Ron Ben-Zeev: Shaking the Entrepreneur Ecosystem in Orlando

Ron Ben-Zeev noticed there weren’t many resources in Orlando in 2010 for entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, Ron describes himself as a “find a need and fill it kind of person”. There was certainly a need and he knew there were other entrepreneurs in the community that had the same need of resources. Let me digress by sharing how Ron became an entrepreneur then we’ll fast-forward to seeing how this journey allows Ron to see the needs of the Central Florida community in 2010. Without his background, he would not have been able to be a part of the thought leaders that brought an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to Orlando.

 Ron began his entrepreneurial journey as a 13 year-old boy in France. During Labor Day (May Day in France), the beautiful, exotic Lily of the Valley is used in celebration. As a young boy riding his bike through the countryside, he found a field of Lily of the Valley flowers; Labor Day was the following week. Preparedness met opportunity. Luck is where opportunity meets preparation. Ron picked many of the lilies, sold them at 100% profit, and caught the entrepreneur bug.

 During Ron’s first trip to the United States with his parents, he noticed the Sony Walkman trend. Seeing the Panasonic product that was its competitor, Ron made calls, negotiated a contract, and shipped Panasonic’s product to Switzerland. Bringing this product to a new market, Ron, although young, became an accomplished entrepreneur.

 Ron recalls his days as a student at Wharton School of Business. Back in the 80’s “not many studied  entrepreneurship”; he did. However, as a foreign student, Ron wasn’t able to get a job other than on campus and there were no jobs available. Once again, Ron found himself creating his own job. As a “find a need and fill it kind of person” Ron always found a way to make money. Upon graduation, he interviewed with a company and was chosen among the top candidates; but, the only one without a Master’s Degree. As they offered Ron the position, he asked the hiring team why they would choose him. Their answer became Ron’s defining moment. They replied, “We want you because you don’t know it can’t be done; therefore, you’ll find a way to get it done.” Today Ron still finds a way to get it done.

 One of Ron’s pet peeves is people who sit on their idea and never act. He quips, “Ideation without execution is just an hallucination.”

 Ron spent some time in corporate America as an intrapreneur (before the word was even coined). He attacked silos, met resistance, but found solutions. His philosophy during his tenure in corporate America was to be pragmatic and “get shit done”.

 He has certainly been a part of “getting shit done” here in Central Florida. Today Orlando has a Women’s Business Incubator, 3 co-working spaces, 1 Million Cups, Starter Studio, Startup Weekend, and is also Rollins College first entrepreneur-in-residence. Ron has played an integral role in 1MC, Startup Weekend, and Rollins College’s Entrepreneurship initiatives. There are certainly other resources in Orlando; these are just a few.. But, one thing Ron realizes is “it takes a village” and he credits several other entrepreneurs for championing this movement to bring some “big city resources” here for entrepreneurs. I have watched Ron over the last couple of years in several settings; Ron has always given credit to the “village” of people who have come alongside to bring all these resources and events to Orlando.

 Ron says he sits somewhere in the middle between a 4-hour workweek and a 12-hour day philosophy. Although an entrepreneur’s brain never shuts off, Ron knows that family and finding time to give back are important. He says the secret to his ability to be noticed by the Kauffman Foundation (sponsor of 1 Million Cups), Rollins College where he resides as an entrepreneur-in-residence, and sitting on Wharton’s IGEL Board is to give first. When you give and ask “where can I help”, opportunity comes back to you. Orlando’s startup community is competitive, yet supportive and willing to help, Ron says. As a fellow resident and entrepreneur in Orlando, I couldn’t agree more.

Ron currently is founder and co-founder of several early stage startups. He also sits on the board of directors of a for profit and a non-profit in town.  I’m sure we’ll see more from this innovative entrepreneur who “gets shit done” and fills the needs he finds.