Entrepreneurs — how to train them, motivate them and keep them — blossomed as a key theme during a luncheon panel of elite business, philanthropic, political and social leaders in town for the Republican National Convention.
The mission? To explore how to create more jobs, but in ways that will help the next generation find both better purpose and opportunity in what they do.
Gathered at Ybor City's historic Cuban Club, the panel crammed the equivalent of a weeklong seminar of ideas — from creating a national "service corps" of young people to overhauling education — into an hour or so. Interesting. Just lean on detail.
A similar panel is scheduled for next week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. N.C.
Arianna Huffington, whirlwind founder of the online Huffington Post, threw the event — called "What Is Working" — while former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw moderated. Among the panelists:
• John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, an election swing state that has enjoyed superior job creation this year. Kasich argued that few of the 120,000-plus jobs added in his state are tied to the legacy auto manufacturing industry.
• Judith Rodin, president of the philanthropic Rockefeller Foundation, which encourages innovation and global well-being. The foundation will award $1 million to a group with the most innovative solution to create jobs.
• Walter Isaacson, a former CNN CEO best known for his bestseller biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Now head of the Aspen Institute, a leadership organization, Isaacson on this panel represented Teach For America (he is the chairman), which recruits high-caliber young people who commit to two years of public teaching in low-income schools.
Other participants ranged from Microsoft's general counsel, a co-founder of LinkedIn and the head of the Startup America Partnership to the president of Orlando's Valencia College — picked for the school's success in finding jobs for most of its graduates.
Bottom line? More jobs and better jobs will happen when government, business and education coordinate their economic efforts. And one key way to make that happen is to help foster entrepreneurs.
To that end, Wednesday's event ended with a tour of a small room bursting with startup businesses.
My brief stops included chats with Tony Duda, CEO of St. Petersburg's Talent Sprocket. It helps businesses recruit better people online by matching candidates to the traits of a firm's top workers.
At Tampa's CrowdSavings.com, which offers discounted products from local businesses, CEO Chad Jaquays says his company has raised $5 million, bought 15 companies in the past two years and added 20 employees in the past three months.
And at St. Petersburg startup Marxent, CEO Beck Besecker (formerly with Catalina Marketing) says Detroit venture capital is backing his business, whose technology transforms product images on printed ad fliers and catalogs into striking 3-D visuals.
If Wednesday's big-think panel looked at job creation from 30,000 feet, the entrepreneurs on hand provided proof of strong economic potential and hiring right here on solid ground.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]