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Of Anchovies and Olives and Spiritual Entrepreneurship

Suggested Song: What do You Want From Life, The Tubes Suggested Drink: a light and fruity sangria

It has been a fun but long few weeks of business travel and tumbles into personal time sinks. A more gifted writer would have managed to keep the pen active, late nights or early mornings. I’ll blame the past month’s inactivity on my twins, who arrived in May and have been soaking up all spare minutes, blissfully. We’ve been dogged in our search for the best café in town serving one round of drinks – defined as a peach syrup (Stella), Coke (Shane), and tap beer (me) – for less than 6 euros. Happy hour at the Café du Palais, conveniently located just a block from our flat, has not yet been bested. There have also been more than a few laps around the Monopoly board since May. We love this French version with Paris properties like Avenue des Champs-Elysees and Boulevard Saint Michel. Fun times.

It is summer in Provence and this or that friend has been finding his or her way to Aix for a sun-kissed week or two.  After a full day of local exploring under cloudless skies and the summer heat, returning to my place for cool aperos and a late lingering dinner is the usual plan. And lingering we do. Case in point, this past Thursday we started with appetizers of green olives wrapped in anchovies and marinated in olive oil (spotted at the morning marché, I couldn’t resist) and melon wedges wrapped in prosciutto. Local Cavaillon melons, considered by many to be the best in France, are peaking now, and the fruit stands are abuzz with honeybees, drawn by their sweet perfume. For drinks we had the choice of pastis over ice, a Provence rosé, or a fizzy artisanal lemonade that my kids discovered and love. The apartment has no air-conditioning, so to avoid the kitchen oven I decided on an impromptu salade niçoise for the main course, with a mesclun mix, ripe heirloom tomato wedges, green beans and small potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, onion and pepper slices (both red), local black olives, and seared tuna strips. All were marinated in a vinaigrette of olive oil, white wine vinegar, crushed garlic, mustard and lemon. My neighborhood sommelier Yves of Cave d’Yves had suggested a white wine from Cassis, a small village on the Mediterranean coast, which was the perfect accompaniment. No French dinner is complete without a cheese plate, and we went with wedges of Pyrenees, Tomme de Savoie, and a blue (but not Roquefort, and I wish I had written the name) that was both creamy and intense. But the evening highlight was prepared by my daughter Stella, who filled high-ball glasses with cut ripe strawberries and apricots, bathed them in orange juice and topped the cocktail with whipped cream. Sweet dreams.

My June was a month of events around the theme of entrepreneurship. We had a Global Entrepreneurship Forum at INSEAD where I teach, some colleagues and I met with an EC commissioner in Brussels to discuss entrepreneurship’s role in economic growth, and I spent a week participating in BizBarcelona, an innovation forum that brought together aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage investors from around the globe. BizBarcelona is a fun annual event that offers more than the usual format of speakers and panel discussions (it has those too).  With a focus on “speed dating” and investor/investee networking, the forum gives me the chance every June to meet dozens of interesting people developing brilliantly creative ideas. And it’s in Barcelona; Gaudi and sangria and in this author’s opinion the yummiest small-plates gastronomy on the planet.

The innovations being promoted at this year’s forum ranged from novel energy storage devices and printable batteries to next-gen women’s shoes (taking the pain out of fashion) and intelligent contact lenses for glaucoma sufferers. A favorite of mine was smart-phone games for children with autism and other developmental challenges. The passion that drives these entrepreneurs to invest long hours and days and months and every family centime to realize their ambitions is in a word inspiring. Was the next Edison, Gates or Zuckerberg at the show this year? Impossible to say, but some of the attending hopefuls will certainly flourish and develop their ideas into impressive start-ups. Also as certainly many will fail.

Readers of this blog know my fixation in the ideals of personal fulfillment, self-realization and self-determination as one passes through the membrane of mid-life. These same ideals induce entrepreneurs to work impossibly long hours for little pay and great risk to the family treasury for the uncertain (many would say unlikely) possibility of creating a successful company. In fact, most start-up companies fail. Still, the possibility of building something truly great and under one’s own design and direction motivates entrepreneurs to disregard the odds and press hard ahead.

Inspiring is the word I chose earlier. Indeed they are, and can inspire us to pursue these ideals of fulfillment and achievement in our post-50 years, similarly excited by the possibilities but exposed to the uncertain outcome of our pursuits. Business entrepreneurs measure success mainly by the market demand for their ideas. With social entrepreneurship, a more recent phenomenon, success is measured as equally by the ability to make a sustainable impact on the customers’ qualities of life, most often in the developing world. In both categories the efforts direct outward, at the end users of these products and services.

We spiritual entrepreneurs face inward, focused on the creation and development of our individual talents and abilities. As with our distant cousins above, we are energized by the possibility to conceive something deeply meaningful and under our own design, but the platform for realization is personal development, not product development. The spiritual entrepreneur’s energies target positive engagement with life, not markets (although the 2 are not mutually exclusive). Perhaps most critically, we share an allergy to the mundane, the routine, and the rust that settles in when we coast and the gears stop spinning.

To be clear, the “spirit” in spiritual entrepreneurship must be self-defined and not affiliated with religion in general or for that matter any specific belief system, other than a deep commitment to and belief in one self.

I am intrigued by this concept of spiritual entrepreneurship and will write more on it in the coming months. I would be interested to know how you define the term, what traits are common across the cohort, …and if you are joining us for the anchovies and olives.

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

Postscript: I first heard the term “spiritual entrepreneur” coined by Dipak Jain, the new dean at INSEAD, during his keynote speech at a forum on entrepreneurship this summer. Dipak is a more elegant speaker than I am writer and I wasn’t taking notes, but his point was essentially this: if the past 50 years were marked by the rise of the business entrepreneur – Bill Gates v1 – and the past 10 by the emergence of social impact entrepreneurship – Bill Gates v2 (with wife Melinda) – then the first ripple of a wave of spiritual entrepreneurship – a focus on individual development to attain more meaningful personal fulfillment, and through this a deeper engagement with the world around us – is appearing now. Amen.

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