INFRASTRUCTURE FOR ENTREPRENEURS Creating an Entrepreneurial Strategy 02.02.15
Background and Introduction Any system – think interstate highways, water and wastewater, education – relies on infrastructure, those critical elements that enable the system to work efficiently and effectively. These infrastructure elements are typically universally present (e.g., treatment facility in a water system) and address core needs and opportunities. In an entrepreneurial ecosystem, you will also find infrastructure components that are fundamental, transparent and easily accessed by all entrepreneurs. These are the elements that contribute to a more relevant and robust system of support. This paper outlines the elements of a comprehensive, yet achievable, entrepreneurial infrastructure suitable for a community or regional landscape.
Systems Our field experience supports the view that “systems of support” for entrepreneurs achieve greater outcomes than isolated programmatic approaches. Systems by design are comprehensive, rational and integrated. Entrepreneurial Development Systems provide a more complete environment for stimulating and supporting entrepreneurial development.
In this Paper, you will find information on the Major Elements of “e” Infrastructure including:
Market Research Capital Access Peers - Networks - Mentors Basics Quality of Life Amenities
Major Elements of “e” Infrastructure First, we must admit that there is no “established” definition of Entrepreneurial Infrastructure, but such a typology or definition is needed and would be useful. Our experience working with communities and entrepreneurs throughout North America suggests that there are four major elements to a robust “e” infrastructure. The following figure summarizes these four elements. Remember the importance of taking a “Demand Side Approach” to providing value to your entrepreneurs. By learning from your entrepreneurial talent, you can better determine which entrepreneurial infrastructure is optimal to support your game plan and community’s entrepreneurs.
Major Elements of an “e” Infrastructure Market Research Market research is possibly the most important infrastructure resource a community can provide to its entrepreneurs. Knowledge about such things as competitors, suppliers and markets is powerfully important to entrepreneurial success in today’s global economy.
Capital Access There is near universal awareness that access to capital or money is essential to business development and growth. However, with entrepreneurs, you are likely to find a greater diversity of capital needs and relevant strategies than has been the case in more traditional business development.
Peers - Networks – Mentors
Manufacturing a box of cereal can be systematized and managed from across the continent. Entrepreneurs are engaged in not only production, but the creative process of designing services, building teams and connecting with markets. Access through networks to peers and mentors who have had experience with these “creative” processes can be powerfully important.
It is called “business climate” and, after 65 years of experience, we know what it takes to be competitive in terms of business attraction. However, the kinds of business climate amenities entrepreneurs value are different. Learning what entrepreneurs need and want in a supportive business climate is important to building the right infrastructure.
In rural America, communities are often smaller and more isolated as compared to urban, let alone major metropolitan places. The lack of scale and physical isolation create unique challenges for rural communities as they seek to create and sustain robust “e” infrastructure. For rural communities committed to going down this road, we strongly suggest two strategies that can help you meet this challenge. First, consider working regionally. By partnering with other communities in your region, you can mobilize more resources and build a stronger infrastructure for your entrepreneurs. Second, your efforts must be rooted in effective networking. Learning how to reach outside of your locality to resources in other places is an important approach. By increasing access to such resources, your community can offer a competitive advantage for area entrepreneurs. The following sections take a deeper look at each of these four elements of an “e” infrastructure.
Market Research When a major manufacturing plant is considering locating a branch plant in your community, you do not need to worry about providing market research services as part of an incentive package. Large companies have extensive market research capabilities. But for smaller entrepreneurial ventures, market research is fundamental. We would argue that access to affordable and high quality market research may be more important to growing your entrepreneurial economy than access to capital. Market research can help an entrepreneur better understand her competitive niche and make more strategic decisions about growth and expansion. It is, in some ways, a prerequisite to making good use of capital. While it is valuable for entrepreneurs, creating access to market research can provide your community or region with a comparative advantage in building a robust environment for entrepreneurs. It sends a message that you are exploring new ways to help entrepreneurs and are committed to building the right kind of infrastructure. The following table summarizes the key elements of market research.
Components of Market Research Markets Bottom line, entrepreneurs need customers or markets to be successful. Helping entrepreneurs discover where there are markets is important. While this may be intuitive for entrepreneurs serving local or community markets, extending a footprint to regional, national and even international markets requires more research support.
Competitors Every day throughout the world, people wake up with a strong desire to succeed. For every entrepreneur, there are competitors â€“ some known, most unknown. Market research can help entrepreneurs learn more about potential competitors including their geographic coverage, strengths and weaknesses.
Suppliers Creating a reliable, affordable and diverse supply chain is important to any business, but choices in this arena are particularly critical to growing entrepreneurial ventures. Market research can help entrepreneurs learn more about potential suppliers, enabling them to make smarter choices and stronger partnerships.
Other Supporting entrepreneurs is really about supporting people. Entrepreneurs may need to build a set of â€œsoftâ€? skills associated with working with new suppliers, markets, customers and competitors. Some of these skills also relate to how to most effectively use market research in entrepreneurial decision making.
In some places like Chico, California or the communities in Wyoming, market research services are provided as part of their economic development programs. However, most communities know very little about market research, other than it should be part of a business feasibility study or business plan. Providing strong market research services is a whole new endeavor.
The U.S. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs, supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration) are now providing more sophisticated market research as part of their practice. Your state or local SBDC could be a starting place for accessing such resources. However, access to these services is far from uniform and may be constrained by too few SBDC field staff skilled at using these resources. We recommend that you take the time to talk to your area and state SBDC to find out what they can do and under what conditions they can support your entrepreneurs with market research. You may also want to check out the Edward Lowe Foundation and their Economic Gardening resource.
Capital Access We know from decades of economic development experience that businesses need capital to grow. The key, however, is having access to the right kind of capital at the right time. With a diverse set of entrepreneurs in any given community, ranging from startups to growing ventures, capital access becomes more complex. The following table illustrates some of this diversity:
A Diversity of Capital Access Startups
Startup entrepreneurs may have limited equity and poor credit ratings. They need small amounts of capital. Micro capital programs and strategies to help entrepreneurs become bankable are important at this stage.
Many Americans are entrepreneurs because they have no other choice. Often they are outside the traditional credit world and, like startups, can benefit from micro programs that create access to small amounts of capital and build credit history.
As the word suggests, life style entrepreneurs have combined life style choices with the creation of a venture. Bed and Breakfast Inns are characteristic of life style entrepreneurs. Often they have better credit capacity and history, but need somewhat larger capital needs.
America is aging and so is a current generation of business owners. Both sellers and buyers have unique and often complex capital needs requiring packaging and guarantees. In many cases, these deals require a combination of equity and debt financing.
Growing businesses tend to have increasing needs for capital tied to expansion. Often, more traditional economic development capital programs can work well for these entrepreneurs.
High growth businesses consume great amounts of capital which are often larger than traditional economic development capital programs can provide. Creating access to angel investors or networks and venture funds becomes more important for high growth entrepreneurs.
Given the diversity in both capital needs and capital resources, it is clear that providing access to capital is more complicated than simply building strong relationships within the banking community. However, a strong capital system can be built using some basic elements including micro-lending programs, community-based revolving loan programs, area banks, and connections to state and federal economic development financing programs.
Peers – Networks – Mentors Our field work supports the idea that the most important resource to an entrepreneur is access to other entrepreneurs. By necessity, successful entrepreneurs are networkers. They understand that somewhere out there is a resource that can fit a need, open a door or facilitate a deal. However, entrepreneurs, particularly less successful ones, also have a tendency to focus on their own work and fail to take advantage of others and their expertise. Networking takes time and has risks. An entrepreneur might meet someone at a networking event who becomes a burden, wasting time and energy. However, communities can create ecosystems where it is easier to engage in this all-important peer learning. The following table summarizes some options:
Components of a Peer Learning Resource Coaching
Communities that employ entrepreneurial coaching can facilitate peer learning opportunities. Coaches can serve as the network hub, linking entrepreneurs to the right person at the right time. They can run interference and help manage peer relationships. Coaches can also be helpful in identifying entrepreneurs who are primed to benefit from peer networking as well as recruiting those who are valuable mentors.
Peer networks can play a valuable role in an entrepreneurial ecosystem. These networks are often driven by events and there are many examples of community-enabled peer networking. We encourage a thoughtful approach where entrepreneurs are driving the formation and operation of networks, and the content of events. These networks should be “by and for entrepreneurs.”
Mentoring typically involves matching a newer entrepreneur with a more veteran one. In some cases, a volunteer board of directors will be created and used to assist a newer entrepreneur. Communities might consider retooling an SBA SCORE Chapter into a more robust and valuable mentoring network. We find that a well managed mentoring network can increase the number of veteran entrepreneurs who are willing to commit to be mentors.
Our favorite site for a “peer” centered entrepreneurial approach is Fairfield, Iowa. Their entrepreneurs group and the community itself host regular peer learning events. These are often captured by the local cable television channel for later broadcasting. These recordings are available through the local public library. We encourage using your entrepreneur coaches to manage and facilitate peer learning events.
A word of caution is warranted here. On the surface, creating networking events and peer networks, and engaging mentors may seem simple and easy – find a place and provide refreshments. These activities actually have their own science and art form. Entrepreneurs want to learn and they are typically open to networking. In fact, when a couple entrepreneurs get together, the networking happens naturally. However, the one commodity in shortest supply for an entrepreneur is time. They must constantly ask the question – is this the best use of my time or would I be better off working on my business (or spending time with family or healthy recreation). Networking activities are important to your ecosystem and they can create both connections and impact for entrepreneurs. But, they cannot be done on the cheap. If you include these activities, be thoughtful and invest wisely.
Basics There are certain things that we call “basics” that are fundamental to supporting your entrepreneurial talent. In the days of business attraction, we had a pretty good idea of what relocating industry and businesses required – access to affordable power, roads, railroads, industrial and commercial sites and the like. A strong and affordable business climate is equally important to entrepreneurs. However, in addition to traditional business climate elements, there are other key entrepreneurial basics that should be part of a community’s entrepreneurial infrastructure:
Components of the “Basics” Cell Service
Entrepreneurs depend heavily on cellular service. They not only want high capacity and reliable service, they increasingly want choices. Communities need to work proactively with cellular service providers and regulators to ensure strong coverage and service options.
Access to high speed and reliable internet service is now foundational in any society and economy. Entrepreneurs are increasingly reliant upon the internet to communicate with business customers and suppliers across the state and around the world. A community that cannot provide reliable high speed access is at a disadvantage in cultivating entrepreneurs.
Same Day Parcel Services
Places and Spaces
Entrepreneurial ventures are more virtual today, with the team and customers located in different and often distant places. Same day parcel service is important, ensuring physical connectivity between team players, vendors and customers. As with cellular and internet services, having access to a range of parcel service providers can be important.
Entrepreneurs are part of the creative class. As such, a range of physical places and spaces are important to their creativity. Unique working environments ranging from shared work spaces to coffee houses are desired. Taking time to learn about your entrepreneurs “place and space” needs is recommended.
A Special Note on Workforce and Talent. Access to human talent is increasingly important to entrepreneurs and their ventures. Entrepreneurial activity in North America is higher in communities with diverse and substantial pools of talent. In these places, workers can move from one venture to another. There is more out-sourcing and consulting. Communities need to learn from your entrepreneurs what their talent needs are and work with residents and educational resources to grow a relevant workforce for today’s entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs. Remember these infrastructure elements are connected. For example, one way to enhance access to human talent is through peer networks where a community makes it easier and more productive to meet others in the community who might have unique skills, connections or talents. Peer networking can create awareness and access to potential employees, contractors or partners.
Quality of Life Amenities In today’s environment, talented people, including entrepreneurs and their families, tend to choose where they want to live first, knowing that they can create and grow a business almost anywhere. This is why we find remarkable entrepreneurs living on a ranch in rural Nebraska (Jim Jenkins – restaurant entrepreneur) and in an urban center (Warren Buffett – investor). Community development becomes very important in creating a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. Key quality of life amenities for entrepreneurs are summarized in the table below.
Quality of Life Amenities Housing and Neighborhoods Entrepreneurs and their families want high quality and affordable housing. Depending upon their life stage, they seek a range of housing from main street lofts to single family homes with a large yard. Safe and functional neighborhoods are very important to entrepreneurs.
Quality Education Entrepreneurs value education. They seek communities that can provide high quality K-16 education, experiential learning opportunities and life-long learning. Communities with a strong commitment to quality education are more attractive to entrepreneurial talent.
Arts – Entertainment - Recreation Entrepreneurs and their families have a wide range of interests. Communities that provide diverse arts, culture, entertainment and recreation offerings are more competitive today for retaining and attracting entrepreneurial talent.
Progressive and Diverse Culture Entrepreneurs are innovative. They thrive in communities that have a positive and progressive attitude. They value diverse culture and a willingness to explore new ideas and embrace change. Communities that provide progressive and diverse cultural environments are more attractive.
Entrepreneurs are a diverse group; to go beyond these general themes, it is important to engage in conversations with your current entrepreneurial talent and explore what amenities are important to them and their families. If you want to attract entrepreneurial talent, then broaden your search for insight. Talk to new and former residents and young people to find out what they are looking for in their community. We have included in our Entrepreneurial Strategies Resource Package an updated paper titled “Entrepreneur Attraction.” This resource can be helpful in digging deeper into these topics.
The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship’s mission is to help community leaders build a prosperous future by supporting and empowering business, social and civic entrepreneurs. With our roots and hearts in rural America, we help communities of all sizes and interests by bringing empowering research, community engagement and strategy development to you through our many Solution Areas. Our Solution Area Teams empower communities to discover their own answers to the challenges and opportunities they face: -
Community Development Philanthropy: Providing research and community engagement strategies that help communities build philanthropic capacity and create development resources now and in the future.
Youth Engagement: Providing tools and a framework for communities to engage young people now and to bring them home in the future.
Measurement Research Policy: Providing the tools to help communities define development goals, measure success and improve outcomes.
Entrepreneurial Communities: Providing a roadmap for communities to design and deliver entrepreneur-focused economic development strategies that work. To learn more about us, go to www.energizingentrepreneurs.org. 421 S. 9th Street, Suite 245 Lincoln, NE 68508 (402) 323-7336
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