I was 15 days from turning 60, and I didn’t want to saddle myself with another long-term office lease. I was at the Advanced Technology Development Center looking for office space. I looked at an office on the fourth floor, but it was separated from everyone and everything. It was a place to work but a place lacking in people interaction. I just couldn’t do it.
Having given up on ATDC, I started thinking I could find an office on the Perimeter. I know a lot of people, and I was sure someone would sublease me an office. At least then I would be embedded in a company which would give me people, activity, and purpose.
Angel in Residence
On my way out of the building, I went down to the second floor to see an entrepreneur I’d been talking to. That’s when I ran into Blake. He asked, “What are you doing here?”
I said, “I am looking for an office to rent so I can be close to the ATDC companies. I want to be on the floor with the entrepreneurs. That’s where I think I could be the most helpful.”
“I’ll give you an office,” said Blake Patton, the then acting General Manager of the ATDC.
“You’ll give me an office? Like an office for free?” I asked.
“Yes. I am working on building community here, and I think you could help me do that. You can be an unpaid Entrepreneur in Residence,” he negotiated.
“But I am not an entrepreneur. I am an angel investor. How about if we give me the title of Angel in Residence?” I asked.
“That’s a great idea. All I ask is that you show up a couple of days a week and help the entrepreneurs we serve,” he said.
Now I am negotiating. “I’ll do it if you include a monthly parking card.”
“Done,” said Blake.
I sold my services for an $80 per month parking card, and little did I know how it would change my life and his.
Making ATDC Home
This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Over the next year, Blake and I would drop in on each other. I was wrestling with the next steps in my life as a 60 year old. He was wrestling with his next steps as a 40 year old. We both thought we had it figured out. Then through these drop-ins, we began sharing our lives, listening and guiding each other.
I have become a part of the ATDC. It took longer than I thought. The staff was helpful, but I didn’t regularly attend the staff meetings. As the self-invented Angel in Residence, nobody actually knew what to do with me. I learned one more time, when I don’t have a clear identity which fits in an existing category, I am adrift in a sea of humanity. That’s my story of the last couple of years. But it is changing.
I think the Entrepreneurs in Residence and the startup executives have decided for themselves where I fit in the ATDC community. I now have scheduled appointments and office hours and have met some amazingly intelligent, experienced and passionate entrepreneurs. It is so fulfilling to be sought out for advice from people who have so much at stake. Every meeting is intense, real and gratifying.
The meetings which are particularly gratifying are the drop-ins with the people in our community, whether they are ATDC staff or startup personnel who just stop in or I meet in the hall. The ten-minute conversation about their strategy, wife, kids, investors, direct reports, speaking, hiring, firing or their faith are the conversations that mean the most.
It is this day-to-day interaction made possible by being in the same space that makes life interesting. I’ve learned I was put on this earth to get something done. I am here to create, fix, interact, grow, learn, help, give, take, encourage and love. This doesn’t happen in the scheduled meetings; this happens in the drop-ins.
Blake is now a venture capitalist. He started a fund called Tech Square Ventures. He gives me credit for guiding him in this direction and tells people he wouldn’t have done it without me. When he says this, my first thought is, “I didn’t do anything!”
But Blake’s new career is the result of us working in the same space. The benefit is in the drop-in meetings and the hallway interactions. This is how you build community. Thanks, Blake, for the office. But I thank you most importantly for the friendship and richness you brought to my life by inviting me to become a part of the community that came with the parking card.
Also published on Medium.