At least fifty of Rochester’s innovators gathered in the Collider co-working and business incubator space last week to brainstorm ways to create a stronger entrepreneurial and small business community.
It was an active evening with everyone in the room participating in the discussion. Four questions were posed to the community on white boards addressing the state of Rochester’s entrepreneurial environment or how it can be improved. The gathered group was then asked to answer the questions by writing on post-it notes or directly on the white boards. The community then voted on the perceived best answers.
Here are the community’s top three responses to each of these questions.
Question 1: What are the biggest challenges or barriers (real or perceived) that are slowing down the growth of the community?
This particular board was extremely crowded with suggestions from the gathered Rochester residents. However, the number one concern was lack of tech savvy leadership. Rochester has medical and service expertise, but the community feels there is a huge gap in-between these two sectors. If there was tech leadership in Rochester, that talent was not retained in the city.
The second major barrier slowing down the community is fear of failure. Fear of failing at something is only natural. But there was some thought in the room that if you lost your job at a startup or new business, there are a lack of jobs at a similar skill level to move on to. There is also a perception that your reputation would be tarnished after a “failure” in a city the size of Rochester. It might not even be a fear of failure that is holding the community back. It might be fear of succeeding; a fear of actually having to change some part of our lives and achieve our dreams.
The third largest barrier holding back the community was fear of Mayo taking over. Although this anxiety was highly popular in the room, when it came to actually articulating why this fear existed, there was some disconnect. There was some feeling that Mayo inappropriately impacts how businesses are run in this city. But others in the room largely felt unaffected by Mayo and thought that they would not even be here if it weren’t for Mayo Clinic in the first place.
Question Two: What events or activities have been beneficial in the past and what do you want to see in the future to fuel the community?
The number one activity the community desired is sharing of contacts. This activity would help colleagues locate service providers in the community, like insurance, manufacturing, legal, banking, and more, which is a major barrier of entry to someone just starting a business.
The community also wants more mentor matching. Lack of mentorship or strong leadership was a predominant theme during the night. Perhaps something like a human resource center should be built to facilitate mentorship matching.
The community also would like to see another TEDx event. They felt this facilitated the sharing of big ideas and was one way to get Rochester’s community of innovators excited about their thoughts.
Question 3: What does Rochester’s entrepreneurial community look like at the end of DMC?
It was clear from the responses that we only see entrepreneurship moving forward. Most people thought that the community will be vibrant at the end of DMC, with increased entrepreneurial activity.
The second most popular idea was that entrepreneurship will be embedded in the community after the twenty-year span of the DMC project.
The community strongly believed that Rochester’s entrepreneurial community will be diverse twenty years into our future. We will have a wide range of businesses and ideas within the city and a real ecosystem will have developed. The community will finally be able to fully capture the talent of trailing spouses, as well, with broader job opportunities.
Question 4: How can we foster an inclusive environment for entrepreneurs in Rochester?
More high school involvement practically leapt from this board. Rochester has talent. It just often leaves when it turns twenty and never comes back. It was made clear that it is our responsibility, not that of the schools or the students, to reach out and engage with the youth. And perhaps even high school is a bit late to start these interactions.
The second most popular idea is that we need to identify the next entrepreneurs.
And finally, we need to provide mentorship to make the community more inclusive. The power of good mentorship cannot be understated. Many of us in the room that night would not have been there without strong and caring advisors.
If you missed the event, you can view the conversation via Facebook Live videos taken that night.