It’s easy to see the benefits of being an entrepreneur in the Silicon Valleys and the Seattles of America, but in the midst of those metropolises, the benefits of starting in a smaller town are overlooked. Cozier, entrepreneurially-focused communities provide ecosystems that help startup companies thrive.
Here are three of the attributes small towns boast that help startups find their footing.
The best resources are the ones that can actually be tapped. In a larger community, there are plenty of brilliant individuals, but because the city scale is much wider, it’s not easy to locate or access their expertise. Smaller communities have the advantage of establishing more known resources. People know who to connect (or not connect) with in order to surround a startup with the best possible support. Resources surrounding a startup will increase the likelihood of the business starting on a path of success.
In my town of Columbia, Missouri, there are brilliant entrepreneurs (such as Brant Bukowsky of Veterans United) who have grown thriving businesses, but these individuals have remained accessible to other startups in the area. They are engaged in the process and are present at the “small” victories along the way, knowing that success for others ultimately leads to success for them as well. When area expertise is known and accessible, it surrounds a startup with the knowledge it needs to excel.
Recognize the strengths of the region you find yourself in, and choose to work with those strengths. Just as Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder has taught people to focus on their strengths while managing their weaknesses, startups should look for the same thing within a community. No community is going to be perfect, but each region comes with its own unique set of strengths that should be recognized and taken advantage of.
Use the strengths of the region you find yourself in to propel you and your business forward. Look around you and recognize the expertise you might possess just because of your environment. The industries of your area have given you a perspective that is unique to those areas. For example, if you live in a region with depth in the medical field, recognize that you likely have insight or easy access to the ideas that would make life easier for individuals in that field. You also have the perfect environment to “test” your ideas. Your community has shaped you and is a resource. Take advantage of it.
Members of a smaller community have greater awareness of what is happening because of the area’s narrower scope. When a promising company starts, the community gets excited and rallies behind the team. They feel invested and want it to succeed. The new idea or business doesn’t get lost in the shuffle; instead, a support team surrounds it to make it better and encourage its growth.
Last week, a new workspace opened for startup companies in my town. The community rallied behind the new possibilities, and the opening party was so packed that people had to wait outside. There were local serial entrepreneurs, community leaders, political dignitaries, and representatives from nearly every media outlet. The support was evident and felt by all in the room, but their support doesn’t stop there: Those individuals came to celebrate, but if they cared enough to show up, they are likely to also care about the process and stand behind those businesses as mentors. Support builds excitement and creates an environment of growth.
These strengths are obviously not consistent across the board, but there is the potential for these elements in smaller communities all over the country. And, like anything, potential must be realized in order to be maximized.
The organization I work with, The League of Innovators, is holding our second Startup Weekend at the end of September. We are in a small city in the middle of the country, but the attendance, enthusiasm, and support surrounding this event and our entrepreneurial community rival larger cities’ entrepreneurial infrastructures.
We are bringing in some of the region’s best resources for the teams competing in the event, and we will showcase examples of successful startups that started just where this year’s participants find themselves: in the middle of the country, in a small, entrepreneurially-focused community.
Heidi Fuhrman is the Director of Possibilities for The League of Innovators in Columbia, MO, an organization that seeks to spark entrepreneurship and creativity through events (like Startup Weekend!), the Downtown Incubator, and connecting innovators to area resources and experts.