Assessing the health of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is an important yet challenging undertaking.
Point of view tempers the answer, not only because varying definitions of “entrepreneur” exists, but
also who qualifies as an “entrepreneur.” For example, is a start-up business that is merely in its infancy
part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem? They frequently are not seen as contributing to the economy
because they have no paying customers and no job status. So when you look at the ecosystem from a
purely economic standpoint they don’t show value, because they are not contributing financially to the
ecosystem. Yet these start-up businesses (I like to think of them as pre-preneurs, because they haven’t
yet taken on ALL the risks of running a business so they aren’t entrepreneurs -yet) are critical to feeding
the ecosystem of an area because of the potential they bring, even if they never reach business stage.
It’s important for the ecosystem to recognize that the challenges of pre-preneurship and the needs they
have are different, requiring different organizations to help them.
So what are the stages of pre-preneurship?
Pre-Start- up is a stage where many great ideas lose their potential. This can happen because it really
was not as great an idea as it seemed, the market wasn’t ready for it or the resources the individuals
need to make it happen were not available.
Start-Up is a stage when an idea has passed the smell test. It’s got good potential and now it needs to
be loved and nurtured with lots of free resources, mentorship and time. The greatest challenge here for
an ecosystem to give these start-ups the time they need to get going, new business models (especially
around those of technology) have fail fast ideologies, which works well for low financial investment
concepts. Many of the potential Innovation-driven Enterprises (IDE) that become global leaders in new
technology, patentable intellectual property and business models take years to develop and require
significant support from a regional economy in order to reach their potential. A recent report published
by Kaufman foundation suggested that IDE entrepreneurship needs a separate type of support
organization with a different program and mindset to help these types of enterprises, which vary greatly
from the Small and Medium Sized enterprise (SME) that make up the majority of Small Business
Inventor/Innovator is not a stage as much as a state of mind. Many great ideas exist in the minds of
individuals but never even make it as far as a pre-start- up stage because the idea is created on paper
and immediately licensed without.
One of the challenges for an entrepreneurial ecosystem, whether it’s a rural area like Whatcom county
or Urban Metropolis like Seattle, is having the right kinds of resources available to nurture every part of
the ecosystem at the right stage in the process. Without the time and consideration to recognize and
put forth effort to help “pre-preneurs” (those who have not taken the risk yet to earn the title of
entrepreneur), an ecosystem will stagnate and struggle to grow economically.
*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.