Best Practices

Growing Entrepreneurship on Main Street

Published Aug 01, 2018 by Rob Williams

Growing Entrepreneurship on Main Street

Entrepreneurship is not a buzzword. It is an economic development strategy. Young companies less than five years old are creating the majority of net new jobs in our communities. We need to increase the rate in which our entrepreneurs start companies if we want to increase the number of jobs in our communities. It’s as simple as that.

Studies show that by the year 2020, we will have 65 million freelancers in the workforce. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s happening in entrepreneurship:

●     40% of our employees in 2020 will be 1099 employees or independent contractors

●     2500 coworking spaces open weekly worldwide

●     More than 5,000 courses are offered on entrepreneurship in universities and colleges

So why are we talking about freelancers and microenterprises in a post about Main Street businesses?

Because now, more than ever, place matters. Because where you work is a choice, not a mandate.

We’re in a new connected age where it’s possible to be able to work anywhere. Andy Stoll of the Kauffman Foundation says, “Place isn't a physical manifestation. It is a sense of culture and where people want to live.”

People are looking for unique, cultural experiences tailored to them. What cultural amenities does your community have to offer entrepreneurs? How are your Main Street businesses building culture, character and a place where people choose to live?
 

Who are our entrepreneurs in our communities?

Entrepreneurs and independent business owners aren’t all the same, and the companies they lead aren’t either. Here’s how we break down the types of entrepreneurs:

●     76% are microenterprises or sole proprietors

●     22% are mainstreeters operating brick and mortar businesses on Main Street

●     1% are in the innovation-led tech space (startup unicorns)

●     1% are second stage entrepreneurs leading high-growth businesses

So yes, 76 percent of the entrepreneur population can pretty much work from anywhere. And 22 percent of our entrepreneurs are defining what that anywhere looks like—they are creating the places that matter. And yet, we spend a lot of time and headlines on that remaining 2 percent.

Knowing the types of entrepreneurs in our communities helps us—economic developers, policymakers, investors, even fellow entrepreneurs— understand what the entrepreneurs who lead these companies need, where they want their businesses to grow and how to give them the resources they need to get there.
 

How do you engage in your entrepreneur ecosystem?

It’s tempting to follow the trends. A few years ago, that trend centered on building incubators and accelerators. Now the rage is coworking spaces.

But before you build on a trend, talk to your entrepreneurs. What do they need? What is missing in the community?

To understand the state of your community’s entrepreneur ecosystem, you must know who your entrepreneurs are and what they need from the community. Sit down and have coffee with them. Ask them what they do and listen to their story. Ask what their pain points are and what the community can do to help. Engage with your entrepreneurs every step of the way while building your community’s ecosystem.

Know that you aren’t in the ecosystem alone nor do you have to bear the load by yourself. Open up and collaborate with others, know what you’re the best at and do it well. There’s a lot of work to be done in our communities and it’s okay to share the load. Do this by understanding and building relationships with existing entrepreneurship support providers in your area.

Build a vision for entrepreneurship

What do you want your entrepreneurial ecosystem to look like in your community? Certainly it’s about new businesses and jobs, but what else? Is it new connections, more visible resources, better access to available capital, more investment in startups and small businesses in general?

Your vision should be informed and monitored with clear and focused measurements that indicate you are truly creating and supporting entrepreneurs. Start measuring the connections happening in your community:

●     How many events are you having in your community?

●     How many people are engaging with your organization on social media?

●     Are entrepreneurs engaging in local startup hashtags?

●     How many meetings is your community hosting specific to entrepreneurship?

As your entrepreneurial ecosystem grows, start measuring capital:

●     Where is the capital coming from?

●     Who is receiving funding?

●     What kinds of business are people investing in?

If you only have 1 hour a week to build your entrepreneur ecosystem

  1. Know your resources and be prepared to make a referral. Entrepreneurs will always need capital, talent and technical assistance.

  2. Keep your community’s startup process in your back pocket. If someone asks you how to start a business, know exactly how to get them started.

  3. An entrepreneur is only as good as the social network that they start out with. Improve someone’s social network by introducing them to their next customer, investor or mentor.

  4. Attend a meetup. Bonus points if you sponsor it.

  5. Celebrate your entrepreneurs in your newsletter.

Step-by-step ecosystem building

Marshal support for entrepreneurship to make your community better and help people change their lives. Read Beyond Collisions: How to Build your Entrepreneurial Infrastructure and discover actionable strategies on how you can unite your entrepreneurial community.


Rob Williams
Rob Williams is the director of SourceLink where he puts the “serve” in customer service, always available as support to SourceLink clients who are often the unsung entrepreneurial champions in their communities.