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travis luther denver law father msu

This year, the MSU Denver Alumni Association honored the top 10 Alumni of the past 10 years, and an Alumni Philanthropist of the Year. Travis Luther (2008, Behavioral Science) was one of 10 Alumni honored for his professional success, charitable involvement, and continued contributions to Metropolitan State University of Denver. To learn more about all the awardees, click here…

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Every year, in the days after Christmas and leading up to the New Year, I start writing out a list of all my goals for the next 12-months. I usually end up with about 10 goals, which vary from personal to professional. Then I set to work paring those 10 goals down to a more manageable list, usually 2-3; one big business goal, one big personal goal, and maybe something small and strictly for myself.

I am definitely a creature of habit. Perhaps that’s why I am so successful when I am practicing good ones and so damn destructive when I’m not. For the last few years my brother-in-law Robb has come to stay with our family for the holidays, arriving a few days before Christmas and leaving on New Year’s Day. Robb and I really look forward to these trips.

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travis luther denver entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship saved my life – and I don’t say that to be funny or make a joke. For me, it’s the truth.

I had a pretty tough life. I grew up in poverty – in a family that was completely dependent upon welfare and state assistance.

From a very young age I always seemed to know that owning my own business would be my only way out. As a kid, I really couldn’t tell you why I knew that – but as an adult it’s become crystal clear.

See, entrepreneurship is not about money. It’s not about fancy cars or expensive dinners. Entrepreneurship is about self-reliance.

As a young kid I sensed this, but I also felt the weight of the deck that was stacked against me. Children are not supposed to worry about these things – lord knows I would never want my children to – but I did, everyday. And I knew that if I was going to have a different outcome than the other kids I stood with in the free lunch line, I was going to have to do something they may never dream of.

I was going to have to ignore the world that was created for me and create a new world for myself. I was going to have to be completely self-reliant. And because I realized that, I moved out of a broken home when I was 15-years-old and began what has now been an over a two decades long adventure in entrepreneurship.

The most important lesson I have learned during this adventure is that the market does not care. The market does not care if I am poor. The market does not care if I am rich. The market does not care if I went to Harvard or if I dropped out of community college. The market doesn’t care if I am black or white, young or old.

The only thing the market cares about is if I am able to solve real problems. And so long as I am able to do that, the market will reward me – and those rewards will allow me to create a world around me that is completely of my own making.

Nobody can take that world away from me. There is no longer any single person who has the power to steal what entrepreneurship has given me – my freedom.

Entrepreneurship is scary to the doubters. It is scary to your co-workers, to your friends, and to your bosses because it takes their power away. You become someone who will never need these people again. The doubters don’t want that. These people don’t want to live in a world full of self-reliance. They don’t want to hear about your success. They don’t want to find out that their 40-year careers are going to equate to a total loss of their freedom. They don’t want to live in a world where self-reliance is the norm. They want to be dependent. They want things easy. They want to be told what to do. So when you succeed, you hold a mirror up to them. And the doubters don’t want to see what’s in that mirror. They don’t want to see the crumbling mess they have become. They don’t want to stare into eyes that no longer have hope. They don’t want to see the person you have refused to become.

Be at peace, but share the good news. Let them see the person who is holding the mirror. Put it down and let them see you as the person you have become. Let them see somebody who has not only saved their own life through entrepreneurship, but someone brave enough to be an example to them. Be a lighthouse to your critics. Remain a lifeboat to your friends. Treat them with love. Encourage them towards self-reliance. Together we can shepherd them to freedom. We may even save a life.

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This is the second post in my series about what recovering from my recent back surgery is reminding me about entrepreneurship. To read previous posts, click the links at the bottom of this article.

#2 – Building trust in others is YOUR responsibility.

In the face of the unknown, someday we will have no other choice than to trust the advice of experts. This was certainly the case when it came to choosing back surgery. It is also the case when we, as entrepreneurs, arrive at a point on our journey completely foreign to where we have been. If we want to continue forward, we have to remind ourselves that we are not always the only person who can lead. But do not let your loss of direction feel like permission to blindly turn over trust and control.

When we talk about why we trust certain people, especially experts, it is usually because they seem to say or do all the right things. Unfortunately, when we leave the responsibility of building trust in the hands of those experts, more often than not we end up disappointed. In fact, too often we take zero personal responsibility for building a trusting relationship. We look at trust as the responsibility of the person who wants to be in our favor and none of our own.

Real trust should spring from all the things we do to discover the true nature of a person. Trust should never be a conclusion derived from all the things a person says to us. Real trust should be built from that time we are willing to invest on our own. Get referrals. Ask around. Make sure your expert is someone trusted by others. My surgeon is someone who came highly recommended by my family, friends, and colleagues. He was not someone I picked simply because he advertised. I trust him most because I had other choices to evaluate him against.

Trust cannot exist when there is a lack of choices. That is not trust. That is a hostage situation. Do your part. Be responsible for building your own trust through some comparative analysis. Do not be afraid to be a difficult client (in fact, during a medical crisis being a difficult patient could save your life!). Ask questions. Listen, but give more weight to the answers you receive to your specific concerns over the success stories you hear about others. And while it’s great to work with someone who has experience in many different areas, make sure your expert can also address your very specific needs. Not only has my surgeon performed my specific procedure thousands of times on total strangers, he has performed it on people I know (including my mother). He has also had it preformed on him – another sign he is willing to go to the bank on his own advice.

I trusted my expert not because he was the only person I knew who could perform the surgery, but because I knew I had choices. I was willing to invest in the process of building trust with him and together we were able to decide on the best path forward for me.

READ PREVIOUS POST: #1 Progress is painful. What back surgery has reminded me about entrepreneurship.

Power Moves NOLA, a seed company based in New Orleans, is focused on creating opportunities for minorities in Entrepreneurship. The opportunities are designed to allow entrepreneurs to take home a salary and focus on building their business. Power Moves NOLA offers several areas of interest to budding minority entrepreneurs.

Rising Stars Bootcamp

Done in partnership with a leading startup accelerator, TechStars, the Bootcamp is a two day training event for early-stage minority entrepreneurs. Twenty-five companies were invited to the last event. The grand prize was $50,000, with a second place prize of $25,000 and five individuals invited to Power Moves NOLA’s mentorship program.

Power Pitch

Power Pitch Events are multiple one day events throughout the year with opportunities for minority entrepreneurs to pitch their company to investors. Companies wishing to participate in these events need to be minority-lead, investment-ready and invited to apply.

There were three events over the last year. The biggest pitch event was sponsored by Chevron, with a $5000 additional prize. The two other events were sponsored by Liberty Bank and Entergy.

Companies involved in Power Moves NOLA can come from any industry. In attendance at last year’s events were beauty companies, college guidance companies, exercise and social marketing apps and more.

Upcoming Year

Minorities interested in finding out more about Power Moves NOLA can get information at the upcoming NOEW 2015 in March. NOEW 2015 is the event for New Orleans entrepreneurs and others who desire to interact with the 30 plus investment organizations, including Power Moves NOLA, at the event.

Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia is launching a new entrepreneurship program this spring with a unique three-phase program that allows disabled veterans to pitch their business plan “Shark Tank” style. The Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart program is modeled after an entrepreneurship “boot camp” started by Syracuse University in 2007. That program has expanded to include eight other universities, and Saint Joseph has applied to join the consortium.

The program is free to qualified candidates and is operated out of the university’s Office of Veterans Services. Student participation will be divided into the following three phases.

  • The first phase is an eight-week online course. The self-guided curriculum aims to teach fundamental business principles and help students develop their business plan.
  • The second phase is an intensive seven-day session at Saint Joseph’s Philadelphia campus. Students will attend classroom sessions, participate in workshops and panel discussions, and hear from successful entrepreneurs. The week ends with the sought-after opportunity to pitch their business plans “Shark Tank” style.
  • The final phase includes a six-month mentor program and access to small business services, including accounting and tax advice, Web design and legal services.

The launch of the program is partly credited to the community. The idea came about two years ago when a donor came to the Dean wanting to create an entrepreneurship program specifically for disabled military veterans. Since then, many businesses have offered free services that will contribute to the success of phase three of the program. The goal is to give veterans “enough to jumpstart their ambitions so in the first year…they get their business up and running,” said Ralph Galati, director of St. Joseph’s Office of Veterans Services. St. Joseph University hopes to at least match the 70 percent success rate of the Syracuse program.

Find out more about college entrepreneurship programs for specific demographics, like Veterans, through travisluther.com.

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For most of us, the term entrepreneur drums up images of bright, young minds. While it is true that some of our most successful entrepreneurs emerged on the scene while quite young, a new study pokes holes in the stereotypical image of an entrepreneur. Bloomberg Beta, a venture capital fund launched just last year, recently set out to use data to identify people who had a good chance of starting and building a successful company. Bloomberg Data teamed up with Mattermark, a research firm, to use data analytics to find potential entrepreneurs. Here’s how they did it and their surprising results.

The Research

Mattermark explored data on more than 1.5 million potential entrepreneurs, limiting their scope to the San Francisco and New York areas, where Bloomberg does most of its business. First, they looked for people who had already worked at a start-up before, preferably with experience in technology or business management. Secondly, they narrowed their search to people who attended top-tier universities. Eventually, their data-mining yielded a short list of 350 entrepreneurs.

The Results

The Bloomberg/Mattermark research found the typical entrepreneur to be different from our image of a college undergraduate working out of his or her dorm room with no real-world experience.

  • Middle-aged. Their potential entrepreneurs are more likely to be in their late 30’s, and 38 percent were over 40 years of age.
  • Good employment record. The research revealed that people who had stayed in a job long-term were more likely to start their own business later.
  • Not necessarily a former CEO. Two-thirds of entrepreneurs had not held CEO or even senior positions before venturing out on their own.

While Bloomberg’s intention was to gain more potential entrepreneurs in which to invest, the results revealed by their research shed light on the diversity of entrepreneurship. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, being ‘stuck’ in the same company or position for a long time, even a decade, does not diminish your likelihood of becoming a business founder,” says Mattermark Co-founder Danielle Morrill.

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Since the economic downturn of 2008, the continued financial difficulties Americans are experiencing seems to come as no surprise.  Various government efforts, such as the expansion of safety-net programs, extended unemployment benefits and increased non-profit funding, have all been made in order to lower poverty rates. However, a recent study suggests that these measures may not constitute the entire answer to bringing more people out of poverty. In fact, in Indiana one researcher concludes that government may actually be inhibiting entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency.

Dr. Doug Noonan, PhD., of Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, recently published a study that examines county by county data from the last 10-20 years. According to the study,

“The evidence shows that substantial investment in low-income micro-entrepreneurs has not yet occurred, but instead many formidable barriers disproportionately constrain them.”

Noonan concludes that new entrepreneurial efforts to create micro-businesses will help lower poverty rates, but that certain factors in the state prevent this from happening.


One of the points Noonan discusses in his study relates the consequences for micro-businesses that come as a result of the many various policies and regulations levied at small businesses. In a recent news release, Noonan uses the example of a food truck. He said that in order to operate a food truck in Marion County, your hours of operation are restricted, you need to get multiple permits, and you must provide two photographs of each employee. The sheer weight of so many regulations for micro-businesses like food trucks, landscaping services, and daycares effectively bars the poor from quickly and easily executing legitimate business ventures. While certainly not the original intent of these regulations, the result may be the preservation of unnecessarily high poverty rates in some Indiana counties.

Lack of Loans

Noonan also notes that low-income Hoosiers have almost no access to loans. Combined with the cost of starting a business, the lack of micro-lending prevents would-be entrepreneurs from getting the materials or equipment necessary to launch or accelerate the growth of their businesses. The inability to create legitimate self-sustaining enterprises creates a continued reliance on government safety-net programs and underground commerce – because sometimes taking advantage of state assistance is just easier and more financial sound than the navigating the regulatory and financial curve of entrepreneurship. Further, many underground business owners want to legitimatize their businesses, but quickly give up on that idea when faced with the high cost of doing so.

Noonan concludes that poverty in Indiana can be reduced by opening a path for small micro-businesses through the reduction of regulations and an increase in micro-finance options.