EntreCon 2016: Risks and rewards of entrepreneurship

  • November 4, 2016
  • /   Reggie Dogan
  • /   entrecon

It’s clearly a risk every time someone starts a business or takes a new job.

Aaron Watson knew it was a big risk when in June he left a well-paying job at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country — Levin Papantonio — to strike out on his own.

“In life you have to take risks, and if you don’t take anything else from this seminar, it is to go for it,” said attorney Aaron Watson of The Watson Firm, PLLC. “You have to jump in and take the risks.”

Making sure you’re prepared, ready and able to take on and succeed in a new venture was the topic of the panel discussion, “The Start Up of You: From Business Leader to Business Owner.”

Watson joined panelists Jason Crawford, CEO of IRIS, Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems, and Kelly Reeser, Director of Entrepreneurial Development Florida West, to talk about how to grow your entrepreneurial mindset to create success.


From left, moderator Mike Wiggins and panelists Jason Crawford, Kelly Reeser and Aaron Watson take part in panel discussion on starting your own business at EntreCon 2016.

The session at New World Landing was part of a two-day business and entrepreneurship conference hosted by Studer Community Institute that ends Friday.

EntreCon 2016 features 40 speakers and panelists, including seven keynote speakers and 12 breakout sessions. The speakers and panelists are sharing strategies, offering advice and providing information on starting and growing a business.

Crawford has more than 15 years of experience in management and leadership. As a healthcare leader, Crawford was responsible for the growth and performance of seven specialty physician practices. Before his work in healthcare, Crawford served as a consultant and business development director of the regional CPA firm O’Sullivan Creel.

Crawford compared his move to “getting off the train.”

He said people are conditioned in life to get in line, wait for the your ticket to move up the economic ladder, working for others and hopefully make a decent living to cash in later in life.

“I felt like I was on the train, and wondered when I was going to make the shift,” Crawford said. “Getting off the train is a real scary proposition.”

Led by Dr. Sunil Gupta, founder and chief medical officer, and Crawford as chief executive officer, IRIS is a leading retinal screening technology provider.

From its first year in 2011, IRIS has tripled revenue up to $5 million. With 18 employees, they expect to hire more.

Even though it takes a lot of work to start your own business, Crawford said cautioned entrepreneurs to take care of themselves.

“You don’t have to run yourself in the ground, run your health in the ground and ruin your marriage to be a successful entrepreneur,” he said.

Reese spent years working for large companies but never felt fulfilled. She wanted a career that was worthwhile and made a difference.

As director of entrepreneurial development with Florida West, Reese is instrumental in helping fledgling entrepreneurs take the right steps to start their business. In her role, Reeser is tasked with supporting the region’s high-growth entrepreneurs with both startup and growth strategies.

“I never felt I had one thing that I was good at, but I knew a lot of people and knew how to champion their ideas,” Reese said. “I connect them with great resources and watch them fulfill their dreams.”

For Watson, starting a law firm from scratch meant taking on a lot of responsibilities and learning a lot on the fly.

He said the best decisions he made were to hire a bookkeeper and Landrum Human Resources Consulting to handle the areas he needed support in.

He advised entrepreneurs to do their homework, to study how to set up a business and get as much information as possible on running your own company.

“With the title of boss, it’s prestigious, but a lot of responsibility goes with it,” Watson said. “I would not trade being the boss, and the reward you get for sticking with it, outweighs the responsibility.”