Inc. GrowCo - Day 1

This article was written by MSBA Co-Founder, Joanna Williamson. This is the first of a two part series detailing her experience as a Military Entrepreneur Delegate at Inc. Magazine's 2012 GrowCo conference. 


If there is anything I have become über sensitive to in recent years, it’s military families as the poster child for feel good/do something campaigns that eventually amount to a PR scheme for the organization and not a whole hill of beans for military families.  So when I met Natalie Thomas of Inc. Magazine and she mentioned their Military Entrepreneur program, I was open but naturally suspicious.  The Military Entrepreneur program was to select 20 delegates to attend Inc.'s GrowCo 2012 conference.  The entire conference would be comp'ed, you just had to get yourself there and pay for lodging and a couple of meals outside of the conference.  Fair enough.


Still, I was unsure just how the conference was going to help me address some overwhelming issues when it comes to owning my business with a continually changing headquarters address.  But maybe there would be something there for MSBA, and for our MSBA members, I'll go just about anywhere to sit through just about anything.  I sent in my application.


I knew I was in for something good when the list of delegates came out and a few days later, the itinerary.


At this point, I'll spare you the nightmare story of trying to get myself from Honolulu, HI to New Orleans, LA on the day a major airline converted its computer system after merging with a smaller one.  Needless to say, the vital importance of investing in good customer service was stuck in my head like a bad jingle on permaloop.


It's Monday, I can't tell what is up from down but according to my itinerary, a tour of the Laitram company had been set up for us and the bus would leave at 12:30 p.m. sharp. Sheer adrenaline and half a chicken sandwich got me in that seat.  The delegates’ excitement was palpable.  And the Laitram Company did not disappoint.  A company proud of its business model and eager to share with us what they've learned, we were treated to a full presentation with their senior executives and a comprehensive tour of their facilities.  The goodies weren't half bad either.


There is now a crack in my fortress. Blame it on the brownies.


Back from the tour and with barely enough time to sit down, it was time to hit the next item on the itinerary; a Meet and Greet for the Military Entrepreneurs Special Delegation (that was, ahem, what we were known as throughout the conference. Not bragging or anything..well, maybe just a little.)  It was also where we would meet our mentors, executives from multimillion dollar revenue enterprises who had volunteered to partner specifically with military entrepreneurs to, you guessed it, Grow our Companies.  My mentor, Jimmy Walicek, turned kickball into a seven figure company with a 63% growth rate in the last 3 years.  Kickball, people.  I have no room for excuses anymore.   He is proof positive that you can take your lovelihood and turn it into your livelihood.  And there he was, willing to show me how.  I felt like I barely tapped his brain (note to self: shut mouth, open ears) before we were off to the next event, an optional dinner at, of all places, the Red Fish Grill, an award winning seafood restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter.  Inc. had reserved a private party room...just for us.


Did I mention that the GrowCo conference hadn't officially started yet?


Tuesday morning, kick-off.  I enter the massive hall to find my seat.  Right. Up. Front. in a section reserved...just for us. Eric Schurenberg, Director of Digital Content for Inc. and Editor at, opens the day's agenda with...asking us to stand and be recognized as the Military Entrepreneur Special Delegation and a pointed request to all those attending that if they see an attendee with a blue ribbon on their badge, they are to make us feel welcomed, get to know us, ask how they can help.  Mind you, I'm not easily swayed by words, I've heard and been burned by them before.  But there was no mistaking the timbre in his voice nor the unblinking eyes, he was dead serious.  I'm beginning to feel my knees buckle.


It was a good thing I sat down quickly because shortly after the first session, former President Clinton took the stage for his one on one conversation with Mr. Schurenberg on the future of small business, the economic climate, and entrepreneurship.


A little side note here.  You see, sitting at our table was Chief William Clinton. His wife and MSBA member, Lori, founded Your Yeoman, a concierge service for deployed troops. It only took one mention of this unusual coincidence to Courtney McNeese, Director of Events Inc. Magazine and creator of the Military Entrepreneur program, and she was off to have a chit chat with the former President's people.


Now, nine times out of ten, this kind of thing dies right here, everyone too nervous to shift a millisecond of a schedule or muting themselves because of an imagined potential offense.  Not with Inc. and to our delight, not with former President Clinton.  Mr. Schurenberg opens the session with, "Bill Clinton, meet... Bill Clinton". 


 Then, in a spotlight that would have otherwise immediately gone to the President, Mr. Schurenberg asked Chief to stand, and be recognized.


That was just the beginning of Day 1......


(stay tuned for Day 2!) 

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