Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Missing Link (Hint: It’s You and It’s Me!)

Karl R. LaPan, President and CEO of The NIIC

Largely because of advancements in technology, almost every known business model is subject to reinvention and innovation. We are seeing more disruption than ever—and new products are coming to market faster than ever. The Internet has revolutionized competition. No longer can businesses rely on a quality product as their only selling point. No business model is really safe from these realities. We continue to see evidence of this in the contraction and demise of the brick & mortar retail sector and dislocations in logisitics and healthcare.

In order for our region to be viable and competitive, we must build and grow companies that are innovative and scrappy. But these companies do not occur in a vacuum. On the contrary, they need support systems to start and grow. That’s exactly what Daniel Isenberg, of the Babson College Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, argued in a 2011 open letter to President Obama. In a nutshell, he said that entrepreneurship is dependent on people drawing on local resources (human capital, advice, financing, customers) necessary for growth and scalability. He said that we can’t mass produce the success of Silicon Valley, and its overdosing venture capital model does not necessarily jive with that of Main Street businesses. In his opinion, there’s no one right way to “do” entrepreneurship, so the onus rests on each area to invest in the ecosystem that works for us and to engage in one or more of the thirteen elements based on our expertise, passion and capabilities. The NIIC has defined its contribution to the sandbox as a focus on the 4 pillars of entrepreneurial success – capital, talent, workspaces and networks.

While most communities take for granted culture and community building in entrepreneurship, they assume they have it, or it is developing. However, stakeholder’s need to support activities that celebrate entrepreneurial success. For instance, we recently held a Launch Women Pitch Competition to highlight the inequities between how women fund their businesses versus their male counterparts. This was an opportunity for entrepreneurs, community leaders and the general public to support and be inspired by female innovators. Sometimes, I think our biggest obstacle lies in educating our own community. We live in silos, and at times, lack appreciation of the breadth and depth of our entrepreneurial community, or worse, we attempt to marginalize some entrepreneurial efforts to promote other initiatives.

Where can you play a bigger role in encouraging and nurturing your community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? What can you do to shine a light on the hard work of entrepreneurs versus promoting antiquated entrepreneurial stereotypes?


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