I often hear that small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned small businesses, have unique business needs. As the founder and chief executive officer of my company, I can attest to the truth of that sentiment. Entrepreneurship is an incredibly rewarding, albeit, insanely taxing journey. However, communities can and should play a role in entrepreneurial success.
According to an assessment of Indy’s Small Business Ecosystem completed by Next Street and Common Future, Indianapolis and Marion County house a robust small business ecosystem with approximately 21,000 employer small businesses in 2017 that accounted for 91% of all employer businesses in the nine-county, Indy region. While most communities support entrepreneurship and its impact on the community, many miss opportunities to cultivate entrepreneurs. This missed opportunity costs cities money through business and talent attraction.
The cultivation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem creates a connected network where budding businesses have access to the specific resources they need to launch, grow, and scale their businesses. The essence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. An effective ecosystem allows for the fast flow of talent, information, and resources that help entrepreneurs quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its separate parts.
Understanding an entrepreneurial ecosystem is one thing, but creating an ecosystem takes bold, collective action—like putting and keeping entrepreneurs at the helm of a developing ecosystem. By putting entrepreneurs front and center, communities enable these leaders to do what they do best: design innovative solutions. As the ultimate beneficiaries in any program or ecosystem development, entrepreneurs are undoubtedly the most active participants in the plans.
However, an ecosystem is only as strong as the sum of its parts, which is why relationship-building is critical across community, industry, and political party lines. The primary focus of an ecosystem is to move knowledge and resources and that transference only happens through conversations between people. But actions can’t end with conversations—the key is to drive action. Instead of chatting in conference rooms or coffee shops, colleagues can challenge each other to build prototypes, brainstorm on a whiteboard, or engage in a good, old-fashioned, sticky note exercise. This bias towards action will begin to foster innovation and collaboration while modeling resource-sharing.
With a reputation built on Hoosier hospitality, and a nod from Forbes as the 2022 Best State to Start a Business, Indiana has already demonstrated a culture of invitation—one where everyone is welcome. The notion of being radically inclusive is what enables an ecosystem to unlock potential value out of everyone involved. An inclusive philosophy also enables an ecosystem for continual growth through the introduction of new ideas, people, and principles.
Ultimately, the benefits of an entrepreneurial ecosystem have the potential to yield a more connected, more innovative, more inclusive Indy that drives greater economic impact across the state. The only question remains is who’s ready to drive action?