“If you build it, they will come.”
That advice may have worked out for fictional Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella when he built his Field of Dreams. But Amy Kuhlers, real-life builder of entrepreneurial ecosystems, knew early on that she’d have to actively recruit the players for Iowa’s field of dreams—a vibrant resource network for entrepreneurs.
So in 2012 the IASourceLink team got in the car, drove around the state of Iowa and built IASourceLink’s resource network, person by person, organization by organization.
“We made appointments for everyone we thought would be the most referred-to resources,” recalls Amy in SourceLink’s book Beyond Collisions: How to Build Your Entrepreneurial Infrastructure.
“We definitely went around to the Small Business Development Centers, for example, organizations that we were certainly going to be working with. Along that road trip, we caught some others – chambers of commerce, community economic development directors, as well as other state agencies.
“After that, it’s been an ongoing process to reach out to providers, sending emails, recruiting via phone calls.”
Five years after that initial road trip, Iowa has developed one of the most active and engaged entrepreneurial infrastructures in the country. More than 370 business-building resources are accessible through The Resource Navigator® and ready to help Iowa entrepreneurs all along their entrepreneurial journey, from business planning to funding to strategic marketing and more. The website annually assists 50,000 users in getting access to critical business information. Thousands more from all across Iowa have received personalized hotline assistance or participated in online business training webinars.
Much of the success of IASourceLink can be attributed to the collaborative nature of the two statewide partners who came together to power IASourceLink’s network building: the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and Iowa Economic Development Authority.
According to Patrick Luensmann, senior program manager with UNI, “Working the partnership between IEDA and UNI has been vital to the success of the program. We leverage each other strengths to continue reach into and help build the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Building a Statewide Network of Resources
Iowa’s small businesses are key to the state’s well-being. According to YourEconomy.org, firms with fewer than 99 employees account for more than 90 percent of the total Iowa workforce.
Realizing this, “in 2010, the state legislature drafted a bill, which included a mandate for the then Iowa Department of Economic Development to establish a statewide network connecting entrepreneurs to available resources,” remembers Amy. “Legislators were responding to constituents who were having a hard time identifying or getting access to small business resources. That was the initial push, so the legislators could say to their constituents there’s one place to go.”
IASourceLink became that first-stop, one-stop for Iowa entrepreneurs. The program was built on the successful SourceLink model for building entrepreneurial communities, using SourceLink Pro tools consulting to identify business resources in Iowa, connect them to each other and to entrepreneurs, empower that network with an online platform and help measure their entrepreneurial efforts and impact.
Part of a Larger Ecosystem Network
Part of the beauty of joining the SourceLink family was that Iowa didn’t need to start from scratch.
In addition to tools for connectivity and measurement and consulting from SourceLink’s team of in-house ecosystem builders, Amy and IASourceLink also had access to a nationwide network of ecosystem builders who are in the field and working to power entrepreneurship in their communities. Through SourceLink’s platform, process, methodology and best-practice network, IASourceLink had a strong head start at creating and implementing a roadmap for Iowa entrepreneurship.
From Entrepreneurial Infrastructure to Vibrant Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
IASourceLink connects people to people to help advance and accelerate Iowa entrepreneurship. For Amy, relationships are the key to building an entrepreneurship ecosystem and making it work.
In addition to building a network of business resources, IASourceLink runs a hotline, their business concierge service that connects entrepreneurs and small business owners with an expert who provides referrals, and in some cases market intelligence information, to ensure that Iowa business owners get the information they need to grow.
On their website, IASourceLink.com, business owners can find a wealth of events, classes, webinars, inspiration and information about starting and growing a business. Their resource library includes tips and strategies on planning, funding, regulatory requirements, and marketing and sales. Entrepreneurs also have access to a media navigator to search a deep repository of previously published webinars that cover such varied topics as taxes, team building, ecommerce, brand positioning, social media and in-the-trenches entrepreneurial insights.
What Has IASourceLink Learned about Building an Entrepreneurial Infrastructure?
Amy and the rest of the IASourceLink crew have learned a lot about growing their entrepreneurial ecosystem. She says, “It’s always surprising to me that people still don’t know where to go to get the help they need. I guess it’s because I wear my economic development hat and sometimes forget to take it off. That’s why you have to continue to be out there – marketing, marketing, marketing. Going out and building those relationships.”
“We always have to keep hustling to stay top of mind for partners and entrepreneurs. Everyone is focused on building their business or helping their community that we have to find ways to stay in front of them. The help that we offer to small business owners is invaluable and we want to be available to as many opportunities to find us as possible.
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More about how IASourceLink empowers its community:
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