To succeed, self-styled “serial” entrepreneur Matt Westfield has a motto and it is this: Make sure you have something people will buy twice.
“Anyone can sell something once,” he said. “If you can sell something twice, then I know you’re onto something.”
It’s a standard that drives innovators and entrepreneurs alike, and Westfield melds those two missions in helping startup businesses in Northern Nevada where the hard-charging, high-energy 57-year-old is the founder of the nonprofit Entrepreneurs Assembly and is the official entrepreneur in residence at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Innevation Center.
As such, he’s never met an idea he didn’t like – or at least didn’t listen to. After all, innovation is all about possibilities, a fluid concept that relies on the innovator’s adaptability and the entrepreneur’s willingness to take chances.
“To me, it’s looking at something that is a problem and seeing opportunity, especially when others have tackled it before and not been able to solve it,” he said.
“I was a nationally ranked amateur mountain bike racer and Ultimate Frisbee player. When I hear, ‘You can’t do it,’ I roll up my sleeves and say, ‘Let’s go, man.’ ”
Westfield has a roller coaster resume to prove his mettle.
Armed with two business degrees and a masters in marketing, he worked with startups in Seattle’s nascent high-tech days and then helped build what he described as the first anti-fraud software for the FBI.
He came to Reno in the 1990s to help build a tiny investor relations dot-com startup, and they got to the second round of investor financing when the now-infamous dot-com bust struck at the turn of the millennium.
He went on to do consulting work in the early 2000s for watchmaker Skagen Designs, at the time headquartered in Northern Nevada. From there, he helped launch LOGOpaperCLIPS, an online seller of custom paper clips, push pins and memo stands.
Westfield still shakes his head at the early success that included an order from Blue Cross Blue Shield for 250,000 paper clips and an order from the Sultan of Brunei who sent his private plane to Nevada to pick it up.
Then came the Great Recession.
“We took a big hit. Corporate spending was emasculated,” Westfield said.
But the entrepreneur kept innovating.
He’d already been involved with ProNet Reno, a skills-developing network for professionals. And he joined the board of directors of JOIN, Job Opportunities in Nevada.
With that he put his skills to work teaching entrepreneurship, first at ProNet then eventually at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business.
In 2010, he launched Startup & Growth Strategies Inc., which he advertised as promoting “real-world bootstrapping strategies that work.”
Overlapping Startup & Growth Strategies’ three-year run was Entrepreneurs Assembly, or EA, which Westfield founded in 2011 along with UNR adjunct professor Rod Hosilyk.
With the help of the late Silicon Valley executive-turned-Nevadan John Moran, EA has become wildly successful, growing into six chapters so far in Northern Nevada with six more chapters established in Africa.
“John took the process to the next level. John legitimized EA,” Westfield said. “I was out front as the crazy founder and he brought calm, quiet leadership.”
Entrepreneurs Assembly, with a mailing list of at least 630 mentors and participants, is a logical progression from Startup & Growth Strategies, Westfield said. It is designed as a monthly forum held at the Innevation Center for startups to attend and be mentored – not lectured, Westfield insists – on ways to improve on their ideas and grow their businesses.
“It’s a simple concept. We make people believe they can, and then put the tools around them to make it so,” he said. “Innovation’s great, but if you don’t have a process or structure to make it real, you can’t get ahead.”
And it’s not about silos, but collaboration, he said.
“What I’ve learned with EA is I understand the formula for building ecosystems in a symbiotic, not competitive, way. Where else do you have a 20-year-old and a 60-year-old helping each other out?
“It’s not rocket science. We bring innovation out of dark corners. We make no assumptions that an idea is good or not. We say, show up and we’ll work with you. The fact that no one’s done this before blows me away. In the business world, we’re getting some cachet.”
As Westfield describes it, to innovate is to “know how to limit your risks early on.” At Entrepreneurs Assembly, he said, the intent is two-way dialogue ideally to change the “can’t” mind set to can-do – with honest guidance from those, himself included, who have been there.
“I don’t want people around me to tell me how good I am. I want people to call me out, but also tell me why,” he said. “But it’s a safe environment. We developed EA so you’re not alone and naked out there. We’ve got the clothes and the resources for you.”
Among now-successful businesses that have at some point passed through EA, Westfield said, are 374 Labs, a cannabis-testing firm; Tahoe Trail Bar; IMBIB Custom Brews; Peep No More, a bathroom supply store; and Dragonfly Energy, a green-energy battery producer.
So far, EA is a nonprofit venture. But Westfield has bigger visions.
“We’re looking at an angel funding group in LA, and we’re looking to fund companies within EA,” he said. “That’s the next level. We hope to get into India, Bangladesh, Pakistan next year for EA. And we’re looking at South America. We’ll be around the globe in the next five years. All this from this little thing in Reno bringing entrepreneurs together on a Saturday.”