Community engagement is a critical success factor in creating a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. In the Spokane region, there are a multitude of individuals and organizations who provide support and assistance to entrepreneurs and small businesses. However, one of the challenges has been how to best align and coordinate the collective efforts in our region. Up until recently, many of the resources that served entrepreneurs and small businesses were operating independent of one another, without an effective process for referring them to the most appropriate support resources.
In 2013, a group of stakeholders, all of whom have tremendous passion for encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, created a strategy that would provide greater alignment and overall coordination of support resources. One such example is the consolidation of Connect Northwest into Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) that occurred in 2014. For more than a decade, Connect Northwest delivered networking events (Executive Connect, CFO Connect, and others) for entrepreneurs and businesses, as well as managed the Spokane Angel Alliance. The group recommended that GSI, our region’s economic development organization, add entrepreneurship and business formation as an area of focus to their existing economic development strategy, which historically included business recruitment, retention, and expansion. All of the Connect Northwest events as well as the management of Share Space Spokane were integrated into GSI by Spring 2014. The Spokane Angel Alliance remains a separate entity, solely focusing on their mission of connecting a community of investors with the most promising entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in the Inland Northwest.
The stakeholder group expanded to include a diverse mix of business professionals who have passion for expanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including GSI Board members and staff, representatives from the Spokane Angel Alliance, Ignite Northwest, Toolbox, Terrain, colleges and universities, successful entrepreneurs, as well as others who made financial contributions to seed the creation of GSI’s entrepreneurship program. This “champions” group meets regularly to review strategies, goals, and priorities for the collective work to support entrepreneurs in our community. While numerous individuals and organizations are not represented, the expectation is that members of this group and GSI will assist by making connections and broadly communicating the vision, mission, strategy and goals throughout the community and region.
The primary goals related to our region’s ecosystem strategy include: organizing all of the elements of the ecosystem so that they work in a coordinated fashion, building pathways and waypoints (i.e. idea formation programs, business plan refinement and coaching programs, idea vetting and feeback programs, coworking and accelerators, mentorship programs, business growth and funding programs) for entrepreneurs to access necessary support resources; and measuring and monitoring activities and outcomes.
There is a role for every individual and organization (both private and public sector) in the entrepreneurial ecosystem – individuals may participate as mentors or advisors, and all have the opportunity to benefit from making new connections; and organizations may provide specific services and/or support. Bottom line, a healthy and successful ecosystem is “inclusive”. We have adopted a “more is better” philosophy, with the caveat that we strive to keep everything aligned and connected for a more effective, holistic system of support for entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout our region.