Let’s make Sioux City an entrepreneurial leader

Representatives (above) from the SCGO, small business and business organizations came together in Fall 2012 to chart a course for entrepreneurial success in Sioux City. 

In cities across America, small business and entrepreneurship have long taken a back seat to call centers and the next big manufacturer.

While chasing smokestacks and filling industrial parks can be a zero-sum game at times, the big headlines they garner are hard for economic development directors to resist.

But as our communities chart a course for the future, those headlines will mean less and less. On the contrary, by cultivating an ecosystem of innovation from the ground up, our success with small businesses will naturally attract larger ones.

As Sioux City and other communities across Iowa the nation look to jumpstart an innovative spirit in their developing cores, they are looking to small business owners and startups to drive their revival.

This push to promote entrepreneurship is multi-pronged, and requires the participation of many players.

In Des Moines, for example, entrepreneurs are gathering to learn from each other. Angel investment is soaring, startups are proliferating and events that help promote small and emerging businesses are thriving.

But this isn’t just tech geeks who have conceived the next eBay. These vibrant communities include established business owners, investors, legal and tax professionals who help advise new businesses, successful entrepreneurs, professors and universities, community organizations and passionate advocates who see a new future for those willing to take on the risk of starting something new.

I did just that, starting a new creative web and social media marketing business this spring. Shortly thereafter, I helped found a regional entrepreneurial conference called Wire Me Awake in Yankton, S.D. The October event drew 150 attendees from the tri-state, and helped strengthen the idea that small cities can succeed in promoting small business development.

I quickly learned a core tenet of the startup mantra: there’s no me-first attitude. Collaboration, community goodwill and shared knowledge are vital. One more thing: failure is part of the learning process, which is important.

A new movement is afoot in Sioux City to establish a strong entrepreneurial mission. How will that happen? Well, that’s hard to say, but here’s what I see right now.

A group of business, economic, entrepreneurial and government representatives is gathering Nov. 19, to work toward a new vision for small business development.

This group is driven by a recent economic development report showing that Sioux City needs to fill its empty storefronts and vacant office space with innovative thinkers, among other things. Additionally, the group is gathering with the support of Downtown Partners and mayor Bob Scott.

Is it all window dressing? Not if we can agree on this:

• Building a community that is friendly to entrepreneurs is a long-term commitment. Brad Feld suggests in his book Startup Communities that nurturing a community can take years, if not decades.

• We need to rely not only on our appointed leaders to guide us, but on those who are running small businesses and working to create jobs. Additionally, the real energy and commitment needs to come from current and previous entrepreneurs who are willing to share their expertise and resources if they have them.

• We need to get all startups on the same page – sharing information about events, funding, education sessions, and local, state and regional resources. One source is the new Think 29 blog, at www.think29.com, that is focused on promoting entrepreneurship from Sioux City to the North Dakota border. Another is the Startup Sioux City twitter account – @iStartupSC – which I created this week to share information and resources for locals wishing to start or grow a business.

• Entrepreneurs need to start talking about ideas – good and bad – to find the best opportunities for early success.

• And finally, Sioux City must accept past failures. A Sioux City business incubator created in the late 1980s was a money-losing endeavor. Let’s examine what went wrong and learn from it.

There are many more goals we need to focus on as a community, but this list is a starting point for small companies, community leaders and creative thinkers to get the ball rolling.

I am dedicated to making this a reality. So, for those of you who have ideas, those considering starting businesses or just offering your expertise, consider this a call to action. Let’s make Sioux City the next hotbed of startup activity in the region.

If we care about our future, now is the time to startup Sioux City.

Are you with me?

Find Thomas Ritchie on Twitter at @CreativeThomasr  or e-mail him at thomas [at] teamcreativefire.com.

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