Friday, February 20, 2009

Attack this economy with simple stuff

I get to work full time in economic development and the things I get to see from that side of the curtain are humbling.

I had a great meeting with a group from a beautiful rural Township this week. It was at night. It's so easy to forget how beautiful and how utterly dark the night sky can be and how brilliant the stars can be.

I'm getting to take these ideas of sustainable work into the field.

I will try to be short to emphasize this point. People want to know they can participate in their economic security. They want to be given permission to start their own enterprises. They want to be released from inappropriate levels of commercial expectations. They want to see if they can do it. Once they're doing it, they want to find the best way to fit that enterprise into their lives and into the economy.

If you work in economic development you know that many of these small startup enterprises, or smaller scale family businesses are dismissed. They aren't 'gazelles'. They don't make enough official job creation numbers required by the economic development grants. So what?

We need to attack this problem, and we need to attack it now.

This awful economy is not a reason to get under your desk. We need to attack this problem with whatever is available to people. We need to blunt the problems of this economy with hope and hard work, turn it, and ultimately make the lessons learned from it work for us in increasingly sustainable ways.

My new friends in my beautiful rural Township seemed to have their arms crossed in greeting to this new wise guy driving out from the county seat.

I told them I've screwed my startups up and they would to. I told them it would take more time than they or I would expect. I told them the world needs them, and they need the world. I told them that's not a reason to wait. That's the reason to start.

My friends were laughing (at/with/near?) me by the time we were done. I learned about many emerging new businesses but more importantly I learned again, about how much hope there is in the world and how hard people are prepared to work.

For anyone in econonomic development, find a way to start as many new enterprises as you can. Forget about what sectors they should be in. Forget about where you're going to get the grants. Forget about the daunting odds against these people succeeding and find a way to get them some optimism and some help. Under-promise, over-deliver and hurry up.

Find out what they love. Help them get working toward establishing a sustainable work base, in every aspect of what that means.

Those bright stars in that truly dark sky amazed me. Simple stuff.

Those hopeful startup entrepreneurs and hard working small businesses in that Township hall this week stood out from the dark headlines with an even brighter glow.

Simple stuff. Amazing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Economic development creates increasingly sustainable tomorrows

Buckminster Fuller wrote about doing increasingly more with increasingly less for the greatest number of people at an accelerating pace. Look around. Sounds like a plan.

The only way to succeed is to find ways to make increasingly sustainable tomorrows.

We innovate our way into the future in sustainable ways, or we fail. Period.

Peter Drucker said "Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth."

Now that I get to work directly in economic development, that's my job. I see it as an act of respecting resources, empowering people and communities, and building economic independence for the greatest number of people in the most sustainable way.

So what does the sustainable part mean? In Thomas Friedman's new book he concludes, "Green isn't about lighting up our homes. It's about lighting up our future."

Lighting up ALL our futures.

To me this means making tools, information, and sustainable business processes available to anyone who wants to contribute solutions. I see huge numbers of emerging entrepreneurs and innovators searching out real problems, large and small, and working to supply increasingly sustainable, repeatable solutions. We need to make the process easier for them to navigate.

Peter Drucker speaks about creating new capacities to create wealth. Wealth in the emerging economy will mean a growing quality of life, better environments, and more control over your own, personal economic independence, and the economic independence of your communities.

Increasingly sustainable tomorrows.

Sounds like a plan.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute

Peter Drucker via Wikipedia

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quit your day job, with creative peers

Do you know Etsy?

It's one of my favorite enterprise stories out there. They are set up to launch you as a creative entrepreneur in ways that are remarkably easy and fun to get involved with. Etsy is a platform you can launch a creative/knowledge based enterprise from and market globally from wherever you are, literaly and figuratively.

Etsy now has a new section called 'Quit Your Day Job'. It highlights a number of folks who have used the Etsy platform to launch their enterprises.

You don't literally have to quit your day job to launch on Etsy. In fact that's the best part. You can market your own creative enterprise while you wean your way off day-job-life-support.

Etsy is a soft portal into entrepreneurship. Open the door, friend.

Quit Your Day Job. A wide range of Etsy entrepreneurs profiled. You can do this, friend.

Interview with an Etsy creative entrepreneur talking about nuts, bolts, and the opportunities of entrepreneurship.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Simple ideas. Great startups

I was privileged to be invited back to Wisconsin Public Radio this week to talk about entrepreneurship.

I had to skip out of my first economic development conference to do the show. At first I felt bad about this. Then I realized that most everyone in the state of Wisconsin that knew anything about economic development were locked away in one room and none of them would be able to hear the radio show. I've been on this new job for 8 weeks. OK, not such a bad set up after all…

It was a really fun show to do. Kathleen Dunn is a wonderful, funny, thoughtful host, and people are so interested in discussing entrepreneurship. What a great hour to spend with Kathleen!

If I stopped to write about all the cool stories that flowed into the show, this piece would be too long.

The one that I'll pick to shine a light on came from a woman who told us about a simple idea they turned into a business ready to launch into greatness.

This is not meant as an example of starting a high tech, venture-funded startup. This is a story of an enterprise started from the love of an idea. What I want to emphasize here is how enthusiastic both Kathleen and I were about this idea.

Ready? A pet expo. Specifically focused on dogs.

Two couples produce the event. It's a yearly event. They design their expo to be a healthy and beneficial experience for the dogs and fun for all involved. It includes a 32 foot long pool for dogs to jump in. Can you imaging the publicity photos?

Here is the small business focus. One simple great idea had both the host of a statewide show and their guest (me) competing to gush over how cool we thought this was. Kathleen had exclamation points in her voice. We both said we wanted to visit.

So, you're a small business struggling with costs to promote an event? If it's a worthy, unique value proposition - does it solve a problem and fill a need - there are many, many low cost, creative ways to promote your venture. This one small example had an entrepreneur calling in to ask for help on a statewide show and having everyone involved on the radio side doing everything they could to support the effort. Her details are in the show, which is linked below.

If I didn't love my job so much I'd do this.

You do not have to be Rembrandt to start an arts enterprise. You have to love your art. You do not have to be Mother Teresa to start a social entrepreneur venture. You have to love your cause. You don't have to be Bill Gates to start a new enterprise. You have to use your skills and your knowledge creatively to create solutions that make peoples lives better in some small way.

This was a wonderful hour with Kathleen Dunn and the stories from the entrepreneurs who called in were magic. If you have the time, listen to the piece about the pet expo. It's in the second half of the hour. You'll be inspired as to how quickly a simple idea can be swept up into a multi-state radio program where both the host and the guest wanted to walk to the event.

Go get 'em, friend.

Listen to our entrepreneurship show on WI Public Radio. Scroll down to the programs listed for Thursday 2/5/09. 9:00 hour. Program number 090205D