Like in any other business, creating a plan for success and sustainability is critical. As a community engages to create a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is of paramount importance that it consider how to sustain the ecosystem financially. While the ecosystem is really “a sum of its parts”, each of the organizations engaged must have their own sustainability plan. We have created a focus for our region’s entrepreneurial activity through Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) as well as other economic development organizations throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho. In order to create Centers for Entrepreneurial Success in each of these locations that will serve as physical venues for entrepreneurs to work, learn, meet, and share, a long-term sustainability plan is required.
In Spokane, we have created a four part strategy for financial sustainability, that leverages both private and public partners:
- Contributions made by individuals and organizations – Several organizations made three-year financial commitments to seed the Entrepreneur Program at GSI. We raised about $300K in total contributions, but these are only considered seed funding investments. The GSI Entrepreneur Program needs to create its own long-term sustainability plan that will include the other strategies described below. Had it not been for these organizations making an initial financial commitment, this program would have been on hold until such time that funding was secured. As a longer term funding strategy, sponsorships of events and activities will be pursued.
- Revenue opportunities – A logical part of the strategy is to identify revenue generating activities that can contribute to the long-term sustainability of the program. The Spokane equivalent of the “Centers for Entrepreneurial Success” is Share Space Spokane. As described in the “Spaces & Places” blog post, Share Space is a coworking space, where a entrepreneurs can work, meet, share, and learn together. This space is easily transformed into a venue for educational and networking events. The goal is for these physical places to catalyze entrepreneurial activity and create a community for entrepreneurs. Coworking space, education workshops, and networking events all create opportunities for revenues to be generated, thus offsetting the operating costs of the overall program.
- Pursue grant funding – One of the benefits of aligning our regions’ work in entrepreneurship with both higher education institutions and GSI is that they are all eligible to pursue grant funding because of their non-profit status. We have created a work group consisting of our area universities, community colleges, and economic development organizations who are pursuing grant opportunities as a consortium. Many grant opportunities place value on collaboration and partnerships, so our hope is that our consortium approach will help garner awards. The grants being pursued include both federal grant opportunities (EDA, USDA) and private foundations (Paul Allen, Kauffman, and Coleman). Our hope is that we can successfully receive grant awards that will help enhance the entrepreneur support activities throughout our entire region.
- Government support – Pursuing support from our local and state governments is another strategy. Logically speaking, our local city and county governments should want to provide financial support to strengthen our entrepreneurial ecosystem, as it’s a powerful economic development strategy. Several years ago, Spokane County provided financial support to Connect Northwest, so there is some historical precedent for supporting entrepreneurship at the local level. The Washington state legislature has also placed high importance on entrepreneurship. We have been working with our legislators in both the House and Senate to secure a one-time appropriation for creating rural Centers for Entrepreneurial Success and an integrated ecosystem model in Eastern Washington that can be replicated state-wide.
Focusing on the sustainability of our regions’ entrepreneurial ecosystem is a continual process, and something that remains in the forefront of all our strategy, planning and implementation activities.