Why is supporting a system of entrepreneurship important?

Why are we asking this question?

Because our mission at We Create Here is to develop a sense of the whole around the regional economy, and one of the key issues is developing new ventures.

Why are successful entrepreneurs important?

Josh Cramer, CEO of Cramer Development in Iowa City, paints the broad picture:

Because of technology and the internet, almost every known business model is in the process of being disrupted, re-invented, or re-imagined. New products and services are emerging at a pace never before seen and competition is no longer limited by geographical boundaries. No business model is completely immune to this disruption. But with this new disruption and competition comes massive new opportunity. It has never been easier to create new business models and to address national or global audiences.

In order for our region to be relevant in this emerging future global economy, we must build and grow companies that participate in these new methods of value creation. Entrepreneurs are the explorers and authors of this new way of life and work. We, as a region, must identify and support the entrepreneurs who are disrupting and cannibalizing the old business models with the new.

In a nutshell, according to Curt Nelson, the President and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Development Center:

Solving the unsolved, creating enjoyment, and fostering the change that transforms and fuels economies comes from the human gift of creativity. The desire and ability to create new value is at the heart of any growing and prospering community, region or nation.

Daniel Isenberg, of the Babson College Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, strongly asserted:

Daniel Isenberg, Director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project

Remember: starting up a company is easy. Growing and scaling up are the hard parts. Growth is MUCH harder than start.

Isenberg, in his recent book Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value (Harvard, 2013) presents:

“entrepreneurship as the contrarian perception, creation, and capture of extra ordinary value…Entrepreneurship—perceiving, creating, and capturing extraordinary value—is part of the human experience. In this respect, it is similar to art, poetry, music, and storytelling. Every society’s people have developed unique ways of expressing themselves; entrepreneurship is also a form of self-expression.

Why is a support system for entrepreneurship needed?

Because starting something new and growing it is hard work, and essential to the vibrancy of the region. And, each region needs to play to its own special strengths.  In an open letter to President Obama on the founding of Startup America (one of the merged entities of UP Global meeting in Iowa’s Creative Corridor next week) Isenberg challenged the new team:

Entrepreneurship is hyper-local in that all “species” of entrepreneurs gather around extremely small “watering holes” to draw from the resources (people, ideas, capital, customers) they need to start up and grow. We can’t mass produce Silicon Valleys, and its venture capital model does not work in Tucson or Minneapolis. One size does not fit all, so you need to help each locale cultivate the ecosystem that best fits it.

John Schnipkoweit, founder and CEO of nextstep.io, reflected:

Communities of any kind have a feeling to them. “Friendly”, “Quaint” and yes “Entrepreneurial”. City leaders help create the platform for any of these – but it’s the people who must actually emanate it. Cedar Rapids Main Street is a lot like Wall Street – steeped in rich, successful business traditions, still unsure how to react to the internet/new economy. To be successful in the next century, business models must be creatively adapted, rethought and scaled – this is not an easy process. In order for a community to emanate the feeling needed for entrepreneurs to thrive, it must first understand this and why the changes brought on by the internet and new technology are a good thing – our ecosystem must play a role in not only supporting, but educating. We have the resources to be leaders of the next century – will we lead, or follow?

Isenberg then went on to define the key components of such an local ecosystem:

The entrepreneurship ecosystem consists of six domains (see diagram). Actually, the entrepreneurship ecosystem consists of hundreds of specific elements that, for convenience, we group into six general domains: a conducive culture, enabling policies and leadership, availability of appropriate finance, quality human capital, venture-friendly markets for products, and a range of institutional and infrastructural supports. Our entrepreneurship ecosystem diagram shows fifty of these specific components.

Essentials of Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

What makes a strong support ecosystem?

Brad Feld, one of the key participants in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boulder and author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (Wiley, 2012), noted:

A critical part of a sustainable startup community is to have activities and events that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack. These events – like Creative Week and the UP America Summit – get entrepreneurs, and everyone involved and interested in entrepreneurship, together to talk about and actually do things around entrepreneurship.

1776 is a Washington DC based platform to connect startups with “the resources they need to excel.”  Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776, talked about the synergies that the national guests will experience with the Iowa hosts during Creative Week:

The UP Global Summit will bring leaders from around the country to Iowa, not only to collaborate and learn from each other, but to also personally experience the local ecosystem. They will be surprised at the energy and activity within the startup community and walk away believing that, yes, incredible high growth companies are indeed being planted there.

Mark Nolte, President and CEO of the Iowa City Area Development Group, discussed the importance of actually experiencing activities with those who are making new things happen.   Events like Creative Week, and the UP America Summit are a rare opportunity:

Our region is globally relevant in the startup scene discussion, the fact that we are hosting the UP America Summit event is evidence of this reality. Sometimes it seems the only people who don’t recognize the full potential of this region are the people who live here. Hopefully Creative Week is a way for people to explore and celebrate all that we could be here.

So, we know that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is important, but how are we developing it in Iowa’s Creative Corridor?  Andy Stoll, co-founder and creative director of Seed Here Studio has developed this view:

Andy Stoll, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Seed Here Studio

Andy Stoll, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Seed Here Studio

Note that it needs to be developed by entrepreneurs, over a long period of time, organically.
This is not a quick fix.  As Barry Boyer, chair of the board of Van Meter Inc, and the first Chair of the Cedar Rapids Area Metro Economic Alliance said:

Our community has grown largely as a result of those entrepreneurs who came before us. The majority of large companies in the corridor were started here by tenacious entrepreneurs and continue to provide employment to 1000’s of our citizens. We have to nurture that next Collins Radio or Life Investors(Aegon), CRST, or Van Meter. Today’s ideas become tomorrow’s economy.

Where do you think the region’s ecosystem is in its development?  What is working well?  What is the next best step?

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1 Comment

  1. This is the most high profile focal moment of entrepreneurship in the history our Region, perhaps the State. 110+ entrepreneurial events, 150+ global entrepreneurial leaders, and one densely packed series of days- we’ll look back at this moment as a defining period in our region.


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