How Is Your Community Scaling Up?

“How can our region create more startups?”

If this is the only question you ask when your community is building a strategy around entrepreneurship, you’re doing it wrong. And Dan Isenberg—founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Platform, former associate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and fierce advocate for the Scale Up® Economic Development Movement—will be the first to tell you.

“Without growth, there is no real entrepreneurship.”

So let’s tackle that tricky word “entrepreneurship” first. Entrepreneurship—as a field of study and approach to economic development—is often too inextricably woven up with startups and the number of business starts. That limited definition leaves out a good chunk of true economic growth.

“Scale Up focuses on quality of scale rather than quantity of start,” writes Isenberg. “If society is to reap the potential benefits of entrepreneurship, society’s leaders must look past the swelling ranks of startups or stagnant small businesses to any business venture that has the potential to get bigger faster.”

In 2012, on the heels of a Harvard Business Review article, “Focus Entrepreneurship Policies on Scale Up, Not Start Up,” that called for policies to help entrepreneurial firms accelerate, Isenberg and Babson College launched Scaling Up Manizales in Colombia. It was the first economic development project focused exclusively on scaling up a region—and not just specific companies. The approach: engage hundreds of local leaders—government officials, banks, entrepreneurs, from all sectors to transform a culture for growth and economic dynamism. Since then, the scale up movement has taken off to help build economic vitality through Scale Up projects Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Norway, Brazil, England, Scotland, Panama and the United States.

For Isenberg, “scaling up” should be a community approach.

“All else being equal, 10 ventures growing to 100 (in headcount, for example) is better for a local economy than one local venture growing to 1,000, especially since some of the 10 will naturally continue growing toward 1,000. Unicorns are not the panacea that people have been taught to believe. What I call workhorses are much more essential.”

Why? Impact economics. You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. You teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. You put a man in a boat next to a better fisherman than he is, you incite ambition that feeds an economy. 

“[Scale] up outcomes can relatively easily be fed back to benefit a broad range of stakeholders, both naturally and with a little help. When your entire region is scaling up, for example, local banks benefit from better loan books, public sector actors gain popularity from more jobs and generate taxes for public investment, and incumbent corporations have better access to talent and local supply chains.”

How do you bring the scale up impact to your community?

Around the world, some regions are starting to thrive because they are activating stakeholders from different sectors to focus on one common goal: promoting growth by more local firms. 

From Oct. 29-31, 2018, Isenberg will led a program, Driving Economic Growth through Scale Up Ecosystems, that provides economic leaders with practical tools and an action plan for quickly scaling businesses and creating jobs.

Driving Economic Growth through Scale Up Ecosystems

(SourceLink readers can get a 10 percent discount by using the code DEG-SOURCELINK.)

The program is a highly interactive hands-on workshop that includes case studies discussions, simulations and team-based projects. Through the program, you will have the opportunity to lead and obtain innovative Scale Up tools you can use to drive economic development, as well as create and implement a scale up ecosystem project to stimulate growth in your area in the next six months. 

Driving Economic Growth is open to regional public- and private-sector leaders, including economic development professionals, public officials, agency and foundation heads, university administration and civic-minded entrepreneurs and executives—as well as individuals and teams with the mandate to grow their economies. 

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