For anyone looking from the outside in, the world of entrepreneurship seems to be a whole lot about fun and success.
TV shows and movies such as Silicon Valley, Shark Tank and The Social Network give off the vibe that the world of startups and venture capital is just, well, really cool.
Entrepreneurs who have reached the top of the business mountain – people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos – are practically treated as royalty, their stories serving as American mythology.
This mythology has elicited a yearning among local and regional business communities to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that fosters success.
As hard as it is for me to believe, I have lived in the entrepreneurial world for nearly 20 years now. Most of that time has been spent in the Triangle and I have seen a lot of what doesn’t work in growing an entrepreneurial community, but fortunately, some of what does. Here are some things I think Wilmington can and should do:
1. CREATE A COMMUNITY OF INCLUSION
Wilmington is a transient community, with lots of capable, interesting people moving here every day. These folks have a lot to offer, particularly in terms of new ideas, relationships and skill sets that are invaluable in building an entrepreneurial community. These people should be welcomed, embraced and integrated into the local scene.
2. MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS
Since I moved to Wilmington nearly three years ago, I have been bemused – and disappointed – to realize that the entrepreneurial community is compartmentalized into a network of fiefdoms. There is a disconnected, almost competitive dynamic where cooperation and collaboration with other local, like-minded organizations are discouraged.
This sort of mentality inhibits entrepreneurship and definitely is a community killer.
The entrepreneurial players in Wilmington need to be better – and more meaningfully – connected. There should be tangible, even formal, partnerships between entrepreneurial players and organizations.
3. DEMAND MORE OF LEADERS AND CITIZENS
As antithetical as it may sound, corporate entities and leaders are crucial to helping build an entrepreneurial community. These are the people and organizations who can offer the personnel, expertise, connections, capital as well as other resources that early-stage ventures need. I applaud the assistance that local corporate players such as PPD, Live Oak Bank and CastleBranch have provided. But even more is needed.
I strongly feel, by the way, this responsibility extends to prominent non-corporate entities like UNCW and NHRMC. While I can appreciate the multitude of entrepreneurial-related programs that UNCW has initiated and sponsored, their efforts seem to be unfocused and devoid of tangible metrics to measure success. As for NHRMC, I have been unimpressed with their innovation-based programs and activities. Both organizations clearly have work to do.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
When I moved to Wilmington, I had little intention of doing business here as I came for the beach and the water. I have been pleasantly surprised with the business-related resources and potential down here, particularly for the entrepreneurial community. I am highly confident that this community will become increasingly vibrant over time. But there is a lot of work to do. I pledge to do my part and encourage you to do yours.
Merrette Moore is the founder and managing partner of Tidewater Equity Partners and Radian Healthcare Innovations.