Serendipity and Ted Zoller

by Susan Pringle

It’s not every day that we have the privilege of spending a day with a real expert, I mean, not just someone who knows what they’re talking about, an absolute brain, world class, and great fun to boot.

So it was last Friday when Nottingham’s Next Business Generation Class of 14 were treated to day of financial training and planning with Ted Zoller, Director and Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina, and Senior Fellow for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

We anticipated it was going to be both racey and fast paced; Ted opened by telling us that he’d start with a few teasers to get our brains up and running, without caffeine having to do the job for us. It was like the best fun fair ride you’ve ever been on; a little bit scary, very fast, and heaps of fun. For the first two hours he had us all on the edge of our seats, wondering what stroke of insightful genius he was going to share with us next. Top speaker!

His opening stance was to position the relationship between entrepreneurs and their would-be investors, and the importance of sharing the “same bed, same dream’ (not literally you understand). Contrary to the lean start up methodology we’ve all been taken through for the first 8 weeks of the programme, Ted grabbed our everyone’s attention when he confessed he was allergic to lean, qualifying his claim by describing that startup funding is more of a zig-zag, and that seed funding is to experiment with (rather than worry about as I’d been doing).

The day progressed with discussions around solvable needs, value propositions and durable, sustained profit. Then he touched upon serendipity, Forest Gump (yes really, “back at the White House, a g a i n. . . ”), and how chance favours the prepared mind (Louis Pasteur).

Now I’m sure you’re not meant to ‘go fishing’ in the presence of a great mind sharing all of his worldly experience, but fish I did. I thought about the moment I realised that my breast cancer had returned (not my finest), and the day I was made to feel like I didn’t belong in my local lingerie retailer because of “the risk of infection” (from me to them presumably? really?!). Then my mind returned to a Breast Cancer Care lingerie evening in Barnsley (it’s “oop North” Ted), and a winning ticket, no: 526.

Have I lost you yet? Stay with me.

I went to Barnsley to see if I could find some decent bras, having given up shopping in my usual outlets (utterly exhausting and completely fruitless). We were each given a a prize draw ticket, and a glittering array of prizes sat on a table at the front near the evening’s hosts saying “win me!’. Now I never win anything, I back horses with 3 legs that come last, and I never draw lucky on sweepstakes, so the odds on me winning something were slim.

But I WON!

My prize was a set of lingerie of my choice. I took it as a sign and drove home down the M1 thinking about the room full of women I’d just met, all on the same quest, to get dressed in the morning in a suitable bra that was both comfortable and stylish. So on that dark, chilly October evening I decided to make my grump my job, serendipity had played it’s part.

It’s a work in progress you understand, the startup programme and associated ‘bootcamps’ have certainly done their job at getting me moving, and I’m getting tee’d up to step into a brave new world where I will develop a new lingerie brand for healthy women survivors of breast cancer who are fed up with the limited choice available to them.

Game on, and thanks Mr. Zoller.