How would you like to get some real-world advice from Michael Paxton, the former CEO of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream? Or how about Michael Boyd, the co-founder of QVC?
This isn't the kind of stuff they teach you in business school — but it might soon be because of Brian Benson.
Benson is the CEO and founder of InspireLink, a Naples startup that has conducted video interviews with dozens of successful entrepreneurs. The list is impressive: Bill Roth, former CEO of Trane Air Conditioning; Don Gunther, former vice chairman of Bechtel; Robert Hawthorne, former CEO of Pillsbury; and Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of VaynerMedia and Wine Library.
Using digital editing technology, Benson has cut 700 videos from these interviews and tagged each one by subjects ranging from raising capital to creating a corporate culture. Each video lasts just a few minutes. “We are this gigantic video library full of incredible experts,” Benson says.
Benson hired a team of Romanian computer engineers to create InspireLink's proprietary search engine so university professors can easily find videos to complement what they're teaching with real-world advice. Instead of searching thousands of videos on YouTube, professors can quickly find relevant videos using InspireLink. “We found a large gap between academic theory and real-world practice,” Benson says.
The idea for InspireLink came to Benson after working at his family's financial-advisory firm, Benson Blackburn. For the past three years, the firm has hosted successful entrepreneurs and CEOs to speak at private gatherings in Naples. “These are some of the greatest business minds in the world, and you can't let that go,” Benson thought. “You've got to capture that somehow.”
Benson says he is fortunate to be based in Naples, which has one of the highest concentrations of current and retired corporate executives in the nation. Many of them are eager to help nurture the next generation, Benson notes. “We have some of the greatest business minds right here in our backyard, and they're all so willing to give back,” he says.
Benson realized the universities were eager for this kind of information because business students at Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University in Southwest Florida were clamoring to attend the Benson Blackburn speaker series. Initially, Benson thought the service might be more relevant to budding entrepreneurs. “We weren't sure how we were going to monetize this idea,” he says.
InspireLink, which was formed a year ago, is finalizing a contract for its videos to be used by professors at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, and it's working on deals with several other colleges. “We'd love to have 10 founding members to build this program,” Benson says. The 10 universities would help the service improve over time.
Although he declines to share financial details, Benson says the business would be profitable with three universities as clients. The company charges an undisclosed annual fee to search for videos on its closed system, though Benson says there may be opportunities to open some videos to the public in the future.
In addition to providing videos for corporate training and other purposes, Benson says he plans to add business-coaching services to help young graduates succeed. “If these students are serious and start a business, we want to help continue to foster them,” Benson says.