Cultivating and Nurturing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Entrepreneurs & Their Communities November 19, 2007 Print Friendly and PDF

What Communities Can Do


Most communities have some distinguishing entrepreneurial characteristics (see What is an Entrepreneurial Community) that can be identified, organized and perhaps developed into an effective strategy that supports local and regional economic development.

There are a number of well-developed community models or strategies that lead to an entrepreneurial development system (see 10 Community Strategies for Leveraging Regional Assets to Support Local Entrepreneurs). Regardless of the approach there are common factors that appear to be critical to the cultivation and nourishment of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Three of these critical factors are: 1) Increasing the supply of entrepreneurs, 2) Building entrepreneurial networks, and 3) Rewarding entrepreneurial behavior.

Increasing the Supply of Entrepreneurs

"The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship" has identified three different sources or types of entrepreneurial motivation in most communities:

(1) Aspiring Entrepreneurs often have no previous relevant experience in starting, owning, operating, managing or sometimes even working in a business. A combination of life changes and economic factors motivate Aspiring Entrepreneurs. Some examples maybe be displaced workers and homemakers, veterans, retiring baby-boomers, and hobbyists wondering if what they do for fun can be done for profit.

(2) Start-up Entrepreneurs have a grasp of the business concept to be developed, may have done some preliminary marketing research, but lack a rigorous business plan and the financial tools to determine the feasibility of the venture. Start-up Entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire of owning their own business. These are people who leave their jobs, work two jobs, inventors, students – people who have a dream to pursue or something to prove.

(3) Growth Oriented Entrepreneurs wants to expand a successful existing business. These entrepreneurs are adept at starting and running a business. They are motivated by their success and the opportunity to take their business ventures to a new level of growth, revenues, and profitability.

Successful community entrepreneurship programs focus on and identify their entrepreneurs, strategically target, and engage them by type. For example Aspiring Entrepreneurs typcially need training and counseling, Start-up or Growth Oriented Entrepreneurs may need access networks and financing. For long-term growth and development, communities need to address entrepreneurship education from K-16, training in technical schools and community colleges, business development services from a menu of one-stop providers, as well as local public policy in support of newcomers and move-in businesses.

Building Entrepreneurial Networks

"Entreworks Consulting" has published extensively on entrepreneurial services including the importance of networking for entrepreneurial success. “Networking,” Entreworks says, “is about doing business. It will be difficult for a new business to survive in the 21st century without effective networking where entrepreneurs find customers, investors, partners and service providers”.

The best and most effective networks emerge naturally as local entrepreneurs see the benefits of collaboration and partnerships. However, the local community may need to prime the networking pump, especially in rural areas where distance, scale, and lack of business services make the natural and spontaneous development of networks less likely. "The National Commission on Entrepreneurship" suggests communities consider the following steps in creating entrepreneurial networks:

  • Talk to entrepreneurs
  • Talk to service providers
  • Identify and create a network leadership team
  • Develop services based on local needs
  • Build the network, outreach to businesses, recruit new members
  • Teach and practice networking skills
  • Build strategic alliances – network the network
  • Conduct and solicit field trips and site visits
  • Tell the story
  • Seed and replicate

Entrepreneurial networks make it easier for communities to identify local entrepreneurs and offer help if needed. This in turn helps service providers target and streamline their support services, reduce inefficiencies, and help better serve local needs. Finally, the presence of an entrepreneurial network will help brand a community as entrepreneurial friendly.

Rewarding Entrepreneurial Behavior

The adage "we get what we reward and not what we ask for" applies to entrepreneurial services and behaviors in communities. The tools and means we use to praise and reward entrepreneurial accomplishments are limited only by our imagination and creativity.

Ideas that we can start with include:

  • Entrepreneur of the year award
  • Young entrepreneur of the year award
  • Community entrepreneurship week designation
  • New business recognition in local press and radio spots
  • “Business Friendly” community designation
  • Community supported business fair with booths and displays

Prepared by Marion Bentley, Utah State University

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