Why do some communities have thriving local businesses while others seem to repel talented workers at every turn?
The difference is whether a city has entrepreneurial-minded leaders or not. Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and other thriving startup cities all share certain traits that foster a strong business community and draw talent into their cities.
Meanwhile, other cities, like Buffalo, New York, and Tucson, Arizona, lose their brightest young minds to cities like the ones listed above. Fortunately, if you live in one of these talent-exporting cities, it’s not too late to change course. You and other leaders can make your city entrepreneur-friendly by ingraining these five traits in the culture of your community.
Trait #1: Entrepreneurs are Visible and Accessible
In Silicon Valley, Boulder, or Austin, you can walk into any public event for entrepreneurs and be confident that you’ll have the opportunity to connect with experienced entrepreneurs and community business leaders face-to-face.
Meanwhile, in talent exporting cities, entrepreneurs are more likely to spend inordinate amounts of time in their office—focused on only their business—without engaging in the broader community.
Building a culture where successful entrepreneurs carve out slices of time to attend community events and activities, and actually talk to people, is the crucial first step to creating a culture that supports entrepreneurs. To begin to build this culture, our job as leaders is to draw successful entrepreneurs out of hiding and into the public sphere.
Trait #2: Leaders and Community Members are Open to New Ideas
Successful entrepreneurial communities are populated by people who don’t automatically reject ideas just because they’ve never heard them before. Silicon Valley is a paragon of this trait.
By contrast, in most talent exporting cities, the first instinct for most executives (and, to be honest, most people) is to be critical of new ideas. Even successful entrepreneurs can be predisposed to belittling new ideas.
Culture starts with how the leaders act, so as a local leader, make a conscious effort to stay open-minded about new business ideas. Being curious, considering new processes, models, markets, approaches, and technologies is what’s fun about interacting in the space of the newer industries. Showing that enthusiasm inspires others to do the same.
Trait #3: The Community is Inclusive Rather Than Exclusive
Compared to areas like Silicon Valley, people in talent exporting cities can have too strong a focus on their constituency. In other words, leaders of companies and organizations, (and then the people they lead) can drift into the mindset of showing affinity and openness only to the small subgroup rather than the community at large.
These distinctions are not only useless, they’re counter-productive. A strong culture encourages people of diverse backgrounds to join and cross-pollinate ideas, regardless of their so-called constituency. In fact, they don’t even see themselves as separate groups.
As a local leader, participate in every event and interaction with this mindset: Whoever is interested is welcome.
Trait #4: Leaders Give First
Another trait shared by entrepreneurial-led communities is that leaders give back and give first. In other words, they share their expertise and knowledge with the community without expecting anything in return.
When a culture adopts a give-first mentality, the results can be incredible. This shift in focus allows everyone to give selflessly, without worrying about getting their piece. The cumulative effects of this shift improve everyone’s opportunities.
As a leader, you undoubtedly have much to give to less-experienced entrepreneurs. And even though this isn’t your intention, the more you give, the more you end up getting, in ways that you couldn’t have expected or imagined. If you act from that selfless place, you’ll reap the benefits in your own life, your business, and the community at large.
Trait #5: Entrepreneurs Have a Desire to Improve Their Community
Lastly, communities only improve if someone wants them to, and the people with the most influence are the leaders.
To create a long-term focus on improving your community, talk about the shifts that are happening on a community level with other leaders and entrepreneurs. You want to engage entrepreneurs in the project of building a thriving community filled with innovative companies, not just reaching a particular organization’s annual goal or targets.
Once people see how smaller actions are stepping stones to a transformed community, each contributor in the network has a better chance to align their actions toward outcomes that transform the overall community.
Create an Entrepreneurial Culture
Now that you know what makes a business community thrive, you can start shaping your local culture to embody these traits.
Remember, cultural change starts with your own behavior and cascades out to the people who follow you. The most effective cultural changes always start with leading by example.
Culture dictates the way people default to acting, and if you can create the right behavioral norms, people will serve each other and foster a more innovative environment. When the norms in a community change, the community itself changes, and the results are more dramatic than what any one person could achieve on their own.
So lead the charge by being accessible, open to new ideas, and inclusive. Give back while working to improve your community, and you’ll inspire like-minded leaders who believe in building an entrepreneur-friendly culture.
For more advice on transforming local economies toward job growth in newer industries, you can find my book, More Good Jobs, on Amazon.