they can't sell whatever it is that they're nonprofiting about, then they will cease to exist as well.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Right. They have either not figured out what the value is that's relevant to their community and/or you can only make impact if you have the resources to do so. So as a nonprofit, I mean we're a nonprofit, I'm trying to maximize our revenue as much as possible so that we can continue and have bigger impacts.
Marcus Neto: Because there's over 2,000 nonprofits in Mobile, so I think it's important to state that. What would you say?
Corey James: Just piggybacking slightly off of Michelle's point-
Marcus Neto: Don't do that.
Corey James: Well, it's something like 40% of startups fail for the reason of they created a product that no one actually wants.
Marcus Neto: For themselves.
Corey James: The ideal is that you're creating something that customers are already salivating for. They already need it, and it fills a need, and you just slip them the solution right in front of them.
Marcus Neto: That's not to say that you don't look to your own experiences to figure out what may be a good product, but using the research to then figure out, "Well, is this something that I was just thinking of or is this something that...?"
Corey James: It's a prolonged experiment and refining product market fit. I'd say my advice would be, just reflecting on the people that we've worked with, which we've seen 90 people in the last two and a half years, the ones that are the most successful are the ones where they have this idea that just more or less, it's like devouring them. It is that fixation quality that I think we were talking about earlier. It's almost like the ones that are most successful or that are most likely to succeed are the people that are starting things that they just can't help it. It is a core need of theirs to do this-
Marcus Neto: I have no idea what you're talking about.
Corey James: ... because they can't get it out of them.
Michelle Parvinrouh: He said it all.
Marcus Neto: I love how he says fixation quality and you say obsessive. I like his term better.
Corey James: I would say my advice, polishing that would be just let that grow within you. If you notice ideas that you have and if that precedes your desire to start a business, reflect on that, and let that be the beginning of analyzing opportunity.
Marcus Neto: Get that ember and feed it some oxygen and see where it goes. I think the other thing, too, is just if you are a parent and you have kids, do everything that you can to encourage them in that respect. The world is quickly becoming... That's not to say that there's not... because I'm an advocate for your typical blue-collar welding, plumber, electrician. I think there's always going to be a need for those types of jobs. But for those of you that want your children to go into a setting that's different than those, the only way that they're going to succeed is by being creative or being an entrepreneur that can think through these things and has the grit that it takes in order to execute. I think a lot of the things that we currently think about as far as professional jobs are going to go away in 10 years.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I'd like to say something about that. I've been talking a lot to a lot of educational leaders here, and I've had this soapbox item of like, why... because I love to hit them when they're young. Hit them they're young. It's a mindset. If we can cultivate it with them, then we'll eventually curate more entrepreneurs. I forget what the stats is, but there are fewer entrepreneurial ventures being developed year after year right now. So we need more of it. When we talk about economic development, I could talk about that's creating jobs, bringing wealth into a city, talent development, all those things. But for children and our kids or just maybe even novices at this whole thing, I think we're in the startup world, which startup is the extreme sport of business creation-
Marcus Neto: That's a great way of putting it.
Corey James: That is right.
Michelle Parvinrouh: ... so it's not for the faint of heart. But we're always looking at these unicorns, at the whole thing, it's these unicorns, and I struggle with if that's what we're selling because that's what's hot and that's what's sexy and that's what we're proud of and it's very newsworthy, that's really hard for someone who's never done it. I would never consider myself a creative, and I have friends that would fight me tooth and nail on that because I think like a creative, but I'm not artistic, and so I have these word associations that maybe aren't fair.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Anyway, I think we make it sometimes too big, like the notion of what it means to be an entrepreneur. I think kids and novice or potential entrepreneurs don't know how to relate to that or think, "Oh, gosh, that's so far. How could I be an entrepreneur?" I think breaking it down, what being a successful entrepreneur is is being a really strong problem solver. If we were to break it down, it's not just about being creative. Because, yeah, you have the creative problems, but it's about being driven to solve problems. I think if we can frame it that way that kids can understand, "Oh, no, you can do this actually, and this is one way to think about it" versus "You've got to be this super," I was going to say a not nice word, "badass." You don't actually have to be some shiny star. You just have to have intellect, have that gumption that Corey's talking about, and be dedicated to solving a problem in the end.
Marcus Neto: Just reframing the story around what it means to be a creative, a creative is really just thinking creatively about problem solving-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Exactly.
Marcus Neto: ... whether it's artist or a graphic designer. There was a book that I read called Painters & Hackers a number of years ago. Actually, it's probably been almost a decade ago. I was working as a product evangelist for a software company out of Bend, Oregon, and the CEO wanted me to read certain sections of that book. Because the whole idea is that you present a problem to a developer instead of telling them how you want to solve the problem so that you allow them the creativity for... You might provide constraints about what the requirements are or maybe deadline or budget or whatever, but it's theirs to own within that ecosystem and try and figure out how to solve that problem. Really, that's all an entrepreneur is. They have constraints of deadlines and budget and marketplace and all that other stuff. But as far as how they solve that problem, they need to be able to think creativity about how to get around that.
Michelle Parvinrouh: All day, every day.
Corey James: It's funny. That book is written by Paul Graham, and he's a co-founder of Y Combinator, the gold standard of incubators.
Marcus Neto: Have you read the book?
Corey James: I haven't read it, no, but I'm familiar with it, and some of-
Marcus Neto: The whole book wasn't really something for me, but there were certain sections where it was kind of like, "Yeah, this is really interesting. Y Combinator is definitely-
Corey James: The gold standard.
Marcus Neto: If you know anything about the startup world, that is the gold standard. Who's one person that motivates you from the business world? They both got silent, oh my gosh. If you looked at the larger business world, even internationally, who's one person... you see them on a front of a magazine or something like that and you-
Corey James: I have a few that I know personally, but I think more larger, recognizable characters, I think Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia-
Michelle Parvinrouh: I was actually just thinking that.
Corey James: ... the founder of Patagonia. I just have a full-on unapologetic crush on that guy. I think he's awesome.
Marcus Neto: Didn't he write Let My People-
Corey James: Let My People Go Surfing. That book is fantastic. It's sitting in our office actually.
Marcus Neto: It's sitting on my shelf if I ever get to read it.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I think it's in my Audible. It's in my Audible library.
Corey James: I think he has such insight into core tenants of starting and growing a company that I also believe in that are maybe less orthodox in nature. Like, he is saying, if you want to learn about entrepreneurship, look to juvenile delinquents because they're people that are unimpressed with current norms and systems and act to uproot them.
Marcus Neto: Oh my gosh.
Corey James: I think there's something that's really insightful about that general philosophy that Patagonia, I think, definitely embodies. They have this unique work culture. Their organization as a whole is the subject of a lot of just studies from psychologists, sociologists, people that study work places because they foster remarkable independence in their employees. In Let My People Go Surfing, they have this model or he describes this model where basically they were trying to figure out how exactly to be a company and to also let people go surf-
Corey James: ... in the morning and go climb in the evening. So he was like, "Okay, you can work whenever and however you want as long as you get your things done and as long as you're in the office from 11:00 to 2:00."
Marcus Neto: So they can have the general meetings and stuff like that?
Corey James: Right. That cultivates in your employees, I think, just a strong sense of autonomy, a strong sense of ownership that is really fundamental to developing leadership in your employees. Letting someone own fully their task or their team and to work on it and do that creative problem solving I think is really important. I think he conveys that and embodies that really well.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, no that's cool.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I love leaders that do things that they don't have to but make something better. That's a very general statement. But I think as citizens of any community, we have responsibility to that community, and these big leaders of these huge companies can make decisions based on different things that matter to them, whether that's their bottom line, whether that's their position in the market, whatever. Those leaders that make decisions that maybe cost them a little bit more money or reduce their profit margin because it's better for the environment, for instance, or they're using upcycled goods or recycled goods, or they're investing in maybe an economic group that is not typically employable.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I worked with a startup in Colorado Springs that employed people with autism. They were an electronics recycling company, so they had the recycling part, but they were employing people with autism because they do well with those kind of break down assembly. Then it was getting them off of the services and whatnot from the government because they were becoming more self-sustainable people. There was this beautiful... You talk about a triple bottom line. That was almost a quadruple bottom line of what they did. It's like, they didn't have to do that. They found, for whatever reason... We can talk about it being heart, or maybe there's some tax credits that drive them. I just think when leaders make decisions that are just because they can and they are better for the community but it actually doesn't benefit them necessarily, I think those are great models. Because, again, you hear about things all the time about leaders influencing things but really maybe just for their pocket. So when you have a challenge to that, to me, that is honorable.
Michelle Parvinrouh: It's not always easy especially if you're a public company, and you have legit shareholders that want to maximize their investment. But what's great is that those who are evolved enough in their understanding of business in the marketplace is there's been plenty proven that especially with the Millennial populations and their discretionary incomes now that they're choosing to purchase things that are more aligned with their values, so whether that's less plastic or cruelty-free, things like that, they want to feel good about the purchases they're making. So anytime I buy something from Patagonia, I feel really good about it. Then I spend my money there versus somewhere else that maybe has a similar product. So you can actually see these indirect boosts in your own profitability if you actually take the time to develop it, but I don't think most leaders think that way.
Marcus Neto: No. Next question, so are there any books, podcasts, people, or organization that have been helpful just personally in moving you guys forward not necessarily as an organization? I... Yeah, I'm just going to leave it at that. Any books, podcasts, people, or organizations?
Corey James: This just became a four-hour podcast.
Michelle Parvinrouh: I was like, which one do I go with first?
Marcus Neto: It doesn't have to be one of each of those. Pick one and just tell if it was a book or a podcast or something like... If somebody was coming to you and they were involved in business, what's one or two resources that you would point them to?
Michelle Parvinrouh: One of my favorite, I have two books that just scream out. There's a lot of books out there about theory or the value of a certain philosophy but not necessarily how to implement it. I felt like these two books did better with that. Anybody that is in startup and actually thinking that they want to seek investor dollars, I always recommend reading Venture Deals by Brad Feld and some other people because it really goes down into the nitty-gritty of all the things that you need to be considering if you're going that route, all the way down to term sheets and how to make term sheets. I found that, as a practical book, it was, to me, very informative and helpful. Then I love the book, Bold, who I can't think of who that's by. I don't know. It was different, and it was more about, again, that mindset and thinking bigger and going stronger and creating collisions by bringing in different mindsets and talent points to create solutions that are not the same. So I really like those two books off the top of my head.
Marcus Neto: I was just going to interject real quick, Brad Feld also wrote Startup Communities-
Michelle Parvinrouh: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: ... which is a book that I read probably a decade ago. I mean it's been a while. That's what started that conversation with Bill Sisson. What about you, Corey?
Corey James: I was surprised actually when Michelle didn't say Medici Effect.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Oh, yeah.
Corey James: I know she read it just recently. I think that's just a really important book especially just in the demographic that we serve and the people that we serve. The thesis is building a diverse team produces very, very good outcomes. If you can essentially assemble a team of people that are identical to you, that's maybe not a great ingredient for success or for building your company to be creative and innovative and cutting edge. But if you can build it with people that are different and ideally complementary to you, then that's a really good formula for your organization. They bring in different perspectives and different skill sets and things of that sort.
Corey James: As far as podcasts go, I definitely am more of a podcast junkie than anything. I think ones that have been influential in helping me to relate to and support the entrepreneurs in the region, so How I Built This is a cornerstone. They interview founders and talk about how they grew it and started and things. The one on Whole Foods is amazing. It involves him carrying a garbage bag full of a hundred grand in cash out of a flooded... The first Whole Foods location in downtown Austin that was flooded. It's really funny. But I also just for kicks like 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy, which is just a brief, eight-minute podcast on a number of things that are just... Bricks is the best one. I think it's awesome. Different economic ones, different philosophy ones but if you really wanted the full list, I think half of my list would be just a bunch of really old-
Marcus Neto: Podcasts.
Corey James: ... or books, too. It'd just be a bunch of old Greek philosophers, which are maybe less appealing.
Michelle Parvinrouh: How about that? I recommend every person read this book, and I actually revisit it every single year, and it stands true anytime is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. Especially in an age where we're becoming more digital and socializing more through electronic means, I feel like sometimes you just need to know how to talk to somebody. I love that book, and every time I listen to it, it reignites something in me or teaches me a new lesson especially in somewhere where I have not been doing very well or I'm like, oo, I have not been embodying that, and that's so true. So I'm always going to say that one, too.
Marcus Neto: Well, I have a bunch of additional questions. We could make this into a four-hour podcast. Dear listener, we are not going to do that to you.
Michelle Parvinrouh: But we could.
Marcus Neto: Why don't we wrap up by saying where can people find out more Innovation PortAL, or if they want more information about some of the events and stuff like that you have, where do they go?
Corey James: I'd definitely check out our website, so innovation-portal.com, and also sign up for our newsletter. That's the best way of keeping your finger on the pulse of all things that are going on. I think just one final message, I just want to encourage or say, we're so excited for our building to be opening. I think that this will maybe even come out around a similar time. From our perspective it is such a tremendous milestone for the community. It will be that center of gravity, and it will push the region forward. To Michelle's point, too, there's been so much going on. We have the privilege of working with people that are really pushing themselves and pushing our local economic forward. We have worked with 90 people in the last two and a half years, and collectively they have created over 75 jobs, raised over $12 million.
Marcus Neto: Wow.
Corey James: There's just so much going on, and it feels from our perspective oftentime that it's teeming and teeming beneath the surface and just needs to be shouted and celebrated. So I just wanted to give one just huge shout out to all of the entrepreneurs that we get the incredible opportunity to work day in and day out.
Marcus Neto: That's awesome. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Michelle Parvinrouh: I would say our building is slated to open May/June. It's 358 St. Louis Street. Come check it out.
Corey James: Yeah.
Michelle Parvinrouh: It's going to be a lot of fun.
Marcus Neto: Subscribe to the newsletter so that you can find out because I'm gathering there's probably going to be a grand opening celebration or something.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Yeah, for sure. I, if nothing else, like to have a good time, so we're going to have a good time, so come be with us.
Marcus Neto: No, that's awesome. Well, I do appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journeys. It's been a pleasure talking with both of you.
Corey James: Thank you.
Michelle Parvinrouh: Thank you.