Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

There are times in life when you need help. How people react when you reach out is fundamental to their character. It tells you things about a person that you can learn in no other way and at no other time. If they help, they are a true friend; if they hide, dodge, or make excuses, they were never your friend.

Jamie Ireland was a true friend. When asked for help, he gave it. Not just to me but to people and institutions throughout the Cleveland business, cultural, philanthropic, and arts communities. He mentored pretty much everyone I know in Cleveland at one time or another. He did it quietly, in a humble self-effacing way, so I had to ask about it or, more often, tell others my story of being helped by him, to learn what he had done for others.

He served on or advised many boards of non-profit institutions that are fundamental to what Cleveland has become, including the Great Lakes Science Center, BioEnterprise, NorTech, the Cleveland Symphony (his true and abiding passion), University Circle Inc., Jumpstart, and others I probably don’t know about. He was selfless about this: When asked he always agreed to serve, though he didn’t always want to. The commitments took a personal toll on him and his family life but, as an inheritor of the Ireland family tradition, he felt obliged to say “Yes.” His passing leaves a hole in Cleveland and in the lives of many people that will be hard to fill.

I met Jamie when I had only been in Cleveland for a year and I needed help. The job that had brought me to Cleveland hadn’t worked out and I was trying to build a consulting practice to get known, show my skills, and build the next phase of my life. He had formed, with a few other people, the Generation Foundation, which was designed to help focus Cleveland’s foundation community on rejuvenating Cleveland’s economy. The Generation Foundation had funded a project, administered by the Edison Biotechnology Center, to conduct a study of how to turn Cleveland into an entrepreneurial economy. I was fortunate to be engaged for the project, and that was how I met Jamie, and also had the pleasure of working with Frank Samuel (who sadly, passed away recently). Jamie was fundamental to my being hired for this project, which launched me on the career in venture capital that I have pursued ever since.

Shortly into my work on the study, after researching other metropolitan areas that had successfully navigated the migration from declining industries to entrepreneurial economies, I concluded that you couldn’t have a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem without locally managed venture capital.

Understanding the value of this finding, Frank Samuel convened a group of Cleveland investors, including Bill Mulligan of Primus, Tim Biro of the Ohio Innovation Fund, and Jamie Ireland and Jim Petras of Capital One Partners. Jamie and Jim were interested in the idea. They agreed to work with Frank and me on an application to the Technology Action Fund, a grant program of the Ohio governor’s office. They brought something extremely valuable to the project: actual investment experience. We were awarded seed funding to start an early stage venture capital fund in Cleveland, and that is how Early Stage Partners began.

Jamie spent the next two years educating Cleveland about the need for locally managed venture capital and fund-raising. Jim and I helped, but Jamie was the main fund-raiser. He knew the leaders of all the corporations, foundations, and non-profit organizations in the region from his service on the boards of many philanthropic organizations and the Cleveland Symphony. He did voluminous research. He gave numerous presentations. He took, as usual, a larger view, and promoted the concept of supporting an entrepreneurial ecosystem, rather than just the narrower goal of raising money for our fund.

On January 3, 2001, just as the bust was breaking, Early Stage Partners had a first closing. We ultimately reached $44 million in capital, largely due to Jamie, in a terrible year for venture capital fund-raising nationally. Several years later I met a professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University and told him that we had raised a first-time fund to do early stage technology investing in Cleveland in the middle of the bust and he said, “that has got to be the fund-raising success story of 2001.”

We began investing and I began learning how little I actually knew about investing. During these early years, I always felt that Jamie was there, quietly pulling for me and, in the background, advocating for patience while I learned the venture capital business. He was always available for advice and always thoughtful in his responses to questions.

During the next several years, other activities were afoot in Cleveland. The Edison BioTechnology Center became BioEnteprise. JumpStart was formed. NorTech went through a mission assessment and retooling. The Cleveland Symphony went through several tough years, had to restructure, and added a Florida residency and tour of Europe to its activities. The Great Lakes Science Center raised money to purchase the Mather, an ore-carrying boat that is an important legacy of the region’s mining and steel manufacturing industries. (As a boy, Jamie had built from scratch a scale model of the Mather, which sits today in the offices of Early Stage Partners.) The Ohio Capital Fund was formed, to foster venture capital throughout Ohio.
Jamie was involved in and often central to all of these activities. They needed his talents, intelligence, and energy and, when asked, he always said “Yes.” He was a true friend to Cleveland.

The toll of these commitments began to wear on Jamie, though, and on his family life. The more he gave to the community, the less he had for those close to him, and for himself. He was always an introvert and, in times of uncertainty, he turned inward. He didn’t know how to ask for help from others and, when others offered it, he was so unused to receiving instead of giving, that he didn’t know what to do. That is the sadness of Jamie’s life. I was there and I saw it. A man who helped so many other people and organizations could not ask for or receive help himself when he needed it.

I remember years ago when Jamie had received yet another in a series of richly deserved awards: he was stuck on writing an acceptance speech. He sat at the conference room table day after day, staring at his computer screen, typing, and thinking. I talked with him, and he asked me what he should write about. I said “the many people you have helped and mentored in Cleveland over the years.” He said, “I don’t feel like I deserve this award.”

It is fashionable for philosophers, social scientists, and psychologists to remind us that we are, each, fundamentally alone. Jamie was not fashionable, though; he was a throwback to an earlier age. To the day of his death, he wore a suit and tie every day, all day. On those rare occasions when I saw him downgrade to a sports coat and slacks—still with a tie—he looked profoundly uncomfortable. For his epitaph, I prefer the words of a thinker from an earlier generation, John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Wealth Creation is A Precondition of Job Creation

I was pleased the other day, while attending Demo Day at FlashStarts, to hear founder Charles Stack state that the goal of the accelerator and each of its companies was “wealth creation.” That was the only goal he discussed, and he pointedly mentioned it several times.

For the last decade I have participated in and supported many initiatives to remake the economies of Ohio and Michigan into entrepreneurial ecosystems, including engaging in early stage venture capital investing. Many people from the private, public, and non-profit sectors were involved in creating many programs and activities, including:

  • Technology investments from Ohio’s Third Frontier program
  • Funds-of-funds such as the Venture Michigan Fund, the Ohio Capital Fund, Renaissance, Cintrifuse, and the 21st Century Jobs Fund
  • Incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial assistance organizations like BioEnterprise, Ann Arbor Spark, JumpStart, and NextEnergy
  • Enhanced technology transfer at the region’s universities
  • Formation and support for pre-seed and seed funds
  • Loan and equity investment programs directly from Jobs Ohio the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Cuyahoga County…
  • …and many more.

Most of these activities have been supported by non-profit foundations and by taxpayer funded programs administered by government. Never once have I heard a public official or a representative of a non-profit organization state that “wealth creation” was one of their goals (although I was pleased to see Cleveland’s foundation community well represented in the Demo Day audience). And therein lies a fundamental difference between the objectives of the private sector and the public and non-profit sectors.

For politicians and people in the non-profit sector, the overriding interest is “jobs.” “Jobs” is the goal discussed in every speech and news release and the central variable measured in progress reports. It is the obsession of the media and of critics of the above programs.

What I have never understood is how jobs are supposed to be created without wealth also being created. I understand that government spending can temporarily create some types of jobs and that many people want to believe that having government create jobs and give them to people is the way to alleviate unemployment and create economic growth. All of the research, however, shows that this approach doesn’t work: these jobs cost more than they repay, and they require ongoing subsidies.

We have just gone through a cycle in which government spent huge sums of money to move the unemployment needle, without much success. It is true that some individuals and companies can do well by feeding off of government spending, but it is an illusion to believe that jobs created by crony capitalism are self-sustaining. Money must be taken from productive sources to continue subsidizing them.

Unfortunately, there is a divide in American society: in the public sector, media and non-profit worlds, the words “profit” and “wealth” often carry negative moral connotations. The pursuit of these objectives is deemed to be “greedy” or exploitative. That’s one reason that the public sector tries to create jobs without creating wealth.

In the private sector, businesses and business people understand that profit and wealth creation are the measures by which they can determine that they are serving customers and creating sustainable companies and employment. Yet, the business community has been  put on the defensive by a public and media assault on profit and wealth.

Over the last decade, I have spoken often about the need to publicly support wealth creation. I haven’t had much support on this subject; maybe I have been traveling in the wrong circles. It’s good to have Charles speak up, and he is doing so with his own money and investor money.

Wealth creation must be the goal in entrepreneurial ecosystems. When wealth is created, so are jobs. Wealth is what will feed government coffers and the endowments of foundations. It is a virtuous cycle when it is working properly. Except in pockets of our economy, as Richard Florida points out in The Atlantic Monthly, we are not creating enough wealth.

It’s time to fight back and speak the truth: If America wants to create economic growth and new jobs we must embrace profit and wealth. There is no other way to get out of the economic doldrums.