Can you really create a culture of entrepreneurship, or must it occur organically? Can it be intentional?
Here in Silicon Valley the culture of entrepreneurship permeates just about everything. Entrepreneurs are celebrated. Failure is recognized as part of the process. Almost everyone knows someone who either started a company, or worked in an early stage company. In other communities, the strategy must be more intentional. In my experience working with large and small communities across the U.S., I have witnessed numerous communities that are actively fostering a culture of entrepreneurship. Culture helps to create fertile ground for the startup of new businesses.
Here are a few effective strategies to help:
Make entrepreneurship visible. Create regular opportunities to increase awareness about entrepreneurship in the community. Many communities around the world celebrate “Entrepreneurship Week” with a series of events hosted by different organizations and institutions in the community that raise awareness about entrepreneurship and introduce the resources available locally for entrepreneurs. Not only do these events attract the participation of individuals who are considering entrepreneurship and those who are starting businesses, but they also attract public attention. Events like Entrepreneurship Week help residents in a community to understand the impact of entrepreneurship and business startup on their communities.
Demonstrate entrepreneurship as a career path. Starting with youth (K-12 education), teach basic business principles, create opportunities for kids to create businesses, and instill the philosophy that starting and operating a business is a career path. At colleges and universities, make entrepreneurship courses and programs open to anyone, and provide opportunities to learn practical skills. Don’t limit it to kids. Show adults that entrepreneurship is a career, whether it’s their first career or their second (or third).
Teach skills. Not everyone went to business school and many people may not know someone who has started a business…and even if they did, they still didn’t necessarily learn how to start a business that has a solid, actionable model and plan. Offer seminars, training and access to experts to help potential entrepreneurs to learn the necessary skills.
Connect. Help entrepreneurs to create networks by connecting them with other entrepreneurs, including those who are new and those who are experienced. Use MeetUps. If there’s a coworking, accelerator or incubator in your community, encourage them to invite the public to attend their networking events. It can be lonely starting a business. Connections matter.
Celebrate success. Success doesn’t have to be Google-like success, but launching your first product, generating sales, hiring employees, and gaining market share are all important milestones. Promote entrepreneur successes on social media and at events. And, introduce successful entrepreneurs to your local politicians…after all, you’re going to need their support to build a strong business formation landscape in your community.
Remember that creating a culture of entrepreneurship is a long-term strategy, and economic developers CAN have an impact.