Grow America is a national organization emerging from Utah to support, encourage, and strengthen entrepreneurialism wherever and whenever it is found. Its mission is to align the partners, vendors, mentors and capital entrepreneurs require to create and grow tomorrow’s successful companies. Beyond the creation of new businesses and the expansion of early stage and growth companies, Grow America’s ultimate goal is to put America back to work, step-by-step, one company and one community at a time.
Alan E. Hall is the founder of Grow America. Alan has achieved major successes in the world of entrepreneurship and business and also has established a foundation with his wife, Jeanne, that gives grants to registered charities. Alan takes risks and gets things done.
MO: Welcome to Mo.com, Alan. Why is the mandate of Grow America important to you?
Alan: Grow America is the outgrowth of a set of initiatives I’ve been working on for the past 5-7 years. As a VC and even as an angel investor, while I’ve had strong success in launching a number of companies – some 40-plus so far-I found myself having to say “no” hundreds of times for every time I was able to say “yes” and help get a new company off of the ground. Grow America is the answer. It’s the organization that provides education and access to needed resources for all of the individuals and companies the existing programs leave behind. Whether it’s funding, training, access to mentors, or the ability to determine if you have what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur – Grow America exists to provide those answers, and in doing so, to move the needle on the economy by acting as a catalyst in the creation of hundreds of new companies and hundreds of thousands of new jobs, one community at a time.
MO: You started Grow Utah as a privately funded nonprofit entity in 2005. What are some of the successes that this project has had? Were there any aspects of Grow Utah that you were sure were going to succeed, but in the end, did not? What kind of learning comes from that type of experience?
Alan: Grow Utah Ventures has been a wonderful foundation to Grow America. That organization has been directly responsible for launching scores of new small companies, and its Concept-to-Company contests have been a precursor that has laid valuable groundwork for the broader programs Grow America is premiering right now. It continues to act as a conduit of community resources that support and enhance Grow America’s goals. Perhaps one of the learning experiences from that program has been that it would be easy to conclude that anyone, given the right resources, could become a budding entrepreneur. Not so—my next eBook, the 12 Characteristics of Entrepreneurs, will talk about those concepts some more. There are many people who aren’t suited to starting and leading a company. However, we’re progressively seeing that learning entrepreneurial skills makes every person more hirable and more successful within the entrepreneurial companies that are becoming the new “norm.” So we believe the training and resources are creating a stronger economic climate and a greater degree of self-reliance for all.
MO: You’ve structured Grow America as a business. What motivated you to structure it differently than Grow Utah? What is the revenue model for Grow America?
Alan: Yes, Grow America is a for-profit enterprise. It’s funded (currently) by the sponsorship of major organizations who are willing to create new programs, new offerings, and special discounts for budding entrepreneurs and for early-stage and growth-stage companies, not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because it helps them create a growing wave of new customers who, as they succeed, become partners for life. So the chance to engage with these new companies is compelling to them. As we progress, there will likely be fee-based options that will benefit the organizations in our programs, and we will initiate them as they make sense. But in short, the for-profit structure makes it faster and easier for us to give our program strong traction and to expand to all regions more readily than if we were to simply align with others as a nonprofit entity. However, there are multiple non-profit organizations we can align our members with when we identify a good fit.
MO: Your Springboard contest on GrowAm.com is going to give away $ 1,000,000 in cash and services. Will you be expanding this contest outside of Utah in the future?
Alan: Yes, we will! Our plan is to expand to at least one additional locale before the end of 2012, and ultimately we would like to offer the program in all 50 states. We are in discussions with several national producers as well about the possibility of expanding the competitions into an hour-long weekly show that would bring more awareness of the resources we’re offering to entrepreneurs in all parts of the U.S. and ultimately even beyond.
MO: What advice do you have for people setting up a new or start up business? What advice do you have for people who are struggling very hard to keep their business going?
Alan: I have a lot of advice that’s emerged from my years of experience in launching my own companies as well as from the investment companies I’ve participated in. I have authored several eBooks and am in the process of writing several more, which you can find in Kindle format on Amazon or can download from my website at http://www.alanehall.com/. I also write weekly columns for Deseret News and Ogden Standard Examiner; I am beginning bi-weekly columns shortly for Forbes.com, and I answer readers’ direct questions at www.growam.com on my AskAlan blog. So there are plenty of ways to access my column materials. All of them are aggregated at www.AlanEHall.com for anyone who would like to subscribe.
MO: How important is your website and digital media, in general, for the Grow America strategy? Are you using social media as well? If yes, are your efforts in social media bringing the results that you want? Are you planning to have a mobile app for Grow America?
Alan: Digital media and social media are fundamental to the work we’ve been doing at Grow America. Within our first month, more than 25,000 visitors have come to our website at www.growam.com. Facebook is essential – there’s a Grow America page – and Twitter has been one of our most important vehicles, with thousands of followers communicating with us in that way. It’s interesting that Google Analytics shows digital and social media being by far the most prevalent means of contact for the people we’re trying to reach and engage. I imagine these mediums will only continue to grow.
MO: The video on GrowAm.com is great. Fresh, fun, slick, upbeat and fast paced. Who did the creative and strategic thinking for that? Do you like it?
Alan: I love it. Our video was the creative genius of Mark Hurst, of Connect Partners , who produced our piece in conjunction with VizKick, out of Houston, Texas, and Brent Peterson, of Salt Lake City’s Comcast Spotlight team (one of our founding partners).
MO: How do you view failure? What does success mean to you?
Alan: I’ve certainly experienced a number of failures as an entrepreneur, but I don’t know if I would really term any of them a legitimate “failure” in terms of the lessons I learned. For me, success is an interesting yardstick. I’ve expressed before that my wife, Jeanne, and I intend to leave this world with a blowtorch, not with a sparkler. All business and financial success, to me, is an opportunity (and even a responsibility) to use that resource to help launch and grow as many more businesses as possible. It really seems the more we give, the more we receive—we have strong religious beliefs and when we’ve made the right choices, the opportunities have continued to come flooding our way. So that’s what success means to me. We’ll never be “high-falutin’.” We live in the same house we raised our family in and purchased 28 years ago.
MO: “No Poor Among Us” is a quote prominently displayed on your HallFoundation.com website. This is a very enormous goal or mandate. What does that quote mean to you? Are the organizations you are giving grants to getting strong and measurable results in this area?
Alan: The Hall Foundation is our charitable organization. It means that every individual, no matter how “poor” (in material goods, in spirit, in sickness or misfortune) should be given the opportunities to heal and recover; a chance to rise up and ultimately to become their best selves, and ultimately to share the good they receive with others as well.
MO: Life is precious. Our earthly existence is temporary. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about your views about death?
Alan: My spiritual beliefs are very much an influence in the work I do and the direction of my life. I believe death is not to be feared—that this life is a time to learn, to be tested, and that our earthly death is, in fact, a progression. At that point, it won’t be the earthly goods we’ve amassed, but the amount of good we’ve accomplished with the resources we’ve been given that will constitute the sum of our wealth. That’s the objective that drives my goals. (That and the fact that Jeanne wouldn’t be in favor of any other alternative, even if there were other directions I would have wanted to go.)
MO: If you only had 120 days left to live and were given a cheque for 20 billion tax free dollars to spend any way you’d want, what would you do for the next 120 days and what would you do with that 20 billion dollars?
Alan: I would do exactly what I am doing right now – but far more quickly and with more of the biggest impediments resolved. Think of the number of businesses and jobs $20B could create. Let’s do it!
MO: Alan, we want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for our readers.