By David Ranii
In 1984, Apple Inc.’s innovative Macintosh computer turned heads, The Karate Kid kicked butt and the Triangle area’s Council for Entrepreneurial Development stepped into the breach. On May 16, CED is celebrating its 35th anniversary — making it the oldest, as well as the largest, U.S. entrepreneurial support group with 4,000 members. Contributing writer David Ranii recently discussed the organization with Ravila Gupta, the former president of Raleigh-based Umicore USA, who joined CED as president and CEO two years ago. The conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
What’s your “elevator pitch” for CED’s mission?
Our mission is really to connect entrepreneurial companies to high-value resources to accelerate their business growth.
Why is an organization like CED needed?
Back in 1984 when CED was formed, business leaders — there were 15 of them at the time — came together and decided to create an organization that would help foster the growth of companies in the entrepreneurial space. It was really important because the entrepreneurial ecosystem wasn’t as vibrant as it is today.
Has the advent of American Underground, HQ Raleigh and other groups catering to startups changed CED’s mission or its approach?
I think that seeing these other entities coming into play like AU and HQ is just further testament to what’s going on in this region. They are partners with us. We routinely work together.
How is CED changing?
We will be coming out with a new approach to adjust how CED interacts with the community in the next couple of months. I’m being a little bit careful here because we haven’t completely released the new model.
What are the challenges/obstacles that CED faces going forward?
We’ll always face the challenge of bandwidth. We’re only 10 people. It’s amazing to me when I look at my team and what they are able to accomplish and produce. But there’s always so much more that we could be doing.
How does your mentoring program work?
We actually license that from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Essentially, we have a group of mentors — around 80 to 85 — who are either serial entrepreneurs or executives or other folks with the skills and talent that we’re looking for. The companies will come pitch in front of these mentors. [Then], we create a group mentoring program around these entrepreneurial companies. We have three to four mentors that work together to help a company along its journey.
According to your website, CED has helped North Carolina companies raise $57 million in capital. How does that happen?
We have a program which is known as Connections to Capital. Jay Bigelow runs that program along with Hunter Young. They become very familiar with the entrepreneurial companies that we’re tracking in this area and really get to know them and understand what drives them: what their business is all about. At the same time, we’re developing relationships with investors, not only in North Carolina but outside the region as well, trying to basically understand what the investor is looking for. And when we find what we think is a good match, we’ll go ahead and make that connection.
What’s the importance of your two big annual conferences, the Life-Science Conference and the Tech Conference?
It’s a chance to interest investors in what is going on in North Carolina because we’re showcasing so many companies. It’s also a chance for companies to get in front of the investors, meet other entrepreneurial companies, a chance for our business community to become familiar with the companies, get to know the investors. It really embodies what CED does, 24/7, in one day.
You have a master’s degree in chemical engineering from McGill University in Canada and a law degree from N.C. Central University. Which training is most critical in your CEO role?
The engineering degree teaches you how to solve problems. At the same time, a law degree makes you think about what can happen, the what-ifs of the world. I think both of them coupled together is a really powerful way to look at the world. So I lean on them both.
What book are you reading right now?
[Duke Professor and best-selling author] Dan Ariely’s Dollars and Sense.
What’s a perfect night on the town for you?
Going to a great restaurant and probably seeing a play afterward.
If you could go to a concert featuring any musician or musical act, alive or dead, who would it be?
Probably David Bowie. That was the first concert I ever saw, and I’ve just been a Bowie fan forever. ■