In 2017, North Carolina ranked 9 in Startup Activity, 14 in Main Street Entrepreneurship and 18 in Growth Entrepreneurship by the Kauffman Index. These indexes take into account entrepreneurial and small business activity in a community, such as the rate of business ownership in a community, startup and survival rates of small businesses, small business density and the share of scale-ups.
How can we, as entrepreneurs, small business owners and business and community leaders foster the Greater Wilmington Region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? How can we help the community and businesses thrive as a result of sustainable growth from businesses?
The recipe for our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem success is simple:
Wilmington’s entrepreneurial ecosystem success = talent + place + innovation
If we focus on Talent, Place, and Innovation and identify key ingredients for entrepreneur and small business success, we will have a place where entrepreneurs of all types will continue to thrive. Below are some ideas to consider:
– Foster networks to connect entrepreneurs with mentors, business partners, investors and lenders. Connect ideas from the research community to entrepreneurs that can turn them into a scalable business model. Employees for businesses are critical – the education upon graduation and adaptable skills throughout their career.
– This is more than “Wilmington is a great place to live” (but it is). Entrepreneurs of all types need gathering places. They need co-working spaces, co-living arrangements, incubators, accelerators, shovel-ready industrial park space, low-cost commercial offices and more. They need to be clustered with entrepreneurs that are developing complementary businesses – for example, artists and creatives together, tech entrepreneurs together, food and ag entrepreneurs together – because the networks foster collaboration.
– While we can point to many successful companies throughout our region, an ideal ecosystem has opportunities for everyone to succeed. “Inclusive innovation” is a concept that we as a community can embrace. That everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, age, religion or the type of business that they want to start and grow, should have equal opportunities to succeed. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but it should be accessible to everyone. Just remember to understand your business model and competition, and innovate like crazy.
A final thought about this concept. In addition to Talent, Place, and Innovation, what do we want to be known for as a region? What can our region be better at than other regions, while driving our regional economy and sparking the passion of the individuals in our community? (Yes, this is a reference to Jim Collin’s Good to Great Hedgehog Concept.) Marine Science? Film? Clinical research? IT? Fintech? Traded sector businesses (usually manufacturing) that lead to exporting? Something completely different? Let’s have community conversations so we can specifically foster these entrepreneurs and businesses to put – and keep – the Wilmington region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem on the map.
HOW TO GET HELP FOR YOUR BUSINESS
The North Carolina SBTDC is a business advisory resource for growing and developing businesses. The SBTDC at UNC Wilmington is affiliated with the UNCW Cameron School of Business and is located next to the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Our experienced team offers no-cost, confidential, in-depth business counseling to small- to mid-sized company business owners and management staff and to entrepreneurs preparing to launch their next venture. To learn more, please visit sbtdc.org/uncw.
The SBTDC is a member of the Wilmington Region Small Business Resource Coalition, which also includes AARP, Brunswick CC SBC, CFCC Small Business Center, Coastal Women’s Ventures, NC Military Business Center, SBA, SCORE, tekMountain and UNCW CIE. These partners have banded together to help the Greater Wilmington area’s entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed.
Heather McWhorter is regional director of the Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.