By: Maria E. Luna Issue: Vision Section: Business
Mike Stemple’s business acumen has accrued over a decade of experience, including career accomplishments that encompass art, entrepreneurship and athletics. Stemple is a Colorado native most famous for the hockey mural on downtown Denver’s Old Chicago wall. These murals ultimately paid for his college education.
Stemple decided to stop making other people money and start his own business in 2000, and over a 10 year period, created 15 businesses in all. One of the more successful companies was SkinIt, which boasted a $100+ million valuation. One of its subsidiaries was Original Wraps (SkinIt for cars), which he sold to 3M. Or, in 2009 Stemple created Odojo, a software application allowing parents to monitor children’s social networks for inappropriate content, as well as leaks of children’s personal information. In 2010, Odojo was acquired by SafetyWeb. Currently Stemple is working on building Mosoro, a tech company that develops leading edge Bluetooth accessory solutions, also known as Appcessories, for smartphones.
An avid runner, Stemple is a sponsored athlete who runs nearly 155 miles at once in the Sahara and Gobi deserts.
Stemple serves as a director and mentor with The Founder Institute, a global network of startups and mentors that helps entrepreneurs launch meaningful and enduring technology companies. The Institute has a four month idea-stage incubator program, which helps entrepreneurs launch their dream company, all while receiving expert training, feedback, and support from experienced startup CEOs. “It’s an incubator program for people who have a day job. So how do you learn from mentors who have been there and done it and been successful? But you can’t take two months off to go to Boulder to do Tech Stars. You can’t take a couple months off to go to the Silicon Valley and do Y Combinator. The Founders Institute fills that gap,” he says.
Because The Founder Institute only runs certain times of the year in certain markets, Stemple is trying to fill the gap with another innovative company, Inspirer. He says, “There are so many people who have brilliant ideas and want to go create a company—they just don’t know how to do it. And then there are guys like me who have built 15 companies across all industries including technology that want to share that information. There is just no formal framework to do it. Inspirer was created to fill the niche of helping corporations build better products, processes, and technologies. Our culture has finally accepted a career choice of being an entrepreneur. It’s finally in vogue.”
ICOSA had the distinct pleasure to discuss Stemple’s newest adventures.
Stemple: Inspirer is my 15th company and probably my last. Building technology-based businesses I’ve amassed a great deal of knowledge. I’ve also been a director at the Founders Institute; an incubator that has helped launched over 400 companies in 20 different markets all around the world. Running the Denver branch I have learned much more about innovation and building companies. I wanted to encapsulate all of the lessons learned into a series of lectures and workshops where I could go out to larger companies that are having problems with innovation and demonstrate best practices, as well as thoughts and ideas that I have picked up along the way to help them be more effective innovators or innovation companies.
Personally teaching and sharing my philosophies on innovation mean a great deal to me. That is why I created Inspirer. Over time I think it will morph into an innovation talent agency. It just so happens I know several smart and talented individuals who all have created amazing tech companies, who are all passionate about sharing their life lessons and the lessons they have learned about building tech companies with other people. They just need a framework. I think Inspirer will be at a point next year where we are a kind of a middle-ware provider of innovation, helping innovators work with large and small companies.
People want to be in control of their own security. Innovators in large companies have largely left to create start-ups and what is left is a lot of MBA’s. The big brain drain of the Fortune 500 has happened. But Fortune 500 has brand recognition with the consumer. They have infrastructure, money, they have all the things that make innovation successful. So there is this big gap between innovators in the start-up world and large Fortune 500 to Fortune 1000 worldwide that are craving innovation. That is where you see a lot of mergers & acquisitions activity. For example, Google does a tremendous amount of M&A activity where they innovate somewhat internally, but they have a lot of innovation through acquisition. And a considerable amount of people think they can get into that supply line.
Inspirer is approaching it from a different point of view. I believe everyone is an innovator. Everyone has the same capabilities from childhood to come up with fanciful creative ideas. If you watch any five year old with a sketch pad and a crayon you see very innovative children. Along the way they get caught up in this belief that they are either left brain or right brain. They start to think I’m a technologist, I’m a designer. I need to do this or I need to do that. They don’t spend much time in the American education process focusing on making our children more well-rounded. They try to make factory workers and we don’t have factories in American anymore. We are not educating our kids to be knowledge workers—being a knowledge worker takes both creativity and analytical skills.
Inspirer is helping Fortune 500 companies figure out how to foster innovation internally. How do we turn an MBA into an innovator? Just because we lost innovators to the start-up world doesn’t mean that we can’t innovate. We can teach our accountants, our finance people, manufacturers, even the director of products to be better innovators. We can foster a sense of innovation by helping people understand a toolset to be an innovator is really knowing how to think analyticity, but explain visually. Inspirer’s vision is to foster innovation at any company with the existing employees already in place.
For many, accounting seems monotonous. Why is that? We are taught that it’s boring and monotonous. There is magic in numbers. There is a sense of satisfaction when everything adds up. There’s a sense of power in numbers. And when you understand numbers you understand a trend. So accountants are the first ones in a business to understand the potential in a trend. I just did a talk on trends and how you model trends and make trends visual. Accountants are usually the first ones, to detect trends in the numbers and express them visually so everyone can understand it. They could be the largest source of innovation in the business.
If you put a white board marker in anyone’s hands and give them the tools necessary to think like an artist and think like an innovator, anyone, at any time, can come up with a product that could move the needle for the business in a positive way. Everyone in every business is a trend hunter for the business. The best ideas are going to happen if everyone is monitoring and creating their own trends in their department and are visually able to explain it. And if the management team creates a set of symbols, charts and graphs that anyone, at any time can draw the business model, then anyone at the organization at lunch can communicate with one another on a common framework and come up with the next big thing.
That is why I have built so many companies—because I can visually express ideas. I know how to monitor trends and create opportunities. That is what I teach at Inspire.
Stemple uses “visual innovation” using a white board to encapsulate processes. He monitors a series of trends continuously ranging from blog posts on a variety of subject matter and reads hundreds of magazines each month. He then searches for the future opportunity where trends come together. Where the trends interact is where ideas come from and the possibility to form a company. He then estimates a day the trends will interact. From that date he goes back to the current time and speculates what he needs to start building to bridge the gap to that opportunity—the technologies and the infrastructure. It’s about thinking backwards from the future, or closing the “innovation gap.”
Stemple: “Collaboration is valuable. I approach it from an innovators point of view. I see innovation as art and it’s hard to create artwork through collaboration. Numerous people can contribute to creating market opportunity and finding when trends collapse to an opportunity. You need one person to takes ownership of the innovation. Apple Inc. is very effective with that. A large team of individuals create the iPhone, but only a few people are in charge of the actual aesthetics, design, and capabilities. For example, there are considerable amounts of people who build a skyscraper, but there is usually only one architect. That is what is missing in America and I think that is why innovation in the Fortune 500 has disappeared. The whole idea of teamwork is trumped above and beyond the product that any one individual can contribute.
We don’t idealize certain members of the team that perform at higher level, so what happens at larger organizations is that if employees don’t feel like they are ever going to be recognized as better than or greater than their contemporaries, they kind of just become “part of the machine.” This fosters a culture where employees never want to take a risk—never want to take a gamble—because they know they are never going to get recognized. So they keep their head down and collect the paycheck. Those that don’t fit that mold—the innovators—are very different. The group that invented open source code is a great example. Team-based programming was adopted so that open source code could grow exponentially. And instead of writing just one piece of code and being recognized, the work becomes a collaborative team effort. They all get the credit.
We all want to be seen as unique and different—to be recognized and respected. It’s hard to get that anymore. The number one thing people want in the workforce is to be recognized for their job, efforts and abilities. If you give that respect and credit to the employee you will get someone who is loyal and who will do everything they can to help the organization.
For more information about Mosoro, visit www.mosoro.com. Or for more information about Inspirer, visit www.inspirer.com.