We are now, more than ever, looking at increasing advocacy across many groups. And one group that people may be surprised to hear about needing advocacy is entrepreneurs.
Share the Load
Far too often, I have seen entrepreneurs be placed in a nearly impossible position. By this, I mean that they are expected to carry the whole load—and I mean, everything. We simply can’t expect—much less demand—this of them.
I often tell those I work with: As a part of the ecosystem of the city, if you want to have more venture start-ups come in, you have to reach out to the entrepreneurs. More importantly, you have to advocate on their behalf. Again, you can’t expect them to carry all the load.
This means giving entrepreneurs the help and support they need. But before you can do this, you have to know and understand what (exactly) it is that they need. This requires asking the right questions and listening (truly listening) to the answers with a mindset of making needed changes and supplying needs.
Every entrepreneur has different needs and visions, so your support will likewise need to be individualized and varied. For example, some entrepreneurs may need help with hiring or fundraising, while others might need help finding affordable office space.
Respect (and Realistic Expectations) Go a Long Way
Entrepreneur advocacy also extends to the mindset you have when you approach the entrepreneur. I highly encourage cities to remember that entrepreneurs are going to add so much to the city, and rather than thinking that it’s the city that will be “taking a chance” on an entrepreneur, it will be more of your asking the entrepreneur to take a chance on the city.
The analogy I often use is that just as start-ups learn from their first customers, so too will cities need to learn from entrepreneurs—learn from, not be transformed single-handedly (see the difference there?).
So respect for the role an entrepreneur has and realistic expectations for what that entrepreneur will be bringing to the table (city) are musts to get them to that table. For this reason, the city has to, in essence, woo them. As a recent guest of my podcast, Bob Meese, put it: “We need to find talent attractors” that will bring other tech talents to the scene to build up a thriving ecosystem. Because again, entrepreneurs can’t be expected to carry all the load—they can’t be building a successful start-up and be expected to change the city’s culture.
And according to Bob Meese: “In terms of what Duolingo can do, I’m starting to branch out a little bit more … For the first while, I was not visible at all in the broader tech ecosystem here in Pittsburgh because I told other people, ‘I can be most helpful to you by helping Duolingo to be successful.’”
So now that the tables are pretty much turned, and we agree to no longer see entrepreneurs as people cities are taking a chance on, but who cities are tasked with pursuing, these questions must be posed:
· What is the city doing to reach out to those already showing some progress to give them all the help and support they need?
· How can we help you?
· How can we help you with hiring?
· How can we help you with office space?
· How can we give you tax incentives?
· How can we help you with transportation?
I think you get the idea. The lesson from this is don’t serve every entrepreneur; serve a specific single officer. And don’t assume you know what each one needs.