Ep. 325 – The Entrepreneurial Journey with Maria Flynn, Author of Make Opportunity Happen

Ep. 325 – The Entrepreneurial Journey with Maria Flynn, Author of Make Opportunity Happen

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Maria Flynn, author of the new book, Make Opportunity Happen. Maria and I talk about the entrepreneurial journey and some of the hands-on things you can do as an entrepreneur to make the journey more effective and rewarding. Let’s get started.

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Interview Transcript with Maria Flynn, Author of Make Opportunity Happen and Co-founder of the Digital Health KC Initiative

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Maria Flynn. She’s an entrepreneur, co-founder of the Digital Health KC Initiative, and author of the new book Make Opportunity Happen: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Align Your Own Stars. Welcome, Maria.

Maria Flynn: Thank you for having me.

Maria FlynnBrian Ardinger: Hey, I’m super excited to have you on the show. Our good friend Melissa Vincent, who runs the Pipeline organization down in, in Kansas City, connected us and said, hey, you need to talk to Maria and get her opinions and insights on what’s going on in the entrepreneurship space.

And with your new book coming out, we figured it’d be perfect time to have you on the show. Let’s give a little background of how you became an entrepreneur and, and maybe a little bit about your journey.

Maria Flynn: So, I grew up with entrepreneurial parents, so it was kind of in me from a early age. I went on into engineering and that was a great foundation to launch as an entrepreneur.

And then I found myself as an intrepreneur inside a larger company, Cerner Corporation, so healthcare IT. And that was a great training ground to go on in my own entrepreneurial endeavor later, but I had that real urge to go find what that was. When I left Cerner, I went looking for what it was.

Kind of just out there, leap of faith, not knowing what I was going to find. And I found my co-founders in Orbis Biosciences. It’s a pharmaceutical manufacturing technology company. We started in 2008. And we sold it in 2020. And since then, I’ve been working with entrepreneurs, which is how the book came about, is I was repeating the same stories in a book as a way to scale yourself so that I could help more people. So, I’m excited that it’s out in the world now.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, let’s dive right into it. It’s called Make Opportunity Happen. And so, I would imagine that through your journeys, it wasn’t just you figuring out how to do all this kind of stuff. What were some of the biggest inflection points in your career that you write about in the book or otherwise that helped you figure out the entrepreneur journey?

Maria Flynn: Yeah, so after you sell a company, you go into a period of reflection. And when I really thought, you know what is my value and what do I do uniquely well. It was around, you know, getting things done and ironically when I started to jot a few notes down, there was a book that came out that was about getting it done. I was like, oh no, somebody came out in the world with the book. And then when I looked at it, I was like, no, my book is very different.

You need to know many things as an entrepreneur, and you don’t have enough time. To read all these books. So, this book is kind of a guide to get fast track on certain things from hiring to firing, to building your board, to raising funding to strategy.

And it’s kind of a compilation of all the things I learned from getting things done as a kid, working in my parents’ business, to tools that I learned when I was at Cerner, to what made Orbis successful. And it goes through different pillars. It’s about execution, perseverance, adapting. And your support system and then your mindset is entwined in all that.

Brian Ardinger: What I liked about the book, and I, and I got an advanced copy of it, it’s almost like a textbook or a guidebook that you can kind of pick up at different times during your entrepreneurial journey. You really do a good job of providing kind of templated pieces. Let’s say I’m trying to hire, or I’m trying to, you know, understand how to figure out the mentors that I should be working with, and you have little guidebooks or little templates that the entrepreneur can follow to help if nothing else just put some structure around what is oftentimes an unstructured practice of entrepreneurship.

Maria Flynn: Yes. And so, you can think of it as a series of frameworks that, as you’ve been through the journey, a lot of this stuff seems like common sense. But when you’re starting, like how do you start to think about some of these things?

So that’s what these little mini sections are meant to do, to give you a story, to give you some lessons learned that either I learned myself or other people helped me learn. And then a way to go forward and think about it for you. So, it’s not just about theory, but it’s how do you put something into practice.

Brian Ardinger: You’ve had a chance to work with entrepreneurs in addition to being one yourself. What are some of the biggest pitfalls or misconceptions about entrepreneurship that you’ve seen out there?

Maria Flynn: I think a lot of times people think it’s super easy, particularly sometimes, with scientists and they think the hard part is the science and then all the business commercialization is the easy part.

And so, I work with them to help them see people bring different strengths. Sometimes when you pair different magical people, you get something even more magical. And then sometimes you’re so ingrained in the entrepreneurial learning that once you start to do something, we’ve made it sound so hard.

So, kind of a fine balance of like, yes, you can do this, but know that nothing is as easy as you think it’s going to be, or as quick as you think it’s going to be. So just having the right tools and support system around you that you’re going to be successful. And then knowing how to make adjustments. So a lot of times when we start on something, no idea is perfect from the beginning and how do you adjust with market data so that you are getting into something that’s viable.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I think that’s one of the key points, especially early times with maybe a scientist or entrepreneur that kind of, I, I find this a lot with like software developers who become entrepreneurs. They know how to build things. They build things regardless of its, you know, wanted by the marketplace or how you sell that to the marketplace, and they kind of fall into that particular trap versus listening to customers and, and that discovery process that oftentimes you have to go through to actually figure out what business you are creating and why.

You know, in your book you talk a lot about aligning stars and this metaphor of constellations. Talk about how you came up with that and, and how does that play out in what you’ve written?

Maria Flynn: One of the great things about entrepreneurial training is the testing process. You have these catharsis when you created something and you had to make major shifts so that after you’ve been doing this a while, you know, okay, I’m going to go test this.

So as I was writing down these sections, I thought, well, I’m going to go present this and see who shows up in the room. Global Entrepreneurship Week was the first time that I got to test out the prototype. So, I was thinking about, I’ve got all these little sections, and I spent a lot of time, you know, what’s the through line, through the sections, and then how do you frame it?

There was one story in particular about Julio Palmaz who invented the heart stent, who nobody believed him, and it was such a profound story to me because I think that’s a common theme in entrepreneurs’ life, is that you see this world that can be much better. But you got to bring these people along with you.

So whether they’re customers or funders or co-founders, employees. It’s this bringing everybody into the tent. And so when he was rejected and became such an important innovation, to me that story really resonated. And then it’s a common story. You can go find many stories. Where nobody believed in that early days of that entrepreneur’s journey.

Then when you fast forward and you see what success that they had, and a lot of times we only come into the story at that point, but when you look at the backstory of all the work, they had to do into moving their stars, so their stars didn’t fall into place, they moved their stars. That became the theme, kind of the central theme, that all these pieces in the book fit together.

Brian Ardinger: You talk about putting together the structure of the business and what entrepreneurs can do to get that right from the beginning. Because I think a lot of times, again, that’s where a lot of folks fall down. They don’t have the right people or support around them. Talk about how you put the right viable structure around a business as you’re growing it.

Maria Flynn: That is the most important thing. Had quite a few beta readers look through the book in the beginning, and one of the pieces of feedback that was pretty profound was you don’t have a section on co-founders. And when you go look, there’s not a lot out there on co-founders, but it’s such a important relationship and it’s a common reason why early stage companies fail. So then that was the one section that was added.

But beyond co-founders, those first employees, your advisors and mentors, the board you put around you. And a lot of times when you control your company, sometimes you don’t think you need to get the board in place, but the earlier you do it, the more control you have and what that board looks like and the more that they’re willing to help you push that company forward.

So, there are 10 sections in the book on the support system and really your tribe also. So going back to the Pipeline entrepreneurs and how we got connected. You know, when I started with Pipeline in 2009, it was a yearlong program, and when I turned out to be is lifelong friendships, which you have unique experiences when you walk the entrepreneur’s path.

Sometimes you need that hotline to another entrepreneur who has done the same thing or experiencing the same feelings that you are. So really your tribe, there’s really a lot that goes into that support system that you put around you.

Brian Ardinger: Are there things that you could, as far as advice that you could throw out there when it comes to finding that tribe?

Maria Flynn: Programs like Pipeline or there are other ones that naturally pull you together, but you don’t have to have one of those. You can create it yourself. It sometimes just takes more effort to look, you know, on LinkedIn, who are the voices that are really speaking to you, and you need people you trust, people who will ask hard questions or tell you the truth that they think you’re going the wrong way, but do it in a way that, you know, brings out the best in you.

So, you can find these people locally. It’s great to be able to, to get together, but you can find them anywhere. And I think LinkedIn is a great source to start of like, who are the voices and the people that are doing the things that you want to do? Maybe they’re a little bit ahead of you or right beside you, and you can call them up and say, hey, I’ve got this problem. How are you fixing it?

Brian Ardinger: With Covid, you know, for all the bad things that it caused, it did open up a lot of people’s eyes to the ability to access and, and work with talent anywhere. So, it doesn’t always have to be in your backyard.

You can reach out to folks, experts and that far away, and you have instant access, far greater than you did maybe five or six years ago. So, let’s talk a little bit about urgency and, and the, the sense that, you know, entrepreneurs need to move fast because they have limited amount of time, resources, and things are changing so quickly. Talk about the, the importance of urgency in setting that as a priority within your entrepreneurship journey.

Maria Flynn: Yeah, so I talk about the in six months problem where you say, you know, I’m going to start my company in six months, or I’ll have my first customer in six months, or I raise funding in six months, and then the date keeps sliding. So you’re always talking about in six months.

And then the risk is you wake up and you’re like, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and you’re burnt out before you even really get started. So, the book has a section on, you know, what are ways to create, a lot of times they’re kind of artificial. So, I’m going to have a board meeting, and by the time we have that board meeting, these are the things we will have achieved.

I will send out a monthly update to people who care. I will have that presentation. So, for creating the book, Global Entrepreneurship Week, I said, well, if I get accepted, then I will need to do these things before I’m ready. It’s a very healthy way to make progress on things that could be just on the side.

So maybe you have your day job and you’re working on this on the side, but what are ways that you can really make progress and to chunk things into appropriate size so that you can start to feel the momentum and to make the progress so that you don’t wake up and you’re just tired because you’ve been talking about it for years.

Brian Ardinger: That makes sense. The whole premise of the book is making opportunity knock and basically giving the power to the entrepreneur to open doors for them and that. Are there any practical steps that you can recommend for people to get those magical doors to open to either find funding or find partners, or build the business?

Maria Flynn: So a lot of them are very simple. And it goes back to when I started to write things down because I saw people weren’t doing them. Follow up like a good follow up plan and game. Because a lot of people will send the email and then just wait for the reply. And there’s more that you can do. And to really show that getting that reply is important.

So, we go through kind of a, a framework of how to think about follow up when you have done all that follow up and that person isn’t getting back to you, how do you create another way in? How do you decouple things? So, you’re operating in parallel on a lot of different things that you’re making progress and you’re not just waiting on this one thing to be able to make progress.

So, there’s some very practical strategies that you can put into place to make progress. And you know, funding is one of those big ones that people will say, I will do X, Y, Z after I get the funding. A lot of times you need to be doing X, Y, Z to get the funding. So how you break that up into parallel paths and how you get people to respond to you, you know, there are different ways to do that, that the book is meant to impart.

Brian Ardinger: I think that’s one of the biggest challenges and differences, especially from, you mentioned you were in the corporate world before you jumped into entrepreneurship, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for corporates folks when they do jump into entrepreneurship is to realize that everything’s on your back and, and all the priorities are being set and driven by yourself versus, you know, driven by the company or driven by a coworker. Things along those lines.

And I think that’s oftentimes the, the missing step is like, how do I prioritize the massive things that I’ve got to get done, which are the most riskiest things that I’ve got to kind of learn about or make progress on to keep that engine moving and knowing that you can’t do everything and you’re never going to have everything completely aligned.

Maria Flynn: A lot of this is prioritization, the most important things to do, and who are the people that can help me accomplish that?

Brian Ardinger: That’s an important point too. One of the things I liked about this book is again, you, you have tried to provide some structure around that because I think a lot of times, or at least the misconception or the, the common perception about entrepreneurs is they’re oftentimes either flighty or don’t have the discipline or rigor that maybe somebody who does a particular job over and over again does. And so providing some of that, again, like you said, frameworks or tools that they can use to pull off the shelf when they get into these particular binds is very helpful.

Maria Flynn: And for them to realize what are the most important things to accomplish? But they wear so many hats. They have so many fires to put out, but it is quite common week over week that they forget that those are the most important three things. And so how are you ever going to make opportunity happen when it’s understandable? You’ve got lots of things to do and lots of fires. You’ve got to focus on those most important things and push those.

Brian Ardinger: How do you measure success as an entrepreneur? How do you know you’re making progress when all these fires are going on and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to make your way out of it?

Maria Flynn: Great question. And I think that’s one of those that’s different for every company, but there’s a lot of different currency, and it’s not only money, but there’s, you know, time is currency. So, if you’re giving me your time, that’s an exchange. So hopefully I’m giving you enough value for that time. Referral or recommendations or opening doors.

You know, those are currency. So, the book talks about green lights and speed bumps, and so there’s a lot of different ways to gather that information to tell if you’re going to keep going. If you get a lot of speed bumps, you gotta learn from that and figure out how you get more green lights. But there’s a lot more evidence than just getting the revenue in, although that’s one of the best drivers that you’re on the right path. Is that it because it gives you more life to figure things out.

And what I would think about is when I woke up every day is like, what are the most important things to help me get cash in the bank? But knowing that it’s a broader topic of, you know, if I could get referrals or if I could make other advancements, those are green lights to keep going.

Brian Ardinger: Making those priorities, like getting cash in today the wrong way so that you miss out on opportunity for day two or day three can also be a problem.

You and I both are in, in the Midwest, Kansas City and and here in Nebraska. I’d love to get your insights in what it’s both positive and negative of what it’s been like to build a company in the Midwest. What are some of the, the pitfalls and things that other entrepreneurs out there should look for and take advantage of building here in the Midwest?

Maria Flynn: Some of the benefits are the people, so very friendly people that will help you out. Cost of doing business is more affordable. A lot of times you don’t have the specific things that you need around you. So, like the natural collisions that you might see in Boston or the Bay Area or New York or some of those locations. You have to work harder and you have to insert yourself in there. You need to go find those people and build those relationships. Funding is one of the things that we’ve worked really hard to advance and with Digital Health KC.

Specifically, you don’t have to have all the funding here if you can connect to it. So sometimes you need to hustle more, and it takes more effort to do that than you might have in some other ecosystems.

You know, an entrepreneur is all about maximizing those opportunities and minimizing the challenges. So, you need to have awareness of where you are and that funding can be a little bit more difficult. So, like what are the strategies to help you overcome that?

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. For folks who want to connect with you or the book, what’s the best way to do that?

Maria Flynn: Oh, well, I’d love to connect on LinkedIn and my website is makeopportunityhappen.com. There’s a link for a newsletter. There are templates you can download. There are resources there. The book is on Amazon, but I love to hear other stories. There is a, a link on the website of how are you making opportunity happen? So, I’m creating a movement of how we’re sharing our stories to advance the ball in the entrepreneurial world.

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing the movement and looking forward to continuing the connections. In the years to come. Thank you for coming on. Inside, Outside, Innovation, and have a great day.

Maria Flynn: Thank you. You too.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Ep. 325 – The Entreprene...