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Who works with the Startup Owl?

Venture Founders LLC Client Assignments

Venture Founders LLC is based in Putney, in the southeastern Vermont, and Georgetown, Texas, USA and works for clients across North America, Europe and Africa. The Internet is a wonderful thing. I have worked with clients of many kinds. Some have been in business before, some are entirely new to the experience.

Each of my clients has completely different issues to face. I am working with one in Texas, which I give the code name ‘Pushing Up the Daisies’—a significant startup in what one day will be a chain of natural cemeteries see below). What we are tackling in this ground-breaking business is nothing like others such as an arboretum or my own startup in non-invasive technology that allows digital images to be analyzed for detection of early signs of systemic disease.

Here are just some of the businesses with whom I have worked recently; the stories are all very different and each is inspiring. I am proud of them all.

The Institute of Entrepreneurial Development

Homepage_-_IED_-_Institute_of_Entrepreneurial_Development__Botswana_The Institute of Entrepreneurial Development (IED) was over a year in the making and during that bonangtime and still, I am Project Mentor to it. It was founded by Bonang Sealetsa, opened in early 2017, and is slowly beginning to play a critical role in the country.

Botswana is an amazing country in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to both the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert. More than that, the country has been the oldest continuous democracy in Africa since independence from Britain 50 years ago.

The country is heavily dependent upon mining, and in particular diamond mining. This has been a blessing and a curse, in that the diamond deposits are not far from being exhausted, so the country’s economy needs to transform itself into a more diversified structure. The place of entrepreneurs in Botswana is of growing importance and the IED plays several critical role in both the training and incubation of new ventures. It is all about turning dreams of starting a business into reality and transforming the country at the same time, hence the tagline I created, “Dream into Business—Transform Botswana.

Vert & Vogue

Vert & Vogue LLC is a Durham, North Carolina is an eco-fashion boutique for women, men, and baby. It is a single outlet now, but with more branches planned for other locations in southeastern US. My clients were husband and wife team, Ryan and Nadira Hurley. He is from New Jersey and she is French.

When Ryan first approached me, the business was envisioned as something much more complex and grandiose, including a hotel. As our discussions evolved, it became clear that the question was, how small can we start?’, rather than ‘how big?’ As we worked, we also had to zero in on exactly the right city to make a start from a choice of any in the United States, except in his home town in New Jersey.

The green consumer theme was always at the core of the business and a fashion boutique was a part of the package. We worked on seeing how small the business could be to start, not how large, because the Hurleys assets were limited and they did not want to dilute ownership of the business. Soon you will be able to order their products on line.

Ryan had a varied career before launching the business, including being sales manager of an early dot com, magazine publisher and a director at the Paley Center for Media in NYC. Nadira on the other hand, had managed fashion boutiques in Paris before they were married.

Originally she was not directly involved in the business idea, other than the way that spouses are obliged to be, but it progressively became clear that she should be intimately involved with Vert & Vogue in charge of buying and merchandising, the key ingredient of success. The Hurleys juggle the business with two young kids.

Just before they opened the store, one of Ryan’s comments to me was, “You are the best, Will! Thanks for all the insight, needling and good cheer. We’re on our way…” Now he says he “never realized how totally demanding running our own biz of this kind would be.” Now they flourish and you may soon be able to buy their fashion online. For the latest of their news, take a look at

Centre for Conscious Leadership

Values DiagramThe Centre for Conscious Leadership is a South African consulting firm whose main approach is Whole Person Leadership—a fundamentally new concept of leadership, appropriate to the complex and turbulent contexts in which leaders need to operate. CCL believed that effective leadership originates in the ability to know and understand all aspects of yourself as a person: your emotional, cognitive, psychological and spiritual make-up and how they influence your behavior. It also requires an understanding, awareness and interpretation of the external environment and how this may influence your choices and actions.

I worked with the then partners of the firm (Heidi, Karin, Vicki, Nolitha, Yasmeen and Michael) on strategy development and direction. The very entrepreneurial ten year-old firm had a strong set of values. As a proudly indigenous South African company, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is a fundamental part of the business philosophy of CCL. This aims at transcending the focus on race to an end goal of achieving humanness. The company sought to achieve this through a commitment to model their way of being and doing in such a way that others might want it and want to be involved in it.

The deeply embedded ethos of CCL has much to offer many other countries where racial issues in business have only been treated in a mechanistic manner, rather than coming from a deeply held conviction. I was specially pleased to receive the comment from one member of the team, “It was a HUGE pleasure to meet you!! You really helped us think differently, provided enormous stimulus for new thinking and stopped our navel gazing!” Another said, “an absolute pleasure to have met you!! Thanks for your refreshing combination of directness – “protecting us with the truth” – and lightness and humor!”

Le Parc de Saleccia

Parc de SalecciaIsabelle Demoustier graduated with a degree in tourism, but had no intention of going into business, till her father Bruno and mother, Irene encouraged her to take the leap. Irene, and Bruno—a landscape designer and aboriculturist had an established garden center business where Bruno had for many years been planting and propagating almost every species of Mediterranean olive tree. It is a treasure trove both for the specialist and the vacationer.

The Parc de Saleccia in the Balagne region of Corsica had been a Demoustier idea for several years, but it needed someone to lead its translation into a viable business. Isabelle was the obvious choice. The arboretum is on 17 spectacular ocean-side acres and has a very naturalistic set of trails and special features that not only make it a place for a visit, but also as a venue for weddings and other events. If you visit Corsica, be sure to make a visit.

We set up for her to meet the Venture Capital company where I was on the board, but she needed coaching so that her business plan and commercial strategy would meet the conditions necessary for financing. Now one of the major tourist attractions in Corsica, the park has several revenue streams including a store, aromatherapy courses, storytelling events for kids, traditional basket-making courses, qi gong workshops, environmental  and prehistory seminars, music.. a nearly endless list of events in a magical setting.

Indigo Fields Remembrance Park

Indigo_Fields_Remembrance_ParkTerry Ward has a very successful company already. His business, Country Communities pioneers the creation of communities in the Texas countryside, and is based in Houston.

I have worked with Terry for about three years on different projects. His newest venture and the one on which he intends concentrating for the rest of his own life, is natural burial.terry

The business he is developing now is a centrally located property, unlike anything in Houston, with a stately mansion surrounded by a 9-acre nature park. Expansive meadows, tree groves and water features that create a unique place for remembrance, family gatherings and the final resting place for a loved ones ashes.

This pioneering venture will be the first of a number of others throughout the United States. If you’d like to get a flavor of what’s involved, take a look at one of Terry’s recent videos.

Clean Power Perks

CleanPowerPerksWhile not strictly a client, I was much involved with a startup of a student in the Marlboro College Graduate Graduate and Professional Studies MBA in Managing for Sustainability program.

I am a Faculty Partner and teach strategy and entrepreneurship on the program and was the adviser on student Tess O’Brien’s ‘Capstone Project’—and now launching as the business Clean Power Perks LLC. CleanPowerPerks is a web-based loyalty program that rewards people + businesses for consciously choosing clean energy. Everyone wins. Tess_O_Brien

Tess O’Brien worked in clean energy for years and recognized that the the clean energy industry could share greater value by collaborating. Her goal is to get many more people and businesses on board with clean energy.  CPP will  continue working at it until clean energy provides the majority of our nation’s electricity needs.

Biocharbiochar 3BL

Bio what?

Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass. It can improve soil functions and reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. It has appreciable carbon sequestration value. This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.

A former student of mine, Kathleen Draper, has established US side of the Ithaka Institute for Carbon Intelligence. But she didn’t start there. Her original intent was to set up a biochar business, but the more she progressed, she realized that a step back to do research made more sense in the short term. So all businesses don’t go in straight lines. Her business is now developing along side the Institute, as you can see at Finger Lakes Biochar.

Now You!

Your needs are completely unlike those of  Ryan and Nadira, the CCL partners, Isabelle, Terry or Tess. That is no surprise. Your story is unique.

As a serial entrepreneur, though, I have very likely been somewhere like where you are now. Tell me about it! .

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit: