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April 28, 2004

Facing Failure, Finding Success

NCSA logo.The Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) partnered with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to offer a public forum featuring David Brunel, renowned for his entrepreneurial leadership at Unidata and Ardent and the resulting billion-dollar sale to Informix. Brunel offered his insights to students, faculty, and businesspeople in a talk moderated by Steven N. Miller of Prairie Angels and formerly of Quill Corporation.

Brunel described the entrepreneurial venture as a process of managing risk because "you can't take risk out of the equation." He championed business plans attuned to the balance between the importance of science and demand within an industry. Examples of such a balance were a biotech venture where the market for the scientific product is clear but the technology must be proven and a software venture where the market is much more critical than the technology itself.

He stressed the importance of focus and of maintaining a balance between the "great arrogance" required to drive a new business and the humility necessary for identifying its failures. "When it's not working, face it," said Brunel, whose first success was his third new venture following a failure and a break-even attempt.

Brunel applies the lessons of humility to management changes required for ventures that have outgrown the leadership capabilities of their entrepreneurial founders. In fact, he suggests that the CEO should not be positioned as the true value of the business. "There's too much fascination with the celebrity CEO. The CEO is just another function in the organization. The best CEO's don't over-promote themselves," he says of the top job.

Among several anecdotes used to describe his experiences and entrepreneurial drive, Brunel quoted his wife who coments often on his approach to business ideas. "You're never in doubt," she says."You're just often wrong."

CED and NCSA announced in April a strategic partnership to foster relationships between the NCSA's Private Sector Partners (PSP) program and the local entrepreneurial community. CED management worked closely with PSP and NCSA management to develop its 2004 Speaker Series in Entrepreneurship around NCSA's annual PSP meeting in April. The NCSA PSP gives Fortune 500 companies the chance to work with NCSA research teams and to reap the benefits of technological advances three to five years before their competition.

--Tracy McCabe
April 2004


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