October 27, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 9:00 am

Gary Whitehill, Granby native, founder New York Entrepreneur Week

Where did you get the idea to start New York Entrepreneur Week, which runs Nov. 16 through 20th in New York?

A year and a half ago was a very interesting time -- not just in terms of the economy in general, but specifically within the funding environment. Also at this time, the deal flow I was getting was less than decent at best. I didn't understand how this could be true. I didn't understand how there could be such an immense gap between the deal flow I was seeing and what the angels and venture capital firms were looking for. I realized that this was the first time in history that angels were looking for their money to take a company to cash flow positive during its first traunch.

What came back, as a result of my research, was that, although there are many resources for entrepreneurs in New York State -- they are very disparate. Think of entrepreneurship as a piece of glass -- thin and fragile. Now, there are many great organizations with visionary missions who are achieving great things in the entrepreneurship space. However, the issue is that each of these organizations is micro-focused on execution of their own individual mission. Therefore, little cracks begin to develop in this piece of glass we call "entrepreneurship" as organizations become increasingly more disparate and further pushed into their own silos. As a result, the entrepreneur suffers greatly. There is no one person and/or organization looking at the entrepreneurial landscape from a 20,000 or 30,000 foot view.

You're only 26. Is it difficult to stage a program of this magnitude at such a relatively, young age? How do people react to turning to somebody in their mid-20s for advice?

It's interesting you address my age, because it's a positive attribute in business these days. In my opinion, generation Y has a much more "collaborative" mentality then generations before, as well as a tendency to search for new ways of doing things. Innovation is about thinking outside the box and never settling for the status quo. Mikhail Gorbachev said it best when he proclaimed," It would be naive to think that the problems plaguing mankind today can be solved with means and methods which were applied or seemed to work in the past."

You're having a business plan competition. What was in your business plan that helped you launch New York Entrepreneur Week? Did you even have a business plan?

Believe it or not, there wasn't a business plan, or even a simple drawing on a napkin. Surprising also, were the detractors we've encountered along the way in creating this movement. They were convinced that unifying the fragmented ecosystem in New York was unfathomable. However, unstable times create incredible opportunities. Thus, even in the face of adversity, we stuck to our mission, kept pushing forward and garnered a tremendous wave of support from the community.

Some of the most influential companies have been born during recessions and downturns in the economy; Google is a well-documented example. New York Entrepreneur Week provides an opportunity for each person, whether they have an idea or a hundred million dollar company, to actively engage the foremost entrepreneurs, investors and dealmakers from NY State and around the world. Furthermore, New York Entrepreneur Week provides a structured environment where both new and seasoned entrepreneurs can learn, grow, connect and leverage opportunities to do what they do best: drive economic change in exponential ways


Why is it "astounding" that 89 percent of all venture capital funding from NY-based venture capital firms, distributed during the first half of 2009, went to companies outside of the state? As you state, New York is the worldwide hub of business, commerce and innovation. It only makes sense the money would flow out of New York around the world.

Money flowing outside New York to places around the world is a great thing- transfer of wealth is what keeps economies moving. However, when 89% of a crucial funding mechanism is disproportionately allocated outside an ecosystem, it's a dire red flag. The figure, more then anything else, is a telltale sign of a fragmented ecosystem providing very little deal flow that's attractive to investors. Without a solid ecosystem, funds will continue to leave the state at an alarming rate, which is very troubling.

Did anything about growing up in Connecticut prepare you for your profession as a serial entrepreneur?

Connecticut is the best state in America in my candid opinion. I have moved across the country and back- there's a reason why even though I work in New York City, I still reside here.

In terms of my profession, it was honed not by Connecticut in particular, but by some of the unfortunate flaws within our national education system, which is a challenge we as students and parents continue to face today.

I am very thankful for the education I received; being able to attend some of the best schools in the state was a blessing. However, the education system also taught me to have tough skin, as just like many others, I was always the square peg trying to fit into the "round hole;" that "round hole" being test after test after test.

These days, most educational institutions revolve around tests and theory; with very little practical application. Theory does not drive a knowledge-based economy, practical application does. This is why you see such growing support for science and technology magnet schools. As a society we are obsessed with test scores and GPA. Entrepreneurship is not an easily quantifiable graded metric, but it is the fundamental underpinning of our economy. This is the reason why the goal of our non-profit foundation is to bring entrepreneurship into every K-12 grade throughout the nation by 2030- because not every child in America learns by testing, many of us learn by doing.

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