By Lee Schoenbart
There are no best-kept secrets or secret ingredients when these local business owners gather each month in Carmel Valley to enhance their organizations' success and profitability.
Relatively new and still small in number, the members of Founder Roundtable are quite diverse — from CPAs to high-tech. The only criteria for participation are to have started and be currently involved in the operation of a business or contemplating starting a business.
The founder of Founder Roundtable is Carmel Valley business and technology attorney Dennis Calderon. After conferring with a number of clients, Calderon concluded that such a forum would be an excellent way to bring together entrepreneurs and industry experts — as well as those planning to start a business — in small groups for interactive discussions on a variety of business topics.
"I've been a business attorney for over 15 years and I have had my own practice since late 2001, so I work with a lot of entrepreneurial companies, usually start-ups or early stage," said Calderon from his office on El Camino Real.
"I work with a lot of entrepreneurs in a legal capacity, but often we have discussions around matters, and sometimes there's a need and often just an appreciation in talking with other business founders or business owners and finding experts that can help in different areas other than hiring them to fix a specific issue," he said.
He referred to such problem solvers as "subject-matter experts" and said the forum idea grew from connecting these individuals with the owners of financial, marketing, legal and a host of other businesses and "having the ability to put them all together."
"So I thought I'd do that on an informal basis, and that's how the Founder Roundtable was born," Calderon said.
While acknowledging that the concept is not a new one, Calderon said what sets the Founder Roundtable apart early on is that compared with other business roundtables that screen clients based on a set of qualifications, "My roundtables are open to all business owners who want to participate in the discussions.
"Investment level or cost is a barrier to some folks where there might be a bit of an 'intimidation factor' of paying a lot to join or the ultimate prospect of having to join some kind of membership," he said. "Some organizations tend to be very influenced or directed by larger organizations or big sponsors, and that tends to guide how that organization goes.
"This model (Founder Roundtable) is completely different," Calderon said. "It's not limited to a sponsor group. It's not funded by sponsors. It's intended to be a 'real easy to participate in' forum. It's not limited to just members. It's not intended to be a sales platform for sponsors. It's really just about helping the founders improve their company and get to the next level in a way that doesn't create a stressful situation for them."
Calderon admitted he had some input as to the roundtable topic selection.
"They are a lot of fun, because they're not just legal," he said with a laugh. "Some of the ideas come from participants or from areas that I've seen in the past that are of a lot of interest to a founder.
"It's kind of a mix," he said. "We asked for a lot of suggestions and requests from the participants as well as from the experts. Anyone who's dealt with an entrepreneur or has been an entrepreneur usually has as short list of things they would love to talk about."
That included the roundtable's first gold sponsor, Dagger Board Advisors, a group that works with companies in technology. Last month, Dagger Board Advisors hosted the group's first "Are You Running a Lifestyle Business or Growth Organization?" forum, a popular topic that will be revisited next month.
"The interesting thing is San Diego is very technology-focused. That seems to be what is 'sexy' and gets all the attention from a lot of business advisers," Calderon admitted.
But he quickly added: "The roundtable is not limited to high-tech or any particular industries. Some sessions might be, but I'm also very interested in creating resources for what I'll call the 'nontech industries.'
"For example, there might be needs out there for restaurant owners. Franchise owners have their own sets of issues and concerns; retailers, whether it's online or brick and mortar; every industry group or business type has its own challenges that they face that might be similar to others or unique to their industry.
"Part of the answer to how I would like to see this overall would be to be able to have different resources for different industries. 'Bootstrapping 101' is useful for a lot of folks, (while) 'Aligning Business and Software Development' is really only for technology companies. I have a friend who's a CPA and we're looking to plan a session for talking about the health care tax credit.
"Founder Roundtable is really is an opportunity to try and help a lot of different types of businesses in different areas," Calderon said. "The nice thing about this, because it is a low-stress, low-key thing, is that folks who get in touch with me are either experts who enjoy speaking in front of or with entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs who see the value in sitting in a room and talking with other folks who have similar experiences."
Upcoming roundtables include "Aligning Business and Software Development Needs" (July 15), "Are You Ready for Institutional Funding?" (July 23), "Bootstrapping 101" (July 29) and "Are You Running a Lifestyle Business or Growth Organization?" (Aug. 12).
For roundtable info, contact Calderon at (858) 350-9324 and
To learn more, visit
Calderon also writes a blog at