CINCINNATI -- What do God and entrepreneurs have in common?
They both create things. They both grow things they’ve created. And they both bless people.
Organizers believe it’s the first such conference on faith and entrepreneurship ever held in the United States.
The more than 1,300 people who registered for the conference, which ends Friday, heard a variety of local and national businesses speakers such as John Maxwell, whose books on leadership have sold 25 million copies. They also networked – and worshiped with – other entrepreneurs and pitched their business ideas to venture capitalists.
In his opening address, Tome spoke like one who fancied himself an entrepreneur. He talked of starting Crossroads 20 years ago and building it into the largest church in the Tri-State, with five locations. He warned the audience that running an organization doesn’t get easier once it gets past the startup phase.
“My stress level is no different now,” he said. “In fact, it’s higher, because the numbers are higher.”
Cincinnatian Chris Bergman, founder and CEO of ChoreMonster Inc., a set of web and mobile apps that reward kids for doing chores, followed Tome by talking about his previous business failures, including a coffee shop and a print magazine about music. The road to success leads through failure, he said, so “Go fail, and trust God through it.”
Former Procter & Gamble executive Kirk Perry, now president for brand solutions at Google, urged entrepreneurs to focus on the problem they’re trying to solve -- and not become married to a solution that doesn’t address the problem. He also urged them to surround themselves with good people who are not afraid to tell the truth.
“Be a visible servant leader,” he said, knowing that everything you say and do sets the tone for your company. He gave the example of a former boss, who always ended conversations by asking, “Now, what can I do for you?”
That advice resonated with Florence resident David Markesbery, who works for Valcom Enterprises Inc. in Wilder. Although he’s not an entrepreneur, he said, he felt the leadership principles he learned at the conference would help him on the job.
He attended with his wife, Leslie, who is a big fan of Maxwell’s.
“He’s my favorite author,” she said.
Maxwell talked about the DNA of the entrepreneur, saying that entrepreneurs can both see and seize opportunities.
“Entrepreneurs are self-starters,” he said. They see more than others see, he said, and they see it before others do.
Entrepreneurs also have a strong desire to win, he said, adding that he had never seen an entrepreneur who was a good loser. He drew loud applause when he said he didn’t like seeing children given trophies merely for competing in a sport: “That is not creating a culture of entrepreneurs,” he said.
He drew laughter when he gave an example of the tenacity that entrepreneurs must have. It involved his previous career as a minister, and an employee who kept missing work. He said he told the employee that if he missed any work next year, he would fire him.
“It was then I discovered I had the gift of healing,” he joked, because the employee didn’t miss any more work.
Those scheduled to speak Friday included Mark Burnett, the producer of the TV shows “Survivor,” “The Voice,” “Shark Tank” and “The Bible.”
The conference was the brainchild of Unpolished, a group of entrepreneurs at Crossroads that meets monthly to network with and encourage one another, said Anderson Township resident Tim Metzner. He is one of the group’s founders and the creator of Differential.com, a software development company.
“(Entrepreneurship) is a lonely journey” and a leap of faith, he said, and it helps to share that journey with others.
The group chose the name “Unpolished” because most startup companies are like unpolished gems, but also to keep expectations low about the events it would produce, Metzner said. The group organized about a dozen smaller events before Thursday’s conference.
At those events, about half the attendees were entrepreneurs and about half were testing the waters and thinking of starting businesses, he said. He expected the same would be true of the conference attendees, some of whom came from as far away as the West Coast.
Metzner hoped the conference would inspire some of those out-of-town attendees to start groups like Unpolished in cities outside Cincinnati.
The organizers expected the conference, like most startup businesses, would lose money in its first year, Metzner said, and Tome confirmed that it would cost the church more than $100,000. But that’s OK, Metzner added.
“If we have moved a number of people here to think they have a better chance of success (in their businesses), it will have succeeded,” he said.