The Kauffman Foundation (a US based foundation doing research into enterprise and entrepreneurship development) has just released a new report outlining what makes for a successful entrepreneurial support programme.
(Entrepreneurship support programs help generate innovation, stimulate economic growth and social/community development by providing resources to potential and active entrepreneurs. These resources usually consist of education, training, and sometimes access to finance through loans, grants or investment readiness programmes.)
The report headline?
Entrepreneurial Support Programs Must Function Within a Regional Vision and Meet Entrepreneurs’ Core Needs
The regional vision thing worries me a little.
- Whose vision?
- How do they know?
- Does ‘regional development’ really happen at thew whim of the planners vision?
- Or is regional development simply the consequence of more people doing more stuff – being more enterprising….you decide!
- Should we let regional planners and policy makers pick which winners they will back with public money (high tech/bio tech and ‘creatives’ (narrowly defined) usually get a good deal out of the planners)
But let’s focus on the entrepreneurs core needs. These are described in the report as:
- providing relevant market knowledge,
- access to talent and capital, and
- participating in networks.
I can’t help but think that the report has missed out one further vital need for many ‘would be’ entrepreneurs. Self belief. In my experience this is the single most important factor that limits many people from becoming more enterprising. They just can’t or won’t see themselves succeeding.
The report goes on to say that effective support programs build bridges between entrepreneurs and their peers, community organisations (such as schools and universities), arts and cultural entities, hospitals, businesses, and local governments. ie good support programmes develop social capital. They connect:
- buyers to sellers
- potential collaborators
- academics to practitioners
- knowledge seekers to knowledge providers
- investors to aspiring entrepreneurs.
This is not just a question of running barbecues and wine evenings with sexy key speakers. It is about winning over hearts and minds to the idea that eclectic ‘networking’ – leading to the development of real business relationships can produce real value. ‘Networking’ and ‘Not working’ maybe only one letter apart….
The linkage of entrepreneurs with effective mentoring and coaching is recognised in the report as one of the top “best practices” entrepreneurship support programs should provide. Many believe that “peer-to-peer” mentoring and coaching—advice provided by other entrepreneurs—is especially effective. Peer-to-peer mentoring or coaching relationships require trust and commitment however and need training of both mentors and mentees if they are to work well. Care has to be taken with the ‘matching service’ also if high failure rates are to be avoided. Providing mentors and coaches with adequate support and supervision also plays a part in successful programmes. When working well, peer mentoring and coaching can help to identify entrepreneurial opportunities, influence perceptions about entrepreneurship as a career choice, and serve as a reasonable substitute for direct experience.
The report also makes some interesting observations about the Leadership of successfull entrepreneurial support programmes:
“Successful entrepreneurial support programs also must have the “right” leadership. Ideally, the head of the support program should be an entrepreneur or have entrepreneurial experience. Successful entrepreneurship program leaders serve as brokers and have knowledge of both the private and public sectors. These individuals must be sufficiently savvy to influence people over which they have no authority or control.
Many economic development professionals lead entrepreneurial support programs, although they may not have been entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. The key to success is that the leader must have an entrepreneurial spirit and be experienced in working with others across different sectors and industries.”
Generally the report offers some interesting advice. Personally however I find that the focus on developing ‘regional’ strategies is probably more driven by bureacratic convenience than the real needs of ‘would be’ or ‘active’ entrepreneurs – the majority of whom are running (at least in the early stages) very local businesses. Certainly when working at the local or community based level even a superficial understanding of the psychology and aspiration the diverse groups within the community leads you to quickly see that a generic regional strategy is unlikley to offer the specilaisation and personalisation required to really engage people in enterprise. While the report will provide further emphasis to the business support simplification agaenda here in the UK I think this will need to be developed with very great care if the potential entrepeneurs are to receive the personalised support that they require.
You can read a free executive summary of the Kauffman Report here.