Entrepreneurship Podcast post

Startup Community with Lakshmi Shenoy

George Grombacher September 28, 2023

share close

Startup Community with Lakshmi Shenoy

LifeBlood: We talked about the startup community, the challenges of creating a startup for startups, the critical elements for creating a healthy ecosystem, the value of mentorship, and how to get started, with Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, Florida’s fastest growing startup hub.       

Listen to learn the necessary mindset for startup success!

You can learn more about Lakshmi at EmbarcCollective.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review here:


You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook or you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at contact@LifeBlood.Live. 

Stay up to date by getting our monthly updates.

Want to say “Thanks!” You can buy us a cup of coffee.


Invest in yourself. Bring it All Together.

Work with a coach to unlock personal and professional potential.

Our Guests

George Grombacher

Lakshmi Shenoy

Lakshmi Shenoy

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Lux Choi is the CEO of EMBARC. Collective they are Florida’s fastest growing startup hub. Prior to that she was the VP of strategy and business development at 1871. The number one private community of tech founders, leaders, innovators, VCs, mentors, and more welcome, Lakshmi.

Lakshmi Shenoy 0:18
Thanks so much for having me, George. I’m happy to be here.

george grombacher 0:22
Yeah, excited to have you on. Tell us a bit about your personal life more about your work and why you do what you do.

Speaker 2 0:29
All right, well, because I build a essentially, I’m building a startup for startups, my personal life will be brief, because I will spend a lot of time on my professional life like any entrepreneur, but I am very lucky at outside of my my life at embark collective to have a wonderful husband, a nine, almost 10 month old baby girl, and then two cats that keep all of us in line, as our house gets festive. But that’s important to keep me somewhat balanced in the crazy universe of startups that I live in.

george grombacher 1:07
Yeah, I certainly appreciate that. All right. So how did you how did you find your way to, to Florida, from Chicago and I guess from from Massachusetts,

Speaker 2 1:20
yeah. So so I’m in Chicago in and so Chicago is home, always be home. And I, I had the opportunity to start my career in Chicago, but then I ended up going to business school in Massachusetts, and then going to New York Post, postgraduate school, and, and then got the opportunity to come back home. So that’s, that’s what I did about. About 15 years ago, I was back in Chicago. And about 10 years ago, I had this amazing opportunity when I was, quite frankly, burnt out of the corporate world, and questioning the impact that I was able to make on a day to day basis. I took it upon myself to find something that felt a little bit more like it fueled my soul. And I realized that what I did in my free time, while I was working in my corporate life, was supporting startups. And I tried to build my own startup, I also had had a really successful blog that had gone on earlier on. And I just really was motivated by figuring out how to help people grow something from scratch. And there’s this wonderful organization in Chicago called 1871. That’s named for the year of the Chicago Fire, and had this opportunity to join the team then. And that was a great deep dive into what it means to support growth and support early stage tech and tech enabled startups. Fast forward to about 2016 2017. In Chicago, I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman named Jeff vinik. Jeff vinik, has a an incredible sort of track record in the finance world. But it also purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning the NHL team for for Tampa Bay. And it was was in this process of really thinking about Tampa Bay in a new way where it was before, sort of an overlooked place. And he just saw an incredible amount of potential in the the area and decided that he was going to invest in, in the in in building more in the area and started on an endeavor called Water St. Tampa, which was the going to be the first well and LEED certified district in the world. And you build a great place, you need to build a place where you have great people. And that’s where startups come in, because startups are the source of net new job creation in the country, if you attract really smart, creative problem solvers, when you are supporting startups. So that’s the inherent nature of the entrepreneur. And so he said, I want to figure out a way to attract startups to Tampa Bay. And as he was going around the country, he stopped in Chicago, and that’s where we met. And it was unbeknownst to either of us that at the time of meeting we would eventually work together. And and he would recruit me down to Tampa, but in 2018 I took a leap, not knowing anyone here, no connections, and I’m one of the few that does not have a retired family member in Florida. And I decided that I would take the leap on this opportunity to build a startup hub and so the only thing that was sort of mandated for me was build a hub Have that will attract, retain and develop great startup talent. And then that was the start of the journey back in 2018. Go build hub. That’s well, that’s the thing I you know, if you think about it now, you’re you think like, okay, yeah, we did it, but you don’t respect the fact that boy was like, I must have been a, like, a little bit delusional. And that, I’m just like, yeah, I could build an organization from scratch to serve an entire community, including a 32,000 square foot building. On top of it, it’s not just building an organization. And luckily, my maybe it was naivete, whatever it is, allowed me to say yes. And just figure out a way to make it happen.

george grombacher 5:56
Is a little bit of naivete required, do you think is it essential?

Speaker 2 6:01
If you know too much, then you know, all the reasons to say no. So I think it probably is essential.

george grombacher 6:08
Yeah, that’s interesting. All right. So. So I think it’s cool. And I think that a lot of people think entrepreneurship is pretty cool. And the reality is that when the rubber meets the road, it’s it’s, it’s pretty tough. So how do you think about balance those two things of getting people in here, it’s so awesome. It’s exciting versus and it’s really, really hard?

Speaker 2 6:32
Well, I think the really, really hard piece is what motivates me. One thing I left out of my sharing about my personal life is that my husband is a tech entrepreneur. So you know, I spend my days working with startups, and then I go home to, you know, just the practicalities of life that is the one of cipher, my daughter, that’s the other most important startup in my life. And so I get to you, when when your spouse is in this universe, you see the ups and downs at a very acute level, there’s no there’s no walls, there’s no guard up the way that you could with somebody who’s a bit of a stranger. And I think the key that I’ve always been really drawn to is the fact that entrepreneurship is hard. Entrepreneurship is also lonely. And that’s why community is required. That’s why it’s critical that we assemble other people who are taking this big leap, and allowing you to not feel like you’re the only one doing it when you’ve got family members and friends who are saying like, why are you doing this, you could be making like a real salary somewhere else you could have, you wouldn’t have to be asking me for a loan in these early days of building my company or an investment, these early days of building your company, if you did something that was a little bit more stable. But the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you’re so attracted to the problem that you’re solving that you are, you’re obsessed with it and you can’t think of doing anything else. And you want to make an impact that’s much bigger than yourself. And so you set up set forth on this path that is incredibly hard to do and most people don’t survive or don’t don’t their ventures don’t survive, as they are pursuing pursuing the building of it all. And so with embark collective by assembling community by assembling the best in class resources, that it’s available, we’re hoping that we can make the startup journey a little bit more viable, a little bit more survivable, a little bit more enjoyable. Acknowledging that everything that you see sort of glamorized about startups is is not really the reality of what it means to build a company from scratch. Yeah.

george grombacher 8:59
Chicken to the egg. You’re building something from scratch and to attract companies to what you just talked about having community having resources having having investors so there’s the there’s money? How do you view that relationship? Do you want to have the chicken and the egg come together? First? Do we need to have the money in place in the building first?

Speaker 2 9:25
It’s a great question. I mean, I think in all you in the perfect world, you would have like let me get everything set up and ready to go and then welcome everyone come on in. That’s just not that’s not real. And so I don’t even think about chicken or the egg. I sort of just think about everything living concurrently together. And so you take the assets that you have, and you make it work like any good entrepreneur, you you take what you have. You test it out, like even when we started so when we started it shockingly, it construction took longer than we had planned. And, and so and I was too impatient, you know, to say, Okay, we’re gonna wait until construction is done to get going. So we started without a space without it. And that was a big part of the space. Big especially because it’s tangible for our community, they really needed to latch on to the space to say, like that, that is what you are. And in fact, that isn’t what we are. And so by starting ahead of time, or maybe on time, but just without one key asset, what it allowed us to do is one that we started to work virtually, with startups for nine months before the space opened, it allowed us to really perfect our programming and our coaching, that’s what embark Collective is truly known for. And it really allowed us to isolate the two variables that we thought were going to be our big differentiators, it also allowed the rest of the community to see oh, this is more than a physical place. This has the resources that they are focused in on are really in a different quality level than what we’ve seen before. And so that’s been that was, it was a blessing in disguise. Like if, if I were gonna, if you looked at my plan, it said space, and then we sort of launch everything, it didn’t work out that way. And so chicken in the egg is sort of like, well, whichever I can get, I’ll take, and I’ll make it work from there.

george grombacher 11:33
Gotta take the ingredients that you have. I don’t know why I’m trying to make all these metaphors, locksmith, I’m here for it. So how, how long has it been since you hung your virtual and now physical shingle.

Speaker 2 11:49
So our virtual shingle and this is an interesting story. So we we started working with our original set of 25 startups, many of which are still a part of embark collective today, back in March of 2019. The building itself opens in January of 2020. And so this is one of those things where it reminds you that, you know, life is not linear, and life is not perfect. So we opened our building in January of 2020. Obviously, the pandemic hits in March. So we had this unfair advantage. Because while everybody else is sort of scrambling to figure out, you know, what does this new world look like, I had the weird opportunity to be able to say, Hey, guys, you all were with us, before we had a space, we’re gonna go back to that, you know, you you all remember the time we didn’t know anything at that time. But so we were making the best decisions we could. So we said, we’re gonna go back to that whatever we had three months ago, we’re going back to that you all know what it looks like. And we were able to flip the switch turnkey, back to virtual, because we started in that way. And you could never have pictured or plans for that outcome to happen. But it was a really fascinating moment that reminded me that it just it doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter what you plan. It really just matters. Like how do you figure out a way forward? Because everything else is gonna, things are gonna go well, things are gonna not go well. But But ultimately, hopefully even when the things don’t go the plan, they can work out in your favor. And that’s what happened to us.

george grombacher 13:35
super interesting. in their garage building opens COVID heads back to the garages. That’s where most good businesses started anyway. All right, so March of 19. And now here we are in August of 23. Have you done a good job box? Me?

Speaker 2 13:56
I think so. I mean, you know, there’s there’s a lot of different ways support support startup support such an interesting world. Yeah, there’s there’s metrics that many organizations will claim that I am less into. I’m you know, maybe it’s because I get to watch working with startups so closely. And it is such an intense experience and one filled with sacrifice on behalf of the entrepreneur, that I am always very reticent to claim any success from that a startup deserves. So things like you know how much capital A startup has raised. I won’t embark collective can’t claim that as ours, we might have helped them along the way but it’s not our capital. It’s a claim as a win. Things that they do claim that as a win are the ways that we are serving startups and sort of the the aggregate impact. So we now we’re now serving 125 companies all together every single day people are like and and how many cohorts? Like no, on a given day, this today’s on Monday, today, we are serving 125 companies all at the same time. And we do that with this intensive coaching program that we have built from scratch, where we’ve recruited these startup experienced startup operators to be on our team to work on one on one with the startups we work with. Last year, they delivered 1700 hours of individualized coaching. And these are all paid members of our staff. So we don’t have any volunteer mentors that are a part of what we do. And then we look at how the startups are rating what we do. And so they’re, they rate our programming at nearly perfect score. And we have this absurd NPS score as well. And Net Promoter Score, some people debate the quality of that metric. But you know, if we take it for what it’s worth, that means that people that we serve like us, that’s ultimately, you know, I’m find value in being a part of our community. And that’s ultimately what I care about. We got some global recognition last year, or this year, actually, by UBI, which is a Swedish bent benchmarking study. And they named embark collective top program in North America, one of those very few programs that they put on that list. And that was nice to have that external seal of approval, to be able to, you know, to continue to motivate the the work that this team does every single day.

george grombacher 16:30
Well, congratulations on that. Do you find are there certain sources of of entrepreneurs that that you found to be effective? Is it students? Is it career changers?

Speaker 2 16:46
The Great question, I don’t know if it’s, I don’t know if it’s necessarily the experience profile, yes, sometimes is really compelling when you’ve been in industry for 15 years, and you see a problem, and it makes you perhaps more credible, when you’re going out to solve it. However, I think it’s really coming down to mindset. And what we are looking for when we are, there’s an application process to get into embark collective and so when people are applying, we’re 90% of the time looking just at the mindset of the individual applying, do they have the grit? Do they have the focus? Do they have the drive? Do they have the urgency to be able to withstand the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, nothing is handed to you, when you are building something from scratch, and you’re gonna hear a lot of nose and a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. Are you able to both be resilient through that process, as well as creative about paths forward, in order to make the the core of why you built this company in the first place succeed. And that might the solution itself might look very different as you’re, you’re listening to customers or prospective customers and really getting a hold of the need that you are solving for. But you know, if you can stay true to the why, and and withstand all of those ups and downs? And have that drive that you are the one that’s going to make it happen for your for your company. Those are the those are the founders I bet on any day.

george grombacher 18:27
Yeah, I certainly appreciate that. Oh, how do you try on the selection? And as people are applying, I’m sure you get lots of applications that are coming in, and you want to try and figure out, is this person really wired this way? Or are they just telling me what they think I want to hear.

Speaker 2 18:47
So in our application process, we have essentially the last interview is almost like a mock coaching session. So I told you before a coaching is the core of our, our support. And what we want to do is understand, you know, coaching is not just to be clear, coaching is very Socratic, we ask a lot of questions, we try to help entrepreneurs figure out the answers for themselves rather than tell them you know, when in my day, this is what we did. And so we go through a mock coaching session as the third interview. And you can tell a lot when you are poking holes and asking questions, because there’s a there’s a because you’re watching people think in real time and so you’re watching them sort of process like, Ha, that is an interesting angle that they didn’t think about, and that doesn’t that’s not a knock on them that if anything, it’s a good thing for them to be self aware enough to realize like there’s more information in the early stage of company building to always be gathering that can really impact that trajectory of your company if you’re willing to listen to it. And you oftentimes will meet companies that are like so defensive about like, Nah, we can’t do it like that. And this is, you know, it’s just it can’t be done like that. And and then it’s not to say that they’re wrong, but it’s really about you know, what, what? How are they willing to let their guard down in a coaching session to be able to take some time to reflect on on the business you spend so much time in the business? Are they willing to take 30 minutes an hour to work on the business in order to ensure the business thrives? And in that coaching session, you can really discern that not just through the words they’re saying but just by watching them process information and and think through challenges with you.

george grombacher 20:50
I appreciate that. Love it. Well, Lakshmi, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and engage and where can I learn more about embark collective

Speaker 2 21:00
so embark collective you can find us on on www dot embarked collective.com It’s EMBARC co ll e c t i v.com. And we’re also on social so find us on Instagram and Twitter acts, whatever it’s called, and LinkedIn and Facebook. And if you’re if you happen to be in on the west coast of Florida, we’re getting we’re almost to the season where many people want wherever you are in the country want to be on the west coast of Florida. So as you are looking into your November through April plans, we hope that it brings you down to Florida and if so, shoot us a note at Hello Edinburg collective.com. And we’d love to love to meet you for investors. We’d love to connect you with the companies that we serve. And if you’re a company here and you’re looking at building any sort of community in Florida, this could be a great place for you.

george grombacher 22:01
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, show me your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas. Go to EMBARC collective.com E and B AR C collective.com. And check out everything that they are working on. If you’re an investor or a somebody with an idea for a business or somebody getting started in business. It could be a great opportunity for you and shoot him an email at at Hello at EMBARC collective.com and find him on the social media, which I will link in the notes. Thanks again Lakshmi. Thank you till next time remember, do your part by doing your best

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen and we’d be grateful if you’d subscribe as well.

You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook.

Our Manifesto

We’re here to help others get better so they can live freely without regret
Believing we’ve each got one life, it’s better to live it well and the time to start is now If you’re someone who believes change begins with you, you’re one of us We’re working to inspire action, enable completion, knowing that, as Thoreau so perfectly put it “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Let us help you invest in yourself and bring it all together.

Feed your life-long learner by enrolling in one of our courses.

Invest in yourself and bring it all together by working with one of our coaches.

If you’d like to be a guest on the show, or you’d like to become a Certified LifeBlood Coach or Course provider, contact us at Contact@LifeBlood.Live.

Please note- The Money Savage podcast is now the LifeBlood Podcast. Curious why? Check out this episode and read this blog post!

We have numerous formats to welcome a diverse range of potential guests!

  • Be Well- for guests focused on overall wellness
  • Book Club-for authors
  • Brand-for guests focused on marketing
  • Complete-for guests focused on spirituality
  • Compete-for competitors, sports, gaming, betting, fantasy football
  • Create-for entrepreneurs
  • DeFi-for guests focused on crypto, blockchain and other emerging technologies
  • Engage-for guests focused on personal development/success and leadership
  • Express-for journalists/writers/bloggers
  • General-for guests focused on finance/money topics
  • Lifestyle-for guests focused on improving lifestyle
  • Maximize-for guests focused on the workplace
  • Numbers-for accounting and tax professionals
  • Nurture-for guests focused on parenting
  • REI-for guests focused on real estate

Feed your Life-Long Learner

Get what you need to get where you want to go

Rate it
Previous post