Economic Development historically has been about the attraction of new businesses to a city or region and the retention and expansion of existing businesses.
These traditional economic development strategies presume the business already exists, and its the economic development director’s job is bring the business to the community or help the business grow in the community.
The tools of a traditional economic development strategy include job training for new and existing employees, and tax incentives for training, job creation, and the construction of new facilities.
But there is a third leg to the economic development stool – assisting entrepreneurs in the creation of new businesses.
To be successful in starting a small business, an entrepreneur has four needs:
A belief that they can do it.
A belief that you can be successful as an entrepreneur comes from the experience of having done it before. This belief can come from having created a tech start up or from successfully selling tee-shirts to the senior class, but this belief will only come from having actually tried. It’s like riding a bicycle, once you’ve done it, you’ll know you can.
Ideally, hands-on entrepreneurship should taught in our high schools and colleges, not as a one course elective, but as an integrated piece of the curriculum. Teach students how to create a product, and then actually sell it. Let them feel the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
If you’re not sure you can do it, start small and experiment. Do some freelance work or a small batch test run of your product. Learn from your success.
Watch Dr. Bill discuss the Benefits to Thinking Like an Entrepreneur
An intimate understanding of the their product and their market.
An entrepreneur needs basic research skills in order to be able to research their product, their market, and their competitors. Talk to others in your industry. Talk to potential customers. Attend trade shows. Participate in webinars. Make the phone call. You’ll be surprised what people will tell you.
A basic understanding of the financial, marketing, and operational elements of running a business.
An entrepreneur needs to understand the basics. An intimate understanding of an individual market and an entrepreneur’s business will develop through hands-on experience over time.
A basic understanding of business can be found in most entrepreneurship and business plan creation books. This is also the content that is typically taught in that single entrepreneurship class in the college business school, and it’s the content that’s typically taught in the six-week “start your business” program run by the Small Business Development Center or local nonprofit.
Building a successful business will be much easier when a would-be entrepreneur starts off with the basic skills they will need.
Through Finance Without Fear Academy, Dr. Bill has created a series of courses to help the entrepreneur build these critical skills.
Access to people and resources who can help.
While the Hollywood image of the entrepreneur may be a lone individual working away in his or her garage late into the night, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ventures succeed because they receive some form of key assistance or guidance somewhere along the way.
Entrepreneurs need access to mentors – those who “been there, done that” – who can help guide them through the entrepreneurial mine field. To scale a business, they’ll need access to funding. They may need access to a facility where they can create prototypes or source the manufacturing of their product. Almost any business today will need access to high speed Internet.
Current research has also found that entrepreneurs benefit from access to cafes and coffee shops, university research centers, entrepreneurial support groups, and any other places where ideas can be serendipitously exchanged.
The Economic Developer’s Role
To assist entrepreneurs, economic development agencies must step beyond its traditional roles of job training, tax incentives and location assistance. A business does not need these services when they’re just starting out.
Instead, and economic development agency should focus on supporting and facilitating the entrepreneurial process.
This support and facilitation can include:
Make sure the business start-up requirements are clear and easy. Help guide the would-be entrepreneur through the process with the city and state government.
Act as an information-clearing house. Be familiar with all entrepreneurial resources available from government agencies, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, etc. and refer would-be entrepreneurs as necessary.
Make sure the community’s infrastructure and Internet is sufficient to meet the needs of today’s start-ups.
Develop contacts with local business leaders, entrepreneurs, service providers, colleges, universities, foundations, research centers, and think tanks.
Use these contacts to facilitate the creation of community “Shark Tank” where entrepreneurs can bring their ideas and questions and connect with mentors and investors.
Encourage the creation of entrepreneurial places – coffee shops, cafes, student unions, co-work spaces – where entrepreneurs can meet, hang out, and work. And perhaps connect to that missing resource.
Then get out of the way!