Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.


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