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Ray Ozzie, the software pioneer best known around these parts as Microsoft’s former chief software architect, was the surprise keynote speaker at the TechStars Seattle Demo Day this afternoon.

His message was about the importance of the basic connections — financial and otherwise — that are forged among entrepreneurs, investors and mentors in the startup community through programs such as TechStars.

As an example, Ozzie told the story of his own startup journey, shopping his business plan around in the 1980s with little luck until finally agreeing to work on Lotus Symphony based on Mitch Kapor’s promise that Kapor would ultimately help Ozzie with his own startup.

Here’s Ozzie picking up the story from there.

Mitch then did something that I think is really rare … in the world of capital and entrepreneurism. He did something that he didn’t have to do — a selfless thing. He came downstairs the day of shipping. He said, ‘Put everything you’re working on aside. I promised you I was going to help you. Dust off your business plan, and we’ll see what we can do.’ Three months later, he had arranged for Lotus to fund me, and I walked away with a $1.2 million check. Called my buddies, they all quit their jobs at DEC, and eventually that became Lotus Notes.

The reason I’m saying this is because it’s really tough. You know what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. You stare potential blockage or failure in the face each and every day. And everything that things become are a connected sequence of events that you can’t predict. As I said, I might not be here today if it weren’t for several very simple connections, and some goodwill on Mitch Kapor’s part many, many, many years ago.

Some of the things you’re going to see today are incredibly ambitious, audacious, change-the-world kind of visions. Maybe they can’t figure out how to get there, and some of you, who potentially want to place a bet on somebody, that will really appeal to. Some of the companies that you’ll see today already have customers, and real revenue flowing in, and might have a better handle on the business, and might not have the bigger, long-term aspiration in mind, but might have a good, solid plan. That may really turn some of you on.

But I want to make sure you understand: Don’t underestimate, really don’t underestimate the ability that you can have to change — truly change — one of these entrepreneurs’ lives or careers moving forward. Certainly there is a risk-reward involved in your decision to invest. Some of you will win, and some of you will not. However, the impact you can have goes even beyond that, and it also goes into the community. …

I encourage you not just to come at this with, “Which startup can I invest in?” but if the entrepreneur wants it, reach out and be a mentor. Connect with one another. Try to help create an ecosystem that’s even healthier than it already is within Seattle. It is really in your hands.

My colleagues John Cook and Taylor Soper are on the scene at Demo Day, so stay tuned for more on the startup presentations. Also see our earlier post for summaries of the companies involved in the current TechStars Seattle class.

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