05.02.18

A Culture of Innovation: How does your community rate?

KARL R. LAPAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE NIIC

When it comes to Silicon Valley being the epicenter of innovation, the tide has turned. Many traditional and larger employers and entrepreneurial ventures are setting their sights on other (more affordable and attractive) places, like the Midwest. So that begs the question. What elements contribute to a culture of innovation? Here are a few that experts have identified as critical ingredients:

University Talent Pipeline

Often in the early years, corporations look to highly skilled and experienced workers. However, the focus has changed in recent years, with many employers looking to partner with higher education institutions to attract younger talent in the form of internships or co-ops as a feeder to full-time employment post-graduation. The beauty of seeking out talent in affordable markets is that companies can keep salaries competitive but not outrageous while prioritizing benefits, culture, and community-building. Another advantage of going this route is you can tap into niches or areas of specialty. For example, here locally, we have over thirteen colleges and universities, churning out actuaries, engineers, programmers, and entrepreneurs of all stripes. What we know from knowledge-dependent employers, they will flock to where there is a critical mass of the skills, inspiration, creativity, and talent the company needs to tackle business challenges and emerging opportunities. Think Amazon HQ2.

Sense of community

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. At The NIIC, our entrepreneurial community leverages the power of connections and interactions to alleviate the loneliness and isolation that entrepreneurs and business builders often face. Whether it’s a business incubator, a coworking location, participation in a seed accelerator, coaching or networking events, we know it’s essential to get entrepreneurs plugged into their community (within the entrepreneurial ecosystem and within the broader community or region where they live). It speaks to human nature—most people want to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. Many entrepreneurs are civic leaders, giving back, sharing their talent (being a mentor) and paying it forward by investing in future entrepreneurs and their ventures.

High livability

There’s much more to life than work. Do employees have proximate (and affordable) opportunities for recreation, culture, entertainment, dining, etc.? Most people want the total package. Don’t underestimate the value of a short commute, amenities, affordable housing and other personal perks. Does it sound like your community? However, many years ago, Richard Florida caused us all to pause and think when he said the creative class picked where they live before they choose the job they want. He preached thriving communities had a rich and robust concentration of ‘technology, talent, and tolerance’.

Access to a robust capital continuum

The most vibrant startup hubs have early investors and advisors willing to back early-stage ventures. It used to be the norm that if you wanted to grow or scale an enterprise, you had to be willing to travel or relocate to seek further investment. Today, investors are more willing to make a reasonable trip, or they might syndicate with a geographically closer angel network to the deal, if you’re building a winning business with a strong team, an attractive and compelling market and a Buffet moat (or two!). However, the best communities offer a continuum of capital services (not just capital access at one stage but throughout the venture’s life cycle) to meet the appropriate stage needs of their entrepreneurs.
So, how does your community rate? Where does you community shine, and where does your community need the most improvement? How can you better tell your story?
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