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The Oscars of Entrepreneurship

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Now that we've all recovered after staying up too late Sunday night watching Billy Crystal simultaneously recognize and lampoon this year's big screen bests, I find myself wondering: Who would we ceremoniously lavish with praise in the entrepreneurial world? Who among the investors, entrepreneurs and advisors should be specially commended for their startup savvy and used as a benchmark for performers in years to come?

I think you'd start with the "best supporting" category and look at the law firms, investors, Board members, informal mentors, and other partners that provide the needed grease to help propel fledgling startups into the spotlight. Like the talented and long unrecognized Christopher Plummer, there are many prestigious firms and individuals who have built long careers helping individuals and companies improve their performance. As one of the first people engaged in the venture capital industry, David Morgenthaler has a body of support work worthy of an award. David's efforts to help accelerate entrepreneurs date back to the 1970s when he recognized the future of personal computing and placed his confidence in Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Although now retired from investing through his firm, Morgenthaler Ventures, he continues to actively contribute not only to the venture capital industry but also to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in emerging markets like his adopted hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

Then there'd be the "best screenplay"
for the people who artfully tell the entrepreneurial stories that engage and inspire. Woody Allen, who took this year's screenplay award for Midnight in Paris, has seen the entertainment industry from all angles: actor, author, comedian, writer, director and a musician. Similarly, entrepreneurs-turned-investors Ben Horowitz, Mark Suster and Dave McClure are uniquely positioned to comment on entrepreneurial-focused trends and share its stories. And I have to say, I am particularly excited about new entrepreneur Sarah Lacy's recently-launched and VC-backed PandoDaily, which shares news and curated perspective on the stories of tech startups. My personal favorite though, is entrepreneur, investor and TechStars co-founder Brad Feld's blog because in addition to his blog, his bookshelf is always full of additional great stories - about entrepreneurship or otherwise.

Best "director" would go to an outstanding CEO, the person leading the show, setting a vision and ensuring that every element of the firm is making that vision come to life. I think this category would include many serial entrepreneurs, recognizing that esteemed directors often don't win for their first film. David Friend of Carbonite Inc. sets the bar not only at each of the companies he's founded and led (he's on number six) but also through his philanthropic leadership at Boston-area organizations like Berklee College of Music. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy of the Valley showed she can make a lot of progress in a short period of time with her video shopping site, Joyus. Ohio's Kevin Berner of Phycal (Full Disclosure: JumpStart Inc. is an investor in this company) and his innovative team are creating advanced biofuels at significant cost advantages over others, while reducing greenhouse gases and increasing energy security. But who would win? This year, my vote would go to Phil Libin, Founder and CEO of Evernote. Despite my co-workers' hypotheses, it's not because I absolutely love the product and talk it up incessantly. It's because he has articulated a long-term vision-correction; a lifetime vision-for a company he wants to work with for the rest of his life and fulfills his dreams. Amen.

And best company? Even though The Artist was largely a product of its French director Michel Hazanavicius and French leads, I'm sticking to U.S. companies for my list, focusing on those that have products that meet real needs that we can all understand, impacts the way we live, shows that innovation and leadership can come from anywhere, and has the potential to inspire and encourage all of us to be more entrepreneurial. As with the real Oscars, the list of potential nominees is long. I would consider Salt Lake City's The American Academy, an online high school curricular program that allows people for whom a traditional program is a challenge to complete their high school degree. I'd love to include San Francisco-based Automattic, the company behind WordPress and all things that make "the web a better place." Maryland-based EarthNetworks is the world's largest weather observation and lightning detection network and is currently building the largest greenhouse gas monitoring network. Another Valley company worth admiration is eHealthInsurance, the largest health insurance provider online for small businesses and individuals (like entrepreneurs). Ohio-based Echogen Power Systems (Full Disclosure: JumpStart Inc. is an investor in this company) has a heat engine that turns typically wasted heat (such as that rising off a roof or escaping through a smoke stack) into electricity. But, for best game-changer in my imagined entrepreneurial recognition ceremony, I think I'd vote for San Diego's OncoSec Medical, a firm using clinical trials to validate whether electrical impulses applied to cancer cells can reduce the need for chemotherapy and other current cancer treatments. Results thus far have been very promising against certain types of head & neck, breast, and melanoma cancers.

That seems worthy of more than a gold statuette to me.