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Funding Michelangelo

Tony Wilkins
February 5, 2021
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I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free… Michelangelo Buonarroti

In 2011, when I first saw the 17-foot statue of David carved out of a single block of marble, I was transfixed. My Dad, not so much. He was very ready for me to stop staring at the massive statue of a naked man in the middle of a museum in another country.

Reading his simple, elegant self-effacing quote, I smiled thinking of the stories he could tell about the folks associated with this effort.

Imagine 26-year-old Michelangelo in the summer of 1501 pitching the government to create a statue of David in two years. He would use a slab of marble that had been worked on and abandoned by one sculptor in 1464 and rejected by another in 1476 who considered the quality of the stone to be mediocre. It had been laying around for 37 years, considered to be a very heavy piece of trash.

He turned it into one of the most famous statues in the world.

It took him 3 years.

What would it have been like to help this young genius deal with the Italian Renaissance Establishment and the pressure of being a year behind schedule? I’m sure he faced the same issues that young people trying something extraordinary face today.

Who helped him? How did he navigate the pivots between what was promised and what resulted? What advice did he get along the way that he took…or ignored? What kind of reporting did he have to provide to the officials who were paying him and how often did he think about quitting sculpting and maybe, well, just paint?

All entrepreneurs see angels. Founders “see” a future. Maybe not as clearly as Michelangelo saw David but, like him, there’s usually not much to go on in the beginning. As investors, our job is to help “set him free.”

Tony Wilkins is an early stage investor and growth stage executive coach.

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