Founder of SourceLink. Maria builds entrepreneurial communities and measures their economic impact.
Entrepreneurship happens everywhere—not just on the coasts. It happens in urban centers and rural communities, among tech innovators and in shops on Main Street. It happens from Seattle to San Juan, in Kansas and Iowa, and in Albuquerque, Kansas City and Loudoun County.
In fact, the Kauffman Foundation reports that more than 500,000 entrepreneurs start businesses every month, answering the call to improve lives, solve problems, drive innovation and pursue the American dream.
And we know that entrepreneurship is important.
Entrepreneurship has the power to improve lives and expand prosperity. Entrepreneurship creates jobs. New businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation. And if we truly want to get to where we want to grow as a community and a country, we’ll need to tap the potential of all of our dreamers and innovators to solve pressing local, national and global problems.
And yet, we also know that we have work to do to level the playing field for underrepresented entrepreneurs—including women and people of color.
While startups by women and entrepreneurs of color are among the fastest growing segments, those businesses are often smaller in revenue and number of employees. Access to resources, capital and even opportunities are not always equal. And that’s a problem we, as economic developers and entrepreneurial service organizations, can change. Like the entrepreneurs we serve, we have the capacity to see the problem and help make resources more accessible and entrepreneurship more inclusive.
Here’s some food for thought around inclusive entrepreneurship and how economic developers—or shall we say entrepreneurship developers?—can build an entrepreneurial ecosystem that helps improve access to resources and capital, provide connections and develop more robust, dynamic and diverse solutions to, as yet, unsolved problems.
Sound the horn.
While you can’t change the world overnight, taking steps to alter culture, create collaborations, diverse panels and intentional outreach are steps in the right direction. Jean Case of the Case Foundation shares four ways we can help tip the inclusive entrepreneurship movement (a must read) and Kathleen Kelly Janus, a lecturer at the Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship, calls on philanthropy to support more community-driven solutions that open opportunities and invite more people to the table of entrepreneurship.
In the social entrepreneurship world, underserved entrepreneurs are referred to as “off-the-grid entrepreneurs,” as in these entrepreneurs aren’t from the Silicon Valley startup world and may not have the same education as those who are.
Build inclusive entrepreneurial communities.
The spirit of entrepreneurism in Wichita, Kansas, has been waning for decades—and the slowed economy has felt the effect. Enter initiatives to reenergize entrepreneurism in Wichita among youth and minorities. One of the highlighted initiatives is the Create Campaign, coordinated by business owner Christina M. Long of CML Collective, LLC, in partnership with NetWork Kansas. It originated as an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Task Force in 2015 as an attempt to spread an entrepreneurial mindset in the black community and connect them with resources to start, sustain and scale their businesses.
Close the gap.
Gina Harman, CEO of Accion’s U.S. Network, notes that advancing equality for women can add $12 trillion to the global economy. In this post from the United State of Women, she shares five ways to close the opportunity gap for women entrepreneurs. Key step: work with community partners to provide easy access to business resources and networks.
Create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“While we need to do all we can to support the success of individual science and technology innovators from underrepresented populations, we also need to develop the ecosystems that can generate a population of innovators that accurately reflects the demographics of our society.”
This quote is from Venture Well’s blog post on Why Ecosystem Development Is Key to Supporting Inclusive Entrepreneurship is spot on. We need to help provide opportunities, but we also need to create sustainable systems that help create opportunities and prepare entrepreneurs to take advantage of them. VentureWell takes on the challenge of defining how to develop entrepreneurial ecosystems and what the science and technology world can do to support inclusion.
Make connections to business-building resources.
Finding startups and surrounding them with relevant resources to help them grow starts with connected and organized entrepreneurial infrastructure. Know what resources are in your community, build collaborations between them and make those resources visible to entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs create jobs and drive our economy, but we as entrepreneurship developers can help make that path easier and help make business-building resources more accessible.
Maria Meyers is the founder of SourceLink and executive director of the University Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center. Maria’s approach has always been to first identify gaps, then inspire networks to create new programs, improve existing offerings and recruit outside support to meet the changing needs of the ecosystem.