Leveraging Your Community of Support

Stepping on to the startup road requires an aggressive outlook for what the next 6 months to 3 years will bring.

In the first three posts, I talked about basic personal and professional qualities of running a successful business. I talked about the need to demonstrate value and competency, work fast (but measured), and the expectations of being a founder. In this last post, I’ll discuss how to leverage your professional credibility for the good of your business.

If you’ve been responding to emails quickly and providing value to your professional network you’re probably building strong relationships. These relationships shouldn’t be based on quid pro quo style exchanges. Positive relationships will challenge you to build better products and deliver a higher quality of work.

Within an entrepreneurial community, there are a bounty of resources available to help entrepreneurs grow their business. As you approach assistance, you’ll want to establish credibility and competency from the start. As an entrepreneur, each meeting is an important opportunity to demonstrate your professional competency, but also the value proposition of your business.

How to Access Resources

As somebody who has worked closely with various aspects of Erie’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, I’d like to see more entrepreneurs seek non-financial resources. Capital is King, but the region also has resources available to help businesses develop strategic plans, find mentors, improve operational and financial management, and attend further events and training.

Stepping on to the startup road requires an aggressive outlook for what the next 6 months to 3 years will bring. Before you begin, you should have clear expectations of the cost (time and money) that it will take to get there. There is no middle road, you’re either all in, or you likely won’t generate enough momentum to sustain the business.

With that being said, it can be overwhelming to determine what resources are right for you. I hear a frustration a lot about the need for a central repository of information. Here are a few:

You can also call or email resource providers directly. You’ll want to speak succinctly about your organization’s value proposition, but you don’t have to know all the answers. If they can’t help, they’ll refer you to an organization that can.

What Resources Are Available?

Over the past three years, Erie has been working feverishly to establish more resources for entrepreneurs. There are numerous resources becoming available each month.

Capital. Capital includes grants, debt, and equity financing. The pipeline of venture capital is along and ranges from grants to equity and debt financing. At the earliest stages are grants and at the later stages are ‘series’ financing. In between is a convertible note which lowers the risk of young companies.

Mentorship. Mentorship is critical to the success of a growing business. Ideally, new companies will establish formal mentor teams or have informal mentors available to bounce ideas off or obtain niche industry advice and connections.

Strategic Consulting. No founder is expected to have an MBA level understanding of financial accounting or afford access to expensive business databases. This type of expertise is needed at all stages of business development even at the early stages. There are competing perspectives on how long a business plan should be. At any length, you should probably have one, even if it’s only a couple pages. A strategic consultant can help you navigate an initial plan, but also understand the tools needed for rapid growth.

Events and Seminars. Many resource providers will offer events, training, and seminars to augment their distribution of resources. They’ll usually be a nominal charge associated with these types of training. However, its worth it. Events and training programs are good opportunities to expand your professional network and gain introductory insight into a core component of business operations.

Customer and Stakeholder Engagement

Bill Scholz - Radius CoWork

Over the past four posts, I have explored intangible characteristics that will help entrepreneurs succeed in starting a business. In the early stages, it is helpful to begin thinking about capital, patents, and other tangible aspects of a starting a business. But its equally important to think about intangible aspects of a business such as your professional competency and network.

From my perspective, entrepreneurs who engage more people in a constructive, consistent way gain an important competitive advantage when they launch a new business. There is a lot of IP sitting on shelves because for whatever the reason (too busy, unwilling, etc.) the founder can’t develop the business.

An important aspect of getting a business off the ground is consistent engagement with potential customers and stakeholders. Your network will provide important feedback, become early-stage supporters and champions of your business, but they also provide a sense of confidence about your new venture.


About the Author:

Bill Scholz is a cofounder of Radius CoWork. After living in Scotland, Bill moved back home to Erie. He cofounded Radius to provide more opportunity in Erie's Core through innovative placemaking.