Start Up Waco continues blossoming in the Waco community by establishing support for entrepreneurs ready to make their mark in the world. While Start Up Waco is responsible for connecting the dots for startups, and providing greater visibility to support organizations, who exactly is the backbone of Start Up Waco?
Dr. Gregory Leman, Executive Director of Start Up Waco and Director of LAUNCH at Baylor University, fuels the momentum driving the Start Up Waco mission.
Leman began his experience in the field as a “serial intrapreneur” as he calls it. By continually pushing new products and processes, his life has revolved around innovation in one way or another. His aid to entrepreneurs focuses on choosing innovative ideas, creating products and pushing them to market. After coming to Baylor and building the LAUNCH team, his position in the industry altered as he shifted into the role of a mentor to entrepreneurs. With 12 years on the books at Baylor, Leman has coached entrepreneurs through nearly 100 projects.
When the opportunity arose to join other influential Wacoans in the creation of Start Up Waco, Leman saw it as only fitting that he step-in, continuing on his trajectory of helping startups on a bigger, broader scale. In order to be a successful initiative, Start Up Waco required somebody that had a history of effectively developing new businesses – someone who understood the needs of innovators and entrepreneurs. Thanks to Leman’s cross-section of experiences, Waco leadership thought of him.
“The folks around the table were drawn from Baylor, from the business community, from the philanthropic foundations as well as government, county and city both. So, there’s a lot of different skill sets there,” Leman said. “My background is unique in that I’ve been an inventor, I’ve been a manager of inventors, I’ve been a leader of businesses based on innovation and then became a coach of all kinds of entrepreneurs.”
Baylor University has significantly invested in Start Up Waco, Leman being one of their main contributions. But, in the grand scheme of things, the beneficial relationship between Baylor and Start Up Waco is not one-sided.
“Over the years ahead of us there needs to be, and there is going to be a much higher flow of technologies that can be commercialized into real world products and companies that develop them,” Leman said. “If that happens at Baylor and there is no effective ecosystem in Waco, then those businesses will be formed and they won’t be formed here. We want to create a local, thriving environment of young professionals.”
Start Up Waco aims to purposefully connect to the Greater Waco community and offer pathways for those outside of Waco to do the same. So what makes it distinct? Leman explains that Start Up Waco is not a support organization that specializes in specific industries, such as technology. Start Up Waco’s goal is to connect all of the specialized support groups in the Waco community.
“The main thing Start Up Waco has to do that is unique is provide the connective tissue. Even if all we succeeded at was having that connective tissue work so that every entrepreneur who talks to any supportive person in the community ends up finding out about everybody else and gets the best help available within Waco right now, that in itself is a big win,” Leman said. “We need to go beyond that and create some new things, but they are new and distinctive because they don’t exist now.”
Dr. Leman and Start Up Waco are making huge leaps for entrepreneurs in the Waco community. Beyond the benefits to entrepreneurs and businesses, the potential for economic benefits to our community exists in a big way. Leman explains the need for tangible achievements such as a noticeable difference in the local economy, but more than that, he expresses his ultimate goal for Start Up Waco is to support and boost confidence of those who have crazy ideas that just might work.
“How do you put a value on the fact that more people found the courage to do what they really felt like they were called to do in the first place?” Leman asked. “The human impact stories and seeing the wonder of it all in somebody who got to go on that journey, that’s the intangible that ends up meaning the most.”