The 'Entrepreneur's Obligation': Investing in Your Startup Ecosystem
If you're an entrepreneur who's reached even a modest level of success, you'll hopefully feel what's known as the "entrepreneur's obligation": to help others in your community working just as tirelessly as you once did to bring their exciting ideas to life.
And if that moral obligation isn't enough, take some inspiration from success stories like that of 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer's Bee Sweet Lemonade. Mikaila's tiny business got its start when she was encouraged to participate in a children's entrepreneurship event. Today, her lemonade -- sweetened with honey from local honeybees -- is now sold in stores like Whole Foods and in restaurants nationwide.
Not only is helping our fellow entrepreneurs like Mikaila the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.
The benefits of investing in your entrepreneurial community
For the past five years, my company, Influence & Co., has donated more than 5,000 hours of time organizing, hosting and running Startup Weekend in our hometown of Columbia, Missouri. We do this partly because it's fun, and partly because we enjoy giving back and know that this investment is beneficial for us, too.
When your company organizes events that spark your city's entrepreneurial community, good things happen:
1. Local exposure: Most companies make room in their budgets for sponsoring charity events or a booth at the local career fair because they know it's good exposure to get out and connect with others in the community in a positive way. Organizing events for local entrepreneurs can earn your company even better exposure because you're connecting with a more targeted segment of the community. Your name then becomes associated with an innovative event that helps grow your community.
2. Recruitment: The greatest benefit my company has received from investing in our entrepreneurial community is recruitment. Events such as Startup Weekend bring together people with big ideas, people who are entrepreneurial-minded and people who have fun spending a weekend working on a new business. For many startups, including our own, that means these kinds of events attract ideal hires.
We've actually hired seven employees and received dozens of applications from people who learned about our company as a result of our hosting these events. For the most effective recruitment, make sure you have plenty of representation at the events. Your current employees should be networking with attendees, meeting potential candidates, learning about their skills and passions and talking about your open positions.
3. Team bonding: While putting in about 1,000 hours each year on these events is a sacrifice for our company and employees, the team bonding that results makes that sacrifice worth it. At events such as Startup Weekend, where many people don't get much sleep for two days straight, you become close with your co-workers. My team and I have forged some of our best friendships through working, laughing -- and ordering pizza at 4 a.m. to make it through the night and flesh out our ideas. Events like this provide a rare but important opportunity to grow closer to your team, and stronger as a company.
Types of events to host
Entrepreneurs are a diverse bunch, and there are plenty of types of events you can organize and host to ignite their passion and spark your community's entrepreneurial ecosystem. My team and I have seen these three types of events produce the best results:
- A 'hackathon': A lot of companies host hackathons, bringing together developers, designers and entrepreneurs to solve a specific problem or develop a certain type of product. One example of an excellent hackathon coming up this year is GlobalHack in St. Louis.GlobalHack is awarding a $1 million prize to the winners of this year's hackathon. The event is attracting thousands of participants from around the globe to solve real-world, civic-minded problems over the course of a weekend. This year's prize is one of the largest amounts awarded in hackathon history.
If your company wants to host a hackathon, make sure you have some tech talent on your team to act as mentors to the competing teams, and be clear about who owns the inventions and products produced over the weekend.
- A 'startup weekend': Our own Startup Weekend is an international nonprofit organization, and anyone can apply to host one of these events. Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event in which people come together, share ideas and launch businesses. Attendees include anyone with a skill set or interest in any aspect of business, from tech to marketing to finance, and everything between.
At the Startup Weekends we've hosted, participants have ranged in age from 8 to 68, and their interests and experiences have been just as varied. As mentioned, though, organizing this event requires a lot of work, so make sure you and your team can devote upwards of 1,000 hours over a six-month period to pull it off.
- A Shark Tank-style event: Smaller startup communities that aren't located in California or New York often hear entrepreneurs complain about access to funding. But, even if you're not in Silicon Valley, I bet there are at least a few small angel groups -- or at least a few individual investors -- in your community looking for the next big thing to invest in.
Hosting a "Shark Tank"-style event in which you bring together entrepreneurs looking to raise funding and investors willing to invest can be an amazing, impactful way to give back to your community.
Although the benefits and ways you can give back are nearly endless, there are challenges associated with hosting these kinds of events. Always remember to clearly set expectations on both sides. What capacity do the investors have to invest, and how much funding are the entrepreneurs looking for? Are the investors guaranteeing to invest in at least one of the companies that pitches?
Making sure that everyone involved knows what to expect will help set your startup, the event itself and your community's entrepreneurial ecosystem on the path to success.