Strengthening Cities One New Business at a Time

Posted by Brandon Copeland

Innovative Cities.jpg

On Thursday I’ll be moderating a panel for the St. John’s Board of Trade at this year’s Business Development Summit. My panel is called “The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Making an Impact" and… SPOILERS… we are planning to chat about the value that entrepreneurs and startups bring to the organizations and individuals who work with them in their early days. I’m very excited, since I think it is an important topic in St. John’s – especially considering where we currently are as a province economically.

Before moderating the panel though, I’m focusing a lot of time on thinking about the value of entrepreneurship. The topics for the panel are pretty straight forward for anyone who has spent some time investigating the entrepreneurial ecosystem – there is inherent value that can be pulled from entrepreneurs for those who want to take on the roles of mentors, investors, and early adoptors. Shaping the people and businesses who will become the leaders of tomorrow is undoubtedly something that will pay dividends. Even if the businesses or initiatives fail, there are countless stories of mentorships resulting in future partnership, or a future great hire.

There are more reasons why entrepreneurs are good, and why it is in the interest of every business in the region to be supporting the ecosystem. Entrepreneurs strengthen cities, and add value to places. Period. These are the same places that we all do business, and the more we can work to improve these places, the better for all of our economic prospects.

Entrepreneurs Import Knowledge

The first way in which a strengthened entrepreneurial ecosystem improves the communities in which we live is through the importing of knowledge. This is a concept that became really apparent when I was speaking with Sahand Seifi of Hey Orca! in preparation for our panel discussion. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Entrepreneurs are not only adapting innovative ideas from other places in order to provide themselves with a competitive edge, but in many cases they are working with (and subsequently communicating with) other innovators around the globe. Tech companies in particular are not limited to the city that they call home – they are doing business with clients and contractors around the world. One of the greatest assets that they bring to the table is access to ideas from these new markets, as well as understanding the pain points that these far-away clients are experiencing. This information may not (or may!) be immediately relevant to the product that they are developing – but certainly there is SOMEONE in the city who could avail of these differing perspectives. Access to this information, and these ideas, becomes easier if you are speaking with the people and organizations that are actively developing the network and having these conversations.  

Entrepreneurs Help Retain Talent

This is another huge point in favour of entrepreneurship, especially in smaller cities like St. John’s. Startup culture has become sexy – there is no questioning it. Many young grads, particularly in STEM fields, are eager to test themselves in the risky world of new venture creation while they’re young. For many, it is during the early years of a career, particularly before marriage and mortgages and kids, that this risk-taking makes the most sense. These people will not just be the company founders, but also the early hires who wish to play key roles in the growth of an exciting new company.

It is detrimental for a place to lose the people with this inherent drive simply because the entrepreneurship ecosystem has not developed enough. In an age where you can apply for, interview for, and accept, a job anywhere in the world from your living room couch, it is more important than ever that opportunities exist here. When those innovative young people eventually do settle down and desire a bit more stability, it is infinitely more likely that they will make a home where they build their network and their business. If the risk eventually doesn’t pay off, and the innovative initiative ultimately doesn't work out, we want talent to be looking for work HERE, not elsewhere. Whether these former-entrepreneurs assist other new businesses, or work in more traditional fields, their input and experience from the startup world will be invaluable. Let’s not lose it before we have a chance to foster it.  

Entrepreneurs Become Thought Leaders

In many cases, new businesses are forced to approach things differently. When bringing a new product or service to market, your success will be partially based on your ability to convince adoptors that your unique way of doing things is better than the solution that currently exists. If your idea gains traction, not only are you going to succeed at selling your business, but you will also be perceived as the mind that came up with the concept. Congratulations Mr. Entrepreneur, you are officially a thought leader.

These people become the folks who are asked to share their ideas at conferences and speaking engagements and luncheons. They are also the types of people that we as a community want to crash into at mixers and networking events. Our existing business community investing in creating these thought leaders will only further strengthen the value of our city as a place to do business.

Fostering Entrepreneurship

I’m not trying to put entrepreneurship on a pedestal, and I realize fully that some of what I commented on above may sound that way. My philosophy is simply that innovation and new ideas should be fostered and incubated. I believe that any community that does this will strengthen. Encouraging our brightest to take risks, and ensuring the supports exist to help them along the way, will benefit every industry in our city – from banking to insurance to hospitality – regardless of whether or not these entrepreneurs become a direct client. There is spinoff from their work, and that is what I am advocating for us all to get behind.

There are advantages on a more micro-level as well, for the people who take the extra step to become mentors and investors and early adoptors. However, the best way to learn about that is not to hear me reflect on it in a blog post, but to instead attend tomorrow’s Business Development Summit and hear the stories directly from the mouths of those who have experienced the benefits directly in their own businesses. I hope you enjoy the panel!