I’m working on a series of case studies for a client about organizations that are a catalyst or gateway or intermediary for entrepreneurs, resources and programs. What’s striking is how unique each is, dependent upon the circumstances in each place. It seems to matter what partners are already there and involved in entrepreneurship, what funding is available and with what strings, and the local culture and “little p” politics (I mean relationships, not partisan politics).
The constant in all of the examples is that the needs of entrepreneurs are generally well-known. They need help with improving and accelerating the growth of their businesses, including access capital, knowledge and services. In the places where entrepreneurs are doing well, the communities are tight, with lots of events and other opportunities for networking and “happy collisions” where one and one can equal three. These can be disguised as social events, but really the objective is for entrepreneurs, service providers, researchers, students, and potential employees to get to know each other better. After all, as a friend of mine used to say, “People do business with people they know and like.”
But there’s also a significant school of thought that says these organizations must be run by and staffed by entrepreneurs in order to be credible. Folks say, “No one in government knows anything about starting a company. There is nothing government can do to help.”
That always gets me fired up. For one, government is paying for those universities and research labs that did the basic research you are relying on, who are producing the well-educated people you want to hire, and who create a level of prosperity in your community that not everyone gets to enjoy. And, government is there with tax credits for investors so they will be able to invest in your company. Another point is that many entrepreneurs know what worked for them, but not necessarily what translates into help that works for others. So, professionals who have training in building businesses can often be more helpful than peers. Truth is, some entrepreneurs turned funders and mentors are great, other not so great, and the same is true for other folks who help, even if they work for government.
So, keep an open mind, and keep connecting.