Making progress in entrepreneurial activity

Sep 19, 2016 | Innovative Communities

Over the course of the past year I have been working in and watching the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Whatcom County change. While we still have a way to go in creating a truly thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, many changes have taken place over the past year that show encouraging signs and progress being made.

Change is good

This year in Whatcom County the first makerspace, The Foundry opened in September. These kinds of maker spaces and the maker movement nationally has become a catalyst for additive manufacturing as a viable business for new entrepreneurs. The process of additive manufacturing – think 3D printers – is one that many industry experts believe will eventually replace some of the larger scale manufacturing, and I think it just might since there are places where houses are being framed using a 3D printing machine (yes – full size houses!) While I don’t expect that to happen here right away, the availability of a maker space is crucial to encouraging adoption of less expensive technologies that can help businesses start, grow and compete.

Whatcom County also experienced growth in the available space for entrepreneurs to get started or grow their business through expanded as well as new Coworking spaces. More entrepreneurial events, talks and workshops took place this year allowing entrepreneurs more opportunities to become educated about starting and growing their businesses. Western Washington University hired its first professor in entrepreneurship to head up new programs that will encourage students to consider entrepreneurship as a career path.

Change still needs to happen

The changes that have occurred over the last year are a good start towards the continuing encouragement of entrepreneurial activity in Whatcom County. More events, workshops and general awareness of the importance of a health entrepreneurial ecosystem are needed. One area that still needs work is in the access to capital. Banks, private industry and organizations need to continue to work on finding ways for entrepreneurs to gain access to the working capital they need to get their businesses started and growing. However, access to capital is only valuable when entrepreneurs know enough about what they need; this is when additional mentors to help guide them through business planning and strategy are needed. Additionally the organizations in Whatcom County that help entrepreneurs need to follow through on the conversations about creating a comprehensive resource list for new businesses.

Why change needs to happen

There are always the economic benefits of a health entrepreneurial ecosystem – prosperity, revenue, jobs, etc. However, there are also many intangible social benefits. These are not limited to the entrepreneurs, but they can also extend to existing businesses and their employees. For example, Maker spaces provide opportunities for employers to encourage employees to be innovative and creative, two mindsets that do not stop when an employee walks in the door to work. As I was writing this article I happened to notice the Mazda owner’s magazine I get once a year, when I flipped it open the first article I see is about Mazda employees who are makers in their free time. The article went on to showcase how having creative, innovative employees benefits the company.

My evidence of change and progress in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is based on observation not numbers. The number of new businesses started and existing business that closed in 2014 will not be available until next year, so looking back now is more about the intangible things that have occurred over the last year that will encourage entrepreneurs to take a chance and start or grow their business. As a community we have done well this year, but we still have work to do in creating a nurturing ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs as they take the leap and start up new businesses. When they do, only then can they create economic prosperity and pay it forward for the next entrepreneur – a cycle critical to the long term health of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.


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