Spring is a season of growth and new beginnings that often leads to a renewed sense of energy and motivation. If you’re feeling like your entrepreneurial ecosystem engagement has been dormant, you’re not alone. During the pandemic, many ecosystem builders have felt challenged maintaining meaningful engagement with their network. As we enter the second quarter of 2022, in-person events are increasing, significant government-funded recovery efforts are underway, and there is a renewed confidence in our ability to collectively adapt through crisis. There’s a lot to be optimistic about for entrepreneurship-led economic development.
As we head into this season of revitalization, it’s a great time to reflect on your network: Have you let relationships with your resource partners diminish? When was the last time you gathered as a group, virtually or in-person? Do you know how your network prefers to engage—in person, virtual or hybrid?
As entrepreneurs and small business owners continue to recover, it’s a good time to strengthen ecosystems to support them. Here are some steps you can take to reignite your network.
Survey your resource partners
This is a great place to start to get a gauge on your network. Just as we try to meet entrepreneurs where they are, it’s important to understand your resource partners’ needs and preferences to make sure your actions and decisions effectively engage them and provide the support they need.
Questions will depend on your community’s unique situation, and what you’re trying to uncover. Do you want to start convening your network on a regular basis? Inform your meeting planning with questions such as:
How often do you want to meet?
What time of day is best for you to meet?
Do you prefer in-person, virtual or hybrid?
What topics are most important to discuss?
Or, do you want to gain a better understanding of how your network prefers to engage with you? This is an important question, because you don’t want to spend time and resources creating content that isn’t resonating with your audience. Consider asking:
Are you signed up for our monthly newsletter? If so, are you opening, reading, and finding value in it?
Which social platforms do you actively use?
What topics would you like to see more of in our newsletter, socials and blogs?
Would you like to receive quarterly reports about entrepreneurial activity across the network?
There’s a wealth of options available to help you survey your network, from basic tools including Google Forms and SurveyMonkey to sophisticated decision-making engines like SourceLink Pro CRM that allow you to create customized surveys and automatically track each resource partner’s response. When you share the survey, remind your network how this information will help you to better support them, reinforcing the importance of their participation.
After you collect feedback, pass along what you’ve learned and what you plan to do in response. While you can share this digitally, it’s best to discuss the results as part of a meeting and make space for a conversation where your network can respond, ask questions, and provide suggestions.
Regularly convene your network
Regular convenings are one of the best ways to identify gaps in the network and allow your partners to bond with other people doing similar work. Gather around industry events or times when it makes sense for your group, and use ice breakers or team building exercises to help create a welcoming environment and inspire excitement in participants.
West Virginia Business Link is a great example of what’s possible when resource partners join forces. “Our statewide group of resource partners meets monthly, and it has been invaluable to our growth as a network,” said program coordinator, Bill Woodrum. “Our virtual monthly meetings are focused on emerging opportunities to connect our Resource Partners in joint projects.”
These consistent conversations recently resulted in West Virginia Business Link’s successful entrepreneurship event—Bridging Innovation Week. Partners convened 11 events over a four-day period in Charleston, W.Va. with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, high school and college students, veterans, resource organizations, government officials and other stakeholders in attendance. More than $120,000 in startup capital was awarded during business competitions throughout the week.
Conversations among your network are invaluable when it comes to solving common problems. Here are some questions that can help kickstart your discussion:
What is the biggest challenge your organization is facing?
What types of assistance are entrepreneurs currently seeking and do we have adequate resources to support those requests?
Who is missing from our resource network?
Are we equipped to serve all entrepreneurs, including diverse and underrepresented groups?
What resource organizations are in our community that we aren’t currently engaging with? How can we develop trust and invite them into the conversation?
It’s good to periodically remind your network why everyone collectively began this work. Spend some time reviewing where you started and the progress you’ve made since you launched your efforts. Sharing data and entrepreneur success stories can be inspiring and valuable information to share with your partners.
Assess and expand your network
Many resource networks across the country have experienced numerous changes throughout the pandemic. Organizations have closed, partners have come and gone, and new programs have emerged especially related to supporting underserved entrepreneurs. As you look at refreshing your network and supporting your evolving community, it’s important to make recruiting new partners and inviting diverse partners to participate in the network a key focus.
If you’re part of a national network of ecosystem builders, consider talking to other organizations about the resource partners in their network. While every community is unique, having a conversation with a fellow ecosystem builder could help identify gaps in your support network and uncover insights on the best ways to welcome new partners into the network.
Celebrate your entrepreneurial community
Reinforce the value of your collective work by telling stories and celebrating the successes of your network and the entrepreneurs in your community. Communication is a crucial component of a thriving network and helps engagement with entrepreneurs, resource partners, stakeholders and potential funders.
Social media and email communication (such as a regular newsletter) are an easy way to spotlight the great work being done by your ecosystem participants. Do you provide a one-stop platform for entrepreneurs to access information? If so, then share with your resource partners how they can benefit by contributing events to a shared calendar or writing blog posts. These are all ways to increase visibility for your resource partners.
As ecosystem builders, we are in the business of helping entrepreneurs succeed, so it’s important to humanize your resource network and the people inside the organizations. We all feel more engaged and committed when we develop personal connections and build trust.
If you’re looking for more tips about ways to revitalize your entrepreneurship-led economic development efforts, we would love to hear from you. We invite you to connect with our team by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org.