Hugs Before Handshakes: What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur

The (hoped for!) progress of most entrepreneurial ventures goes something like this: get big idea…test feasibility of big idea…pitch big idea…get funding for big idea…launch big idea …big idea goes global. Big idea makes big money.

Well, we all know that that isn’t EXACTLY how it happens. There are lots of twists and turns, fits and starts, failures, rethinking, slammed doors, recalibrations, and compromises. It’s not easy. As any startup veteran will tell you, entrepreneurism is not for the faint of heart.

But, some would tell you that what’s missing from the entrepreneurial experience is exactly that: HEART.

Leah Winkler is Program Manager and one of the founders of the startup accelerator Boomtown Boulder. Winkler and her partners started Boomtown with an eye toward what she calls, “the whole company AND the whole individual.” She very purposefully steers away from what she calls “the boys’ club” of startup culture.” Her focus, instead, is on helping pre-seed startups define themselves in different terms: mental fitness, empathy, and self-awareness.

To date, Boomtown has worked with 70 companies from all over the world, including early-stage startups in India and Australia.

A healthy entrepreneur, Winkler believes, is one that can lead with the heart. “Vulnerability is what will drive you forward, because it’s so much easier to get help when you can ask for it, and that means letting your defenses down and being vulnerable. Being less protective of your own ideas, and so closed off, no mentor is going to be able to come in (and advise you). It is what helps us be innovative.”

Winkler focuses on three core areas:

MENTAL FITNESS: “(For an entrepreneur) being mentally fit means being resilient and adaptable. It’s having the mental endurance to know that new ideas will come and old ideas will go. It’s important not to get bogged down in regret and missed opportunities. We encourage entrepreneurs to talk about their feelings. We’ve had plenty of tears at our accelerator. In a fast pace environment and it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. It’s an environment that can lead to helplessness and depression, so it’s really important to remember that you are your greatest asset. It’s important to take care of yourself.”

EMPATHY: “(Being empathetic) means understanding your audience and customers, and understanding your purpose as a startup. You have to understand your customers’ pain points. You have to understand those pain points before you can provide the solution.”

SELF-AWARENESS: “Entrepreneurs need to be able to stop what they are doing once in a while and ask themselves what the mission and purpose of their startup is. That mission and purpose needs to transcend the economic mission.”

Winkler recommends that early-stage entrepreneurs focus on “hugs before handshakes.”

Other LSW participants, like Katie Hedrick, owner and CEO of Colorado Tech Shop, list additional qualities necessary to have in any entrepreneur’s toolkit.

“Being nimble is key,” Hedrick says. “That’s why we chose to be based in Longmont. Being in this community and being able to stay lean has made all the difference.” Longmont-based and family-owned, Colorado Tech Shop is an all-inclusive shop offering engineering and design work, board layout, prototyping, and full assembly as well as fulfillment, warranty, inspection, and shipping for manufacturers.

Ron Thomas, founder of Longmont-based TinkerMill, the largest makerspace in Colorado, puts it bluntly: “If you want to make a lot of money, go be a banker. If you’re in it to make a lot of money, you’re going to be disappointed. To be an entrepreneur you have to have fortitude. It’s a long slog so you have to have some guts and a clarity of vision.”

But, more importantly, and in many ways echoing Winkler’s commitment to the heart of entrepreneurism, Thomas is quick to add:

“You have to be in it for other things besides money. Whether it’s to solve a real problem or to make the world a better place, if you’re going to do this, it’s got to be about passion and drive.”

Applications for the upcoming program at Boomtown Boulder are now being accepted. Visit

To find out when these and other amazing speakers will be at LSW, click here.

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