Lets be honest a city full of entrepreneurs is flat out exciting. Going to a Demo Event or hanging out in an incubator in Kansas City, Boston, or Silicon Valley electrifies the mind and gives the feeling that anything is possible.
Though more than the entrepreneurs in the these and other cities, it is also the entrepreneurial aura and culture that build into the experience. As it seems like everyone is sipping the innovative cool-aid; including employed professionals, government officials, and even house wives. Everyone seems to have bought in on the idea that entrepreneurship is a safe and beneficial strategy for their city. THAT mass buy-in amplifies the excitement and possibilities.
Support Networks Did Not Increase Entrepreneurship Much
As luck may have it, I was able to watch Kansas City’s entrepreneurial rise over the last decade first-hand. Early on, there was a lot of focus being put on the support networks, training, and resources for entrepreneurs; and while it was valuable it did little to accelerate the number and development rate of entrepreneurs.
Then came in a social movement that launched the promotion of entrepreneurs who were starting and succeeding in Kansas City. This began to excite a lot of people, as the masses began to believe that the city may have a knack for producing successful entrepreneurs. As more entrepreneurs were promoted and allowed to demonstrate their new businesses, the community became more intrigued and excited. Though after a few years the intrigue and excitement plateaued as it often does.
Community Support is a MUST for Entrepreneurial Sustainability
I remember chatting with an industrial psychologist about the plateau at a startFEST+DEMO event that was showcasing new start-ups. He snickered how it was a shame but only natural that interest would slow…slyly diagnosing the problem as the communal masses were beginning to become frustrated that they couldn’t actively support or “control” the growth of entrepreneurship. I prodded about why, for it seemed like many in the community never even tried to get involved. He responded saying people get excited for a time when they see local success or know someone who achieved success, this excitement extends when the process to reach success is revealed, but the excitement goes viral when the community becomes part of everyone’s success.
This insight seemed foreign to me, since most people seemed to take a pass on being on boards and especially on helping on an event. However I figured that many people probably wanted to feel like they had control, rather than being another clog on a wheel that was already running in a set circle.
So I tried the ridiculous. I pulled together some fellow social entrepreneurs and we came up with an event that would need investors, start-up entrepreneurs, and mentors. We asked extremely busy people with influence if they would be interested in working to pull together one of these three groups in exchange for being promoted at the event. That’s right we asked them to volunteer. We expected to get laughed out of the first 5 meetings we setup…but 4 out of 5 said YES. Shocked we wondered if these “yes’s” would produce anything…they did. We had a dozen high quality participants in each audience in 1 week! Even better those initial 4 people rallied others to their cause. At the event, we offered the credit were it was due and those 4 leaders each recognized others that had helped. At the end of the event we had organizations that were thrilled they had contributed to making the entrepreneurship environment better and wanted to expand the event and even the project.
Entrepreneurship shifts into Overdrive when Community Owned
You can only imagine how many more people heard about this and were charged by what we were doing! As those who helped started referring to event as “ours,” meaning they had not only helped but were taking ownership of the process and outcomes. In no small way, this echoes what has allowed Kansas City’s entrepreneurial environment to blast off: the communal sense of ownership to grow the city.
I would bet that if you look at entrepreneurship in cities and towns around the U.S. and even world, the rate of growth probably mirrors what the industry psychologist suggested. More importantly, the amount of ownership being taken by the communities is probably an indicator of the culture and possibility of success to be had. For those reading that are in economic development, you have probably even seen successes and failures play out based on the community’s sense of ownership and culture.
So fancy incubators and start-up resource networks are great, but success or failure in entrepreneurship is actually more connected to the community’s involvement…than most may realize.