David Mitchell thinks of himself as following in the footsteps of Fran Jabara, a Wichita legend for fostering local entrepreneurism.
Mitchell, 65, an accountant with Mitchell & Richards, has been helping local entrepreneurs with advice, mentoring, connections and, occasionally, with investments for decades.
A Wichita native, Mitchell attended Wichita State University and maintains close connections there. He helped start and continues to act as a judge for the Shocker Business Plan Competition, now called the Shocker New Venture Competition, to stimulate student entrepreneurism.
He is married to Rynthia and they have two grown sons.
The number of new firms being started in the U.S. has fallen in recent decades. What are some of the reasons?
I think in general it’s more difficult to start a business for a lot of reasons. You need more collateral today. Banks are uncertain of the future and they need collateral, but so many businesses started today are not collateral intensive. There is no equipment. When there was manufacturing being started, there was collateral, but if you’re starting a tech company, there’s nothing to grab hold of. And most businesses today are started by entrepreneurs who have an idea, but no money.
There’s been a relentless increase in government regulations … I remember an old-time banker saying that gosh when he started banking if you bought a piece of property there were three signatures and three pieces of paper – the deed, the mortgage and the note – and there wasn’t any environmental study and all these disclosures. ... Also the political atmosphere of demonizing business. I feel the federal government is working against us instead of being a facilitator of business. I don’t think any businessman thinks the federal government is working for them.
I hear a lot of people say the reason they’ve lost enthusiasm is they can’t find good people, a qualified workforce. They’re uneducated. They can’t write. They can’t communicate well. They don’t have Boy Scout characteristics. They don’t show up to work every day. All of my clients have seen a decline in the quality of applicants for entry-level manufacturing type jobs. … It’s not like we need more college graduates, we’ve got a lot of college graduates. We need better high school graduates. Ones who read, write and do arithmetic, have a work ethic and are willing to learn a specific skill or trade. A lot of my clients are not educated. They learned a skill or trade and then decided they could do it better than their employer and started a business in their garage.
Has Wichita grown less entrepreneurial in its culture?
I don’t feel that way at all … The entrepreneurial spirit is still alive in Wichita, more so than most places. There are so many organizations here in Wichita trying to do basically the same thing, to back up ideas with money and resources. There needs to be some consolidation of those efforts. Most people in the business community really don’t want government involved in that. But there are so many non-governmental organizations that are trying to promote entrepreneurism, but it’s a little fragmented. … I don’t think it can be coordinated through government because the business community will shy away from that, but I don’t think they would shy away from Wichita State University being the lead on this. Certainly (WSU President) John Bardo has the vision to make this happen.
You mean the proposed Innovation Campus at WSU?
I’m very excited about that and think it will boost the entrepreneurial activity in the Wichita area. I really believe the spirit is out there. There is a lot of money out there looking for opportunity. Of course, there are a lot of ideas out there looking for the money. But I’m telling you, every week, I’m in some kind of conversation with somebody looking for a business to invest in, and it is hard to find that business. … Who wants to have their money sitting at the bank earning half a percent?
How do you see the Innovation Campus boosting entrepreneurialism?
The main thing that Wichita State is trying to do is bring all of its schools together to create synergy for job development and innovation. When we do the business plan competition at WSU, most the business plans do not come from the school of business, they come from the school of engineering, the school of fine arts, the health sciences. It combines things so that it gets the students that never saw each other during the day and brings them together so they can interact in combined classes. So when an engineering student has an idea for a new widget, he is put together with students in the school of business for marketing. And over in the innovation campus, there will be major companies that will have a presence that can connect their resources to get these ideas developed. And Wichita State is ramping up its ability to get ownership of intellectual property, patent it, so the school will have additional sources of revenue and it can be developed on campus.
You believe Wichita should support the Innovation Campus financially?
I’d like to see a sales tax in this area to help Wichita State pull this Innovation Campus off. And that would be a direct benefit to Wichita and increase the number of new businesses in this community. No question it would be the main generator of new businesses in this community. … Bardo has the drive and ability to pull this off. When the city is talking about how to replace manufacturing jobs and bring in new businesses and wanting technology here, there could not be any other method that even comes close to the innovation campus and its potential. … The support of the business community for Innovation Campus will be significant, and it will turn out to have not just local or regional, but national significance.