‘It can be done’: A Bose founder tells ‘dream story’ of how the $3 billion business began
It's a subtle, but crucial distinction.
Sherwin Greenblatt and his team of volunteer mentors don't teach entrepreneurs how to create companies.
They help entrepreneurs develop skills, judgement, self-confidence and a network of contacts. The companies are created as a consequence.
As Greenblatt explains it, "Most mentoring says, give me your idea and I'll mentor your idea. We say, give us your idea, we'll use that as a vehicle to teach you how to become a successful entrepreneur. And we think that's what's most important in encouraging entrepreneurship. So the approach is basically learn by doing."
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The approach seems to work.
Greenblatt helped build Bose from a two-person business in the back corner of an empty building to one of the world's leading manufacturers of high-end audio equipment.
He is also the chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Venture Mentoring Service, which has served more than 4,300 entrepreneurs and 3,100 ventures that have raised a combined $9.3 billion since 2000.
In a CivicCon event Monday at The REX Theatre in Pensacola, Greenblatt discussed how he learned by doing in those early days at Bose, his second career as a volunteer mentor and a few takeaways for communities looking to create their own network of entrepreneurs.
Discussing his own background in entrepreneurship, Greenblatt said he was recruited into the fledgling business of his former professor, Amar Bose, as a young MIT graduate in 1964.
Initially, it was just Greenblatt and Bose working part of the time developing amplifiers and other technology for the government while using their spare time to develop audio equipment, their shared passion.
The company grew to include a few more employees and released a well-regarded but commercially unsuccessful loudspeaker. By 1967, Bose was limping along with the staff working 14-hour days, seven days a week, 365 days a year and barely making enough to keep the lights on.
They faced a fork in the road where they could focus solely on government contracts and continue scraping by, or make one last run at creating a commercially successful sound system. In true underdog fashion, they pulled together and developed the Bose 901, a revolutionary speaker that eventually would reverse the company's fortune and help launch the corporation's ascent into a $3 billion business.
Greenblatt, who was the project engineer for the 901, went on to hold many executive positions before serving as president of Bose for 15 years.
"It's a dream story, really," Greenblatt said Monday. "I mean, think about it. How could this happen?... Yet it happened and others can do it as well."
He added, "That's kind of the message that I want to give today to people, that you can do this. It can be done."
After retiring from Bose, Greenblatt was recruited to MIT's Venture Mentoring Service, which matches entrepreneurs with volunteer mentors. It uses a team mentoring approach with groups of three to four mentors sitting with an entrepreneur in sessions that provide professional advice and coaching.
The Spring, a part of the Studer Community Institute, engaged MIT to train local mentors and help establish a volunteer team of mentors to assist Pensacola area entrepreneurs and startups.
Discussing why it's important to develop startups and successful entrepreneurs in a community, Greenblatt said it is a "big mistake" for a community to put all of its attention and resources into businesses from out of town in hopes that will bring in a lot of jobs and revenue.
"You can bring somebody in and they'll make big promises, but looking at it from the point of view of a big company, they don't have any connection to your community," he said. "They're only coming because someone is giving them some incentive to come. And for them, it's a business transaction, so what you want to do is you want to put the minimal investment to get the maximum benefit."
He said for companies, the minimal investment means not creating many jobs, not making much capital investment and not staying in the community any longer than it's useful.
"It just isn't a good way to build a local economy. And my belief is we need to take people who live here, want to live here, like living here, and give them the tools and the education and the judgment and the skills to build economic benefit, to build economic wealth," Greenblatt said. "Those are the ones that can not only run businesses locally, but also can bring in the revenue and the goodness from outside and let that accumulate in the community. So that's what we're all about. That's what we believe in."
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This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Founder Sherwin Greenblatt discusses rise of Bose at Pensacola CivicCon