I attended a webinar last week on Rural Entreprenurial Development Systems or “EDS”s.
It showcases a report funded by the Kellog Foundation and describes a three-year project to work with six sites on creating “Entrepreneurial Development Systems”. The report summaries those experiences and draws lessons on structure and strategy. The webinar introduced the concepts and had presentations from two of the EDS participants.
For this study an EDS should aim to create three key situations:
- a pipeline of entrepreneurs
- a system of support
- a culture of entrepreneurship
These precepts rang familiar to me from a report my friend Mina Yoo did in 2006 with folks from the University of Washington Business and Economic Development Center: Regional Economic Development for the North Central Washington Region. That was my first exposure to the idea that entrepreneurship is a bit of a mindset that can be supported by a local culture – things like emphasizing calculated risk-taking and acceptance of failure. How? In the kinds of stories reported in the local papers, or examples discussed in education and training programs. They also suggested identifying success stories and recognizing them at a community level; and building a culture that embraces newcomers and takes advantage of what knowledge and outside resources they can bring. The UW group posited culture as a foundation that the rest of entrepreneurial support builds on.
In the FIELD webinar we heard from John Parker who leads a project supported by the North Caroline Rural Development Center. They have defined a set of 5 Pillars of Support needed to build a supportive community for entrepreneurship. Their five pillars resonated with my experience in urban entrepreneurial development as well. They are:
- Education – teaching folks to make informed business decisions
- Technical Assistance – business services and information. I’ll categorize education as more towards the theory side and TA as more towards the practice side of business.
- Access to Capital – from a systems perspective an EDS should work to identify gaps, as well as educate entrepreneurs
- Access to Networks – help folks identify service providers, collaborators, mentors
- Leadership & Policy Development – again at a systems level, look at tax and regulatory policies and how they can support entrepreneurship.
The work being done in North Carolina is at a state level, working to connect many disparate systems and services. One comment that interested me: John reported that entrepreneurs are often shy about asking these resources for what they need. He said they emphasize to these owners that such services are provided with their tax dollars, so they certainly have a right to use them!
The other presenter on the webinar was Mary Matthews from the Greenstone Group. They are focused on a region of Minnesota and have a targeted approach. From their website: “The purpose of the Greenstone Group is to increase the number and skill levels of entrepreneurs and thus build business wealth and employment through the growth of successful locally owned companies.” Some of their activities focus on building the pipeline. Further, they have a clear focus on moving businesses through the pipeline. The businesses they work with need to have been in business for several years already. For Greenstone, their areas of focus are:
- Entrepreneurial development via coaching and training
- A professional service provider network to help Entrepreneurs access the right services at the right time
- Campus connection to community colleges, again building that pipeline
- Civic engagement to foster a supportive environment
Greenstone seeks to create “entrepreneurial transformation” and see change in their targeted businesses as Operators start acting more like Managers, Managers learn to be CEOs, and perhaps beyond the program CEOs will develop themselves beyond – into investors and managers of multiple companies. It’s a leadership program focused on developing the skills of the entrepreneurs rather than the broad bucket of creating opportunities for supportive transactions that address needs like financial planning or marketing help.
The webinar was presented by FIELD, the microenterprise-focused sub-section of a larger Economic Opportunities Program that “focuses on advancing strategies that connect the poor and underemployed to the mainstream economy”. The programs are part of The Aspen Institute, a national organization in DC. I’m somewhat familiar with FIELD because they run the Microtest program that Washington CASH has participated in for several years. Microtest uses a summer-long intern and does a deep evaluation of the program and over the last several years has consistently shown that Washington CASH reaches a lower-income population than any other microenterprise org in the country, and yet shows solid income improvement for more than 75% of clients after a year.
All in all, some great system-level thinking on how to support entrepreneurship!