Entrepreneurship Attracts Diversity
By Brandon Burton, in partnership with Chamber Chat Podcast
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
I recently interviewed Bill Sisson on the Chamber Chat Podcast and in our discussion, he mentioned something as we were wrapping up the interview which caught my attention. It was off of the planned topic that we were discussing, but he mentioned that entrepreneurship attracts diversity. I had never thought about entrepreneurship in those terms before. We ended that podcast recording and I continued to ponder that statement over the next couple of weeks.
I realize that for a long time, Chambers of Commerce did not have a unique selling proposition for entrepreneurs. Chambers did not have the toolset to dedicate to such a small segment of their business population. Besides, an overwhelming percentage of entrepreneurs fail or are forced to close their business within the first two years. Why should a chamber pay much attention to a small business who is here today and potentially gone tomorrow?
If we have learned anything over the past couple of years through the COVID pandemic, we should apply those lessons going forward. One phenomenon that we witnessed has been titled ‘the great resignation’. During the pandemic, for a variety of reasons, employees of many industries decided to call it quits. At least that is how the news is presented to us. As you drive around town, you are likely to see help wanted or now hiring signs in store and restaurant windows. Chambers have been a great resource to help find this needed workforce, but what about the people who resigned?
One of the influences which led to the great resignation is that the federal government issued very large stimulus checks while at the same time, people were not traveling for work or leisure and their overall expenses went down significantly during the pandemic. Some of these newly unemployed individuals were now seeing their situation as a great opportunity to take their newfound free time and seed money to make their dreams come true by starting their own business.
I am staging this article in this way to stress the influx of new entrepreneurs in your community. If it is true that most new businesses fail within the first two years, then shouldn’t your chamber do something to help these businesses overcome those odds so they can build something of value to your community, be a part of your organization, and employ more individuals?
Who Are Entrepreneurs?
As we take a closer look at some of the people who decide to go out on their own often do so out of necessity. I have heard some entrepreneurs joke about starting their own business because they were unemployable themselves. This necessity may be due to a handicap. Maybe the entrepreneur is a single mom who needed more flexible hours to still be there for her children. These entrepreneurs could be people who have felt marginalized throughout their employment history and were tired of being looked over for a promotion or even to get hired. Some entrepreneurs don’t have the “needed experience” to get a traditional job.
As we consider the reasons why someone may have taken the entrepreneurial journey, we find out that they are disabled veterans, they are young professionals, they are within the LBGTQ community, they are of minority races, they are women owned businesses. Each of these entrepreneurs fit into any chamber’s diversity, equity, and inclusion outreach programs.
So, what can you do with this information? First, I would encourage you to ponder this idea and to look deeper into your community. Reach out to a half dozen entrepreneurs in your community and ask them questions about why they decided to go the entrepreneurial route. Then, once you have more specific data for your community, I would encourage you to research what some other chambers have done to build strong entrepreneurial programs.
One example that comes to mind is Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. I interviewed John Urbahns in 2020 and 2021 as an ACCE Chamber of the Year Finalist. One of the programs that he highlighted in our interview as their entrepreneurial bridge program. This program took applicants to both be mentors and mentees. In other words, a more established business owner would essentially sponsor an entrepreneur in their community, not for just a year or two, they would make a 5 year commitment to mentor their entrepreneur to help them succeed.
I could go on and on trying to explain how this program works and why I think it is so great, but it might do the program better justice if you check out the interview and learn about it directly from John.
By using the example of this entrepreneurial bridge program, if you were to introduce 10 entrepreneurs to a program like this each year, by the 5 year mark, you would have 50 entrepreneurs learning the ins and outs of business from a successful business owner in your community. Do you think a program like this could help to break down some barriers? Do you think the success rate of these entrepreneurs would go up or down if they were part of a program like this? Overall would your community be better or worse off by implementing a bridge program?
More than anything, I want us to learn from the lessons that were presented to us through the pandemic and the subsequent movements around race and inequality. I know your chamber has probably already taken a deep look into your organization to see what changes can or should be made. I just want to present ideas for you to conduct your own R&D (ripoff & duplicate) because I believe a stronger, more influential chamber leads to a stronger community.