Compete | February 11, 2016

Fostering Entrepreneurship Through Startup Competitions

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Have you noticed that the new word on the street is Entrepreneurship? It’s not actually a new term, but recently entrepreneurship has been turning into a movement.

It is a big enough movement, in fact, that various organizations – from private and non-profits, to government and education sectors – are looking to foster it within their own communities.

Take the Global Entrepreneurship Network as an example. It was conceived in response to the growing momentum of community leaders looking to build one global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

We are living through a sort of era of entrepreneurship.

And like it or not, building entrepreneurial ecosystems are becoming more and more prevalent in everyday work.

Many of the ecosystems across the globe have begun to establish startup programs, trainings, seminars, events and funds in an effort to develop entrepreneurs. But there is a problem, and one that cannot be tackled so easily.

The ecosystem is saturated with a number of these programs and initiatives to help grow entrepreneurial ecosystems – each with substantial research and outcomes that point to some sort of success.

Many of these programs also take time to analyze impact, so assessing outcomes may take a while.

But our budgets, for the most part, are limited, and employers want results now.

There’s little to no room for failing in most cases, and we are probably the ones with that luck.

So what are we to do?

Given so many different programs for entrepreneurs, questions arise, such as: What works best and in which circumstances? How can diverse efforts be integrated?

 

Learn By Doing

I am reminded of an old saying, “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”

In entrepreneurship, no single experience has been as transformative for me as going through the experience of building a startup from idea to repeatable business model, then to scaling and acquisition.

Before continuing, I am compelled to share my first experience with an idea-driven competition and the entrepreneurial spirit of collegiate students.

My exposure began with an idea challenge back in 2009, hosted by Kingsborough Community College in New York, which asked us to focus on sustainability.

I got together with some classmates and developed a social impact venture, built around a grant-based business model. We won the challenge, received some funding to implement the program, as well as mentorship from the administration.

We partnered with a few student organizations and grew the initiative to about 200 active student volunteers. During this time, the venture was placed under the provost’s oversight and continues to this day.

At the time it was a cool experience, and I thought nothing more of it.

But if I look back, I could say I went through founding a social impact venture, developed a business model, grew it through school funding and student partnerships, and was acquired as I was about to graduate.

It planted the bug in me, and today I continue to pursue this drive to create solutions where none exist, and foster entrepreneurial ecosystems.

 

How A Startup Competition Starts the Spark

As community builders, one of the ways we can begin building the startup ecosystem in our communities is by creating opportunities to experience entrepreneurship.

Startup competitions are one of the most fruitful ways to create effective experiences.

Let's be honest though, there is no single way to develop entrepreneurs.

It’s unique and different for every individual, but we can work with some foundational experiences. Crucial experiences that come to mind are design thinking, business model generation, testing and learning and validating.

A startup competition is flexible enough for you to focus on the components that make sense in your community.

Some leaders believe business plans are the way to go, others feel it’s through live hack-a-thons. Tailor your competition to test some or all of these components, which only you will know.

And let’s not forget about building relationships.

Direct networks are more highly prized today – especially the networks made as an undergraduate student surrounded by like-minded people. I learned the value of building networks during my student government days, and it has served me well in entrepreneurship.

With a startup competition, depending on the components, you can touch on helping your community develop those skills.

One of the overarching goals that I see with competitions is to provide educational opportunities to people and to showcase some of the stellar startups in the community. And startup competitions provide a unique channel through which to foster and develop entrepreneurship tailored to your unique views and outcomes.

When setting up a competition, take a few minutes to think through what it could look like. There are lots of examples of competitions, which you can find in our competition portal online at Startup Compete.

How do you feel about startup competitions and their effectiveness in fostering entrepreneurship? Join the conversation. You can connect with me from the Startup Compete webpage, or email our team at support@startupcompete.co

Photo Credit: Morgan Sessions

STEVEN A. RODRIGUEZ serves as Startup Community Manager at the Global Entrepreneurship Network, a 501(c)3 non-profit. Rodriguez oversees four… About the author