Obama, Romney should make Getz the model

Jalem Getz

“If you don’t get out and try it, you won’t have the opportunity to be successful.”

So said Jalem Getz about business ventures after receiving the George Dalton Inspirational Entrepreneur Award from BizStarts Milwaukee at its fourth anniversary celebration last week. He knows all about trying different businesses before finding one that hits pay dirt.

He and a partner started the Halloween Express, a pop-up retail operation in Milwaukee, and sold the infamous fish ties from kiosks before striking gold with an on-line retailer of costumes, later called BuySeasons.com.

He sold that company for a handsome return, expanded it for the new owner until 2012, retired to the beach, got sunburned and then decided to get back into action.

He made a run at two more ventures that failed before arriving at the concept for his new company, Wantable.com. He is bullish about the prospects for Wantable, which sells customized cosmetic kits on the web. He uses social media to customize its offerings for women.

Along the way to his 40th birthday, Getz has developed some abiding principles, which he generously shared recently with more than 200 BizStarts supporters. For one, he’ll never go public.

“I have no desire to run a public company.” He experienced the frustrations of regulatory oversight when making acquisitions of public entities for BuySeasons. “The scrutiny of public companies takes the fun out of it.”

Other beliefs:

• Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to give up a substantial piece of the venture to investors if they need capital to get out of the gate.

• Prepare “from day one” for an exit.

• “Why build a billion dollar company when you can build a $100 million company?” he asks, because there are many more buyers for mid-sized companies than for giant. The latter may have only an IPO as an option for liquidity.

• Cloud computing has dramatically lowered the capital investment needed up front to launch a web-based venture.

Before Getz was honored at BizStart Milwaukee’s fourth anniversary as an advocate for startups, President Dan Steininger cited “an explosion” of entrepreneurial energy in the M7 region in recent years, including:

• The launch in the seven counties of 43 high growth companies since September 2008.

• The creation in those companies of 518 new well paying jobs on a fulltime equivalent basis.

• Investment of $108.5 million in early stage capital in the 47 ventures, which accomplished “a huge milestone” of crossing the $100 million mark.

That’s a nice boost for the region, one that will only get better over time as more companies come on line and more are launched. In terms of economic development, Steininger pointed out that young firms create most of the new jobs in the United States.

So, why then, are not our two presidential candidates talking much about entrepreneurship as they try to convince the American people that they know what they are talking about when they promise job creation?

Entrepreneurs do build companies and jobs. Stimulus money has only an indirect effect. Private equity firms like Bain Capital don’t either, except when they do an occasional startup like Staples.

Take Getz and his home run as a point in case. BuySeasons predates the BizStarts metric kick-off point, but now employs 500 fulltime employees and several thousand in its high seasons. It’s 500,000 square foot operation in New Berlin ships up to 50,000 packages a day. So there are a lot more jobs downstream in its supply chain.

Let’s put this job creation dynamic in a broader perspective. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in 2010 early stage entrepreneurs made up 2.3% of Italy’s adult population, 4.2% in Germany, 5.8% in France’s and 7.6% in the U.S., 14% in China and a high of 17% in Brazil. Wisconsin operates at about half of the U.S. average.

Like Europe, Wisconsin has lagged badly in job creation numbers over the last decade and even more in pay levels. The answer for the nation, the state, the Heartland and for Europe is more inspirational leaders like Getz.

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