Put Your City On the Entrepreneurial Map

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

It’s no secret that Silicon Valley has long been associated with a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. And it’s no coincidence that Apple, Facebook, Oracle, Intel and the like have all come out of this dynamic and innovative geographic area. However, we have great energy and excitement today with the recent announcement of the revitalization of the Fort Wayne GE property. Armed with ideas and passion, committed community leaders and concerned citizens rallied to create a better future for our citizens and children in partnership with GE and a Baltimore-based developer to create a dynamic innovation district.

I believe it’s possible for cities of all sizes and types to harness some of that same energy. But how? How can your city become the next cradle of innovation? I believe it comes down to the following 4 factors.

Don’t ignore the demographics.

It’s no longer just about white, young males and tech startups. We need to think well beyond that stereotype and customer segment. According to reports published by Babson College and Baruch College, more than 16% of entrepreneurs were first generation immigrants and 7 out of 10 are women. And according to the Kauffman Foundation, one in four new businesses in 2015 were founded by individuals aged 55-64. While we focus extensively on millennials, we are forgetting these other important groups that have higher new venture start-up rates and higher survivability rates.

Make immersive, experiential entrepreneurship education more accessible, relevant and support entrepreneurs in all stages.

Small companies grow into larger ones. It’s a mistake to only focus energies on established ones. Critical to that growth is access to feeders – entrepreneurial education and expert resources. It is our mission at the Innovation Center to help turn dreams into businesses. That’s why we offer a wide range of programs and services to ventures at all phases of growth. Our new motto at The NIIC is “Dream big. Get real.” Remember, only 2% of all U.S. small business establishments are considered high potential.

It really does take a village to build a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we should accelerate the growth and development of all interested and motivated entrepreneurs. Later this month, The NIIC is launching its new NIIC Navigator™ Learning Management System to make entrepreneurship more accessible and convenient for business builders and entrepreneurs. Our approach is designed to reduce false starts and to increase the entrepreneur’s odds of success.

Value & affirm social innovators (problem solvers).

Not all ventures are profit-driven. Some exist for the sole purpose of solving a societal issue or making a social impact. Cities are best served to value this type of thinking and invest resources in them. What if global hunger could be solved with a social enterprise? Don’t underestimate today’s social innovators (problem solvers) and their potential for far-reaching impact. Our community is blessed with enterprising non-profit organizations – think about Blue Jackets, NeighborLink, Easter Seals/ARC, and the League for the Blind & Disabled. They are doing innovative and cool things to address social issues in our community with smart business models.

Promote an integrative and inclusive approach to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs need to be treated with the same respect as other members of the business community. That means landlords, attorneys, bankers, and other service providers need to level the playing field for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need a supportive community when they are most vulnerable. Entrepreneurs need access to expertise when they have little financial resources to invest. Entrepreneurs need to know it is okay to fail and to start again. As a community, we need to affirm a risk-savvy culture and community commitment to entrepreneurial excellence. Leaning into a failure savvy and tolerant culture will lead to more entrepreneurial successes.

How is your city doing with embracing these points? Where is there room for improvement? Join the entrepreneurial movement and conversation to advance the needs and interests of our country’s most valuable assets – business builders and entrepreneurs.


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