An entrepreneurial ecosystem, as defined by the Kauffman Foundation, is defined as “people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully.” A productive entrepreneurial ecosystem permits the accelerated flow of “talent, information, and resources” to entrepreneurs at all stages of growth. An entrepreneurial ecosystem also harnesses the ability to bolster the local and national economy. Powerful entrepreneurial ecosystems create jobs and attract and retain people.
Important to the process of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is uncovering resources and initiatives already taking place to support entrepreneurs and connecting these entities to bolster and spur innovation
In entrepreneurial ecosystem building, no one community stands alone.
No single city, organization or entity has enough resources and expertise to provide all the support that an entrepreneur requires. Instead, we need to all work together, as a region, to fully enable our startups and small businesses to achieve the highest level of success.
What could this process of entrepreneurial ecosystem building look like in southeastern Minnesota? The first step is to examine what supporting resources we have in our region, understand what initiatives are working, and connect the dots across this portion of the state.
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of attending a southeastern Minnesota entrepreneurial ecosystem building summit, organized by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and the University of Minnesota Extension. The purpose: to connect conversations about entrepreneurship taking place across the region and to raise awareness of innovation efforts occurring in our various communities.
This gathering included representation from across southeastern Minnesota including the Austin Startup Factory, a fifty-two-week educational partnership program between Austin Community Growth Ventures and Iowa State University; the Albert Lea Tiger Cage, a brand new, three-phase entrepreneurial startup competition; and Garage Cowork, a coworking space opening in October to keep talent in Winona, Minnesota and to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship in that community.
To start connecting these various pieces across the region and building infrastructure that works for our entrepreneurs, we should examine lessons learned from other communities. We have a great example locally with Forge North.
Forge North is a “movement of entrepreneurs, investors, collaborators, and allies from all industries working together to grow Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.” This organization is an initiative of Greater MSP, an economic development authority focused on the sixteen counties of the Twin Cities metro area, which has had recent increased statewide and national focus.
Forge North serves as a neutral convening organization to bridge multiple different parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem together in a larger “network of networks” to spur and support entrepreneurial initiatives and to sustain that entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What has worked best, Forge North Manager Meg Steuer explained, are community-based grassroots efforts where the entrepreneurs feel that their voices are being heard.
“It’s really about people. It’s about the people we support and how do we involve them in this work to truly create a system that benefits its entrepreneurs,” she said.
Based on all of these thoughts, here are eight suggestions of how we can begin to build a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in southeastern Minnesota.
1. Just show up.
2. Trust and support each other.
3. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
4. Take risks and help others who want to do the same.
5. Include everyone who wants to participate.
6. Encourage and uplift those who have failed.
7. Let the entrepreneurs lead.
8. Be patient.