Why and How: Supporting Startups and Entrepreneurs to Grow Thriving Communities

A business that isn’t growing is losing market share. The same is true for a city. While we don’t commonly think of cities in the same way as businesses, both rely on customers and employees, and the businesses in a city play a very important role in its success or failure.

Small Cities

Many of our cities are currently losing market share. In small- to mid-sized cities around the country, people and businesses are leaving for more attractive cities, and their home cities are trying desperately to hold onto them. While keeping talent and businesses in town is critical for any city, it’s not accomplished by asking them not to leave or even through tax breaks. It’s accomplished through developing and supporting the creation and growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs, which then benefits both the community and the city itself.

Embracing and growing local startups is something many towns claim to be doing, but it’s a complicated process and different for each town. In my efforts working with local governments here in central Illinois, there has been a lot of work done to support businesses. What’s needed now is a concentrated effort to work together between cities and among businesses to support the future businesses that will supply tax dollars, businesses, and what consumers in this area want and need.

Here are the five primary steps I believe are needed to turn any city from saying they support entrepreneurs and small businesses into one that does.

  • Evaluate Resources and Trends


Before any new plans can be put into action, a city needs to understand what they have available and where trends and technology are headed. This is done by working with local experts and business owners as well as doing research. For example, a town in the Midwest probably isn’t the best fit for an incubator focused on the marine industry. However, we recently held a community workshop to discuss cryptocurrencies, which is an industry that could be developed in this area.

A town needs to know where their resources and capabilities stand and how these can turn into competitive advantages before developing and executing a plan.

  • Create a Plan and Commit


After evaluating available resources and trends that will determine what people in the area and beyond want and need, it’s time to create a plan and commit to it. There is risk involved, which is why many cities avoid taking action in favor of holding onto what they have. To make any real change, a plan must be put into place, and then the city and other stakeholders must make a commitment to see it through.

  • Educate


Education for both the community and the entrepreneurs and small businesses who will be a part of this new movement is required. They both need to be aware of the problem and agree on how it needs to be fixed. Education and marketing the plan then become the driving force to spread information about this movement.

    • Support


If there isn’t the support of the community behind this project, it will likely fail. The city, local businesses, and residents need to support the change in direction with their time, effort, and money.

Support is also needed for the new businesses as well, and this support needs to go deeper than tax breaks and additional perks. The city needs to find ways to give them the ability to do things that they can’t do now, like creating co-working spaces and incubators or opening up previously unavailable resources to startups that meet certain criteria.

Supporting a new ecosystem around entrepreneurship means giving entrepreneurs and ideas what they need to grow into 2-5 employee businesses and then grow into 10, 20, and 30+ employee businesses.

  • Collaborate


Companies compete against each other, but they also help create the landscape that allows every business in an area to benefit. Getting the cooperation of and collaboration between local universities, business owners, government employees, already established businesses and neighboring cities will increase what’s possible through this new effort and determine its success.

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