When talking about networks, what we mean is creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to be able to bump into one another and find collaborations for future growth or receive feedback for improvement of their business endeavors. Entrepreneurs of all stripes flourish best when given chances to learn from each other.
Typically, when thinking about business networking opportunities, local Chambers of Commerce come to mind. While indeed critical for success in this regard, it is important for communities to recognize and encourage growth and utilization of not just professional- but equally as important- personal and social networking opportunities.
The Way Forward
Forward thinking communities rework traditional offerings to include Young Professional groups, civic organizations, nonprofit boards, and membership officialdoms as well as the ‘usual suspects’ (e.g. “Lion, Tiger, and Bear” clubs). In this vein, think also Rotary, Jaycees, and Kiwanis.
As economic developers, community organizers, and entrepreneurial champions, we need to cultivate and facilitate both these existing known networking organizations with new approaches to linking our entrepreneurs with one another for serendipitous interaction.
What does this look like?
When accomplished, this looks like everyday folks attending an “open coffee” or “Tech Brew” event. It means well attended social, professional, and personal networking events filled with not just startups- but small business owners and innovators talking with one another.
You’ll also frequently find mayors, city council members, legislators, and other elected officials meeting with and providing input into conversations with mom-and-pop owners. They have learned how to turn that small town charm into a strong community asset, such that everyone knows and supports everyone else- regardless of status or role.
It means facilitating the chances where just the mere ability for entrepreneurs, innovators, and dreamers to be afforded a platform to have a voice and chance to bump into one other for improvement of their ideas, and for elected officials in positions of influence to be able to connect with innovators.
Far too often we’ve found that some of our most important community members do not know or otherwise leverage their own personal network, talent, and/or expertise to help their local small firms succeed.
No need to recreate the wheel, many statewide organizations have created viable approaches to supporting entrepreneur networking events- and they are just a call away. Organizational leaders like the Technology Association of Iowa, and Iowa Association of Business & Industry are key leaders in this regard.
EDA University Center Role
Our role as a EDA University Center is to facilitate and encourage the formation of local events utilizing best practices from both within Iowa and nationally. Our goal is to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs (all stages/level) to share best practices, mentor each other, and/or consider collaborations and identify service needs within each region.