February 19th, 2019

Elevate EIR Kyle Keeney: “You are a reflection of your business.”

Kyle Keeney HeadshotFor entrepreneurs in Southern Indiana, Kyle Keeney brings more than a robust résumé to his role as Elevate Ventures’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). His connection to Southern Indiana goes back four generations of family and farmland.

Keeney joined the Elevate team in September 2018. He was most recently CEO at The Turnpike Partnership in Washington D.C., where he grew development and relationships through a 20-organization partnership to accelerate research in life sciences and connect research and entrepreneurs to mentorship and funding.

Based in Jeffersonville, Keeney has spent his first few months as an Elevate EIR meeting and connecting entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholders across the region.


The entrepreneurs you advise often have no business experience. When do you see the most ‘aha’ moments happening?

Typically for first-time entrepreneurs, the aha moment comes when they realize that there’s a difference between being the founder/inventor and being a business owner/potential CEO. They are two very different roles. Just because you have a great business idea doesn’t necessarily make you the right person to grow the business or run the business at a particular stage. But a leadership change doesn’t mean that at different stages your role can’t change. You can come back to a position that you gave up during a different point in your business’ maturity.

Uncovering these aha moments is part of the role of the Entrepreneur-in-Residence, to run founders/inventors through a kind of self-assessment so they can gauge where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, where it is they need assistance and where it is that they are capable of leading the effort. At that early stage for first-time entrepreneurs, it is very enlightening.


Tell me about your experience as an entrepreneur.
“…focus on failing fast. When you have challenges, explore them. You fail fast so that you don’t continue to pursue things that are dead ends, directions that aren’t going to get you what you need.”
I was a reluctant entrepreneur. As a student in my 20s at Temple University, I thought I would be a researcher as opposed to an entrepreneur. Once I graduated with my PhD in complexity modeling, I moved to Wall Street and then to Silicon Valley, and so I was in this place where everyone had very different skills from mine. It was sort of my aha moment, realizing how big the world was above and beyond where I had grown up and what my training and background had been.

During this time in my career, I was looking how we did training, education, communication systems and knowledge management systems. When I got to California, we were just beginning to see the merging of big data storage possibilities and major advances in computing innovations, plus all the money that was in the investment community. It was an exciting time and place to be in the entrepreneurial space.


In business, what have you learned the hard way, when an EIR could have helped you avoid a pitfall or see an opportunity?

The value and function of the board of an early-stage company and what the role of those members can and should be. When you have the right people on the boat rowing in the same direction, you can make real progress. The absolute necessity of recruiting board members who are aligned and bring specific skills, experience or resources to the table can be a tough lesson.


How do you leverage your experience working with many entrepreneurs to guide each of your individual entrepreneurs?

One of the chief advantages of the Entrepreneur-in-Residence is the fact that we are unbiased. We don’t personally have skin in the game. Instead, we’re here to provide entrepreneurs with the best guidance to help them succeed — not sell them services. We’re in the role of being an advocate and fair-minded resource for them. Our interest is in the success of individual entrepreneurs and their companies.


In business, who you know is critical to making progress and finding success. Agree or disagree, and why?

Absolutely agree, and it’s not just who you know, but also the quality of the people. Connect with people who have been in your shoes, who you feel you can trust and can steer you in the right direction. What our parents told us was true when we were little, and it’s true now in business. We are judged by the company that we keep. Honest people and moral people keep company with other successful, honest and moral people. They gravitate to each other. They are attracted to each other and do business with other good people. You are a reflection of your business.


What is the most common piece of advice you tell a brand new entrepreneur?

There are two things that many of us Entrepreneurs-in-Residence find ourselves repeating, especially to the first-timer. We all think that when we have an idea, the very first move should be to protect it with things like NDAs. There is this fear that somebody is going to steal our brilliant idea. The reality in most situations is that there are a thousand other people who have thought of that same thing, and your success in many instances is gauged by your ability to act in a judicious, effective manner — cut through all that stuff and move fast.

The second piece of advice is to focus on failing fast. When you have challenges, explore them. You fail fast so that you don’t continue to pursue things that are dead ends, directions that aren’t going to get you what you need. Speed is critical when the money is tight because your time is tight, too.


Kyle Keeney and daughter

Can you recommend some favorite business-related books?

Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life & Work is an awesome, meaty book. I would also recommend Brad Feld’s book Venture Deals, Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Those all continue to be relevant.


Do you have a favorite business-related movie?

In recent history, one I’ve enjoyed the most is Hidden Figures. It is about the “behind the scenes,” the hidden heroes and the hard work that went into things that other people got credit for. As the father of two young girls, I’m always trying to provide them with great role models, and that movie is certainly a huge validation story for young women.


1804 Logo

Which 1-2 resources in your region do you consistently direct entrepreneurs to use?

I direct them to our two local coworking/incubation spaces: The Root in New Albany and Maker13 in Jeffersonville. And I also send them to our partnership, 1804. We have a ton of events, a lot of resources and just got a huge network that we can leverage and bring to bear for entrepreneurs.


Southern Indiana entrepreneurs: Tap into the tools and people at 1804.
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