Does Your Entrepreneurial Community Have “Connective Tissue”?

From Passion to Entrepreneurial ConnectionsEntrepreneur, investor and business counselor, Steve Imke starts his days in Monument, Colorado, like so many of us do who build entrepreneurial ecosystems—steeped in the morning reads about what’s happening in entrepreneurship.

A few months back, he shared this article this article from Charlottesville Tomorrow on the challenges that face Charlottesville entrepreneurs—and we just haven’t been able to shake it.

Like so many cities and regions, Charlottesville wants to reap the benefits, jobs and economic vibrancy that comes with being entrepreneur-friendly. And like so many cities and regions, Charlottesville is not a Silicon Valley or an Austin or a Boston or a Boulder. It doesn’t have a large population or strategic proximity to a major metro hub. What works for those entrepreneurial juggernauts just won’t fly with Charlottesville entrepreneurs.

Charlottesville entrepreneurs, the article reveals, say their challenges lie in the lack of coworking spaces for startups, suitable real estate close to downtown and talented workers. Entrepreneurs don’t feel connected to each other or to the large ecosystem.

But this next reason, pointed out by our friend Steve, is what took hold of us—because it’s something that is so easy to solve and yet had reaped so many benefits for the entrepreneurial communities we’ve worked with.

Scroll down to “On Message” in the article and take in this quote by Joel Selzer, one of Charlottesville’s resident entrepreneurs. While noting that Charlottesville has come a long way in the past 15 years, he says it’s missing the “infrastructure or connective tissue. . . . There is not a single, go-to online resource that identifies all the connective tissue and how to access it.”

So why is infrastructure important? What’s the benefit of identifying your resources and making them visible and accessible?  There are at least three reasons why this should be a focus area of your efforts.

First, without that “connective tissue,” entrepreneurs struggle with where to find help and resources. In most communities, resources are fragmented and siloed, not visible to entrepreneurs and not even aware of the services their fellow ESOs provide. This is especially important in rural America, when entrepreneurs have no knowledge of a go-to resource, or where they encounter the frustrating referral chain that can sometimes lead to the worst possible outcome: a decision to simply not pursue their entrepreneurial idea altogether.

Second, entrepreneurial communities can’t build sustainable collaborations to fill gaps. For Charlottesville, the gaps are talent and space. For other communities, it’s broadband, access to capital, corporate engagement—the list goes on. The point: the challenges any entrepreneurial ecosystem system faces are unique to its entrepreneurial culture and economy. You can’t expect to apply Silicon Valley wisdom or Boulder insights to a Charlottesville or a Kansas City or a Des Moines and get the same results.

Lastly, entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, universities, entrepreneurial service organizations and government organizations need to be able to rally around a focused entrepreneurial vision. Without this, efforts become happenstance, isolated, redundant and ultimately, unsustainable.

When resources are visible and organizations brought to order, communities can provide a clear path and ongoing support for budding and seasoned entrepreneurs. Through this 21st century approach, communities are able to build sustainable programs that meet entrepreneurs’ needs, fill gaps and create stronger local economies.