#GEWPolicy Spotlight: The Role of Policies in Supporting Entrepreneur Ecosystem Development
"Our lawmakers must work together to reduce barriers and support resource hubs in our communities," writes Robert Blacklidge, Executive Director for Domi Station Tallahassee. "Those who develop new forward-thinking policies will see explosive growth in their communities."
Robert
Blacklidge
8 Nov 2021

This article is part of a Global Entrepreneurship Week (#GEW2021) series putting a spotlight on policies designed to help entrepreneurs start and scale, and the crucial role policy makers play in building a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Entrepreneurship is an exciting proposition, though, in my experience, many entrepreneurs do not know they are engaged in entrepreneurship, especially early on in their journey. What drives them is a problem they encounter themselves, and they want to solve it for themselves. As they start to create a solution, they discover that others have the same problem. When it comes to starting and developing a business, more often than not, they are unaware of available resources or what it takes to get a company off the ground.

Every business has a day one -- what it takes to get to day 365 and beyond is often guidance, education and a community. Existing business owners tend to be the best match for what entrepreneurs are facing when it comes to starting a business. But startups that require such resources most often have little to no way of paying for them.

This is where government policy comes into play. Government policies are an intricate part of supporting organizations that create free or low-cost startup support structures. Without the support of local government initiatives, these entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) tend to be missing in secondary and tertiary communities.

A central tenet of America’s New Business Plan, a set of bipartisan policy recommendations that resulted from multi-year efforts by the Kauffman Foundation, is that governments must do more to reduce barriers so that new businesses have access to the support they need. According to the Foundation, “becoming an entrepreneur is a courageous act, but many feel it is currently out of their reach.” The biggest challenges are often practical, “such as knowing how to start, operate, and grow a business.” Many people are not taught the skills needed to develop a business in school, so as the Foundation says, they must “learn as they go.” What can governments do? The Foundation says, “develop inclusive entrepreneur support mechanisms.”

Entrepreneurship is not easy to foster. The most successful ESO programs are run or founded by entrepreneurs. These altruistic organizations are supported out of the goodwill of the community, and are typically underfunded and sustained by in-kind contributions. When supported by the government, they are truly impactful in creating economic growth and development. One of the best ways for me to highlight the importance of this support is to describe the programs I have helped to create and facilitate. 

I am currently the Executive Director for Domi Station Tallahassee, a coworking incubator. I have worked in, with, and for several incubators and accelerators across the country. Each is supported by a variety of sources. What sets incubators apart from accelerators and most other programs is that they tend to be equity-free early-stage support programs. They provide a place for entrepreneurs to connect with a community of resources, participate in educational programs, and receive mentorship and guidance.

In 2020, Domi Station Tallahassee provided 34 scholarships (12 full and 22 partial scholarships). To provide this support, Domi raised $25,000 in support from the community. These scholarships provided six months of entrepreneurial support. That support resulted in the creation of over 50 jobs and about a million dollars of revenue generated by the companies. That is, we saw a 40 times return on the expenditure in less than a year from a minimal investment by our community.

When government policy is crafted to provide recurring support, these programs provide an increasing level of support for early-stage companies. This amplifies the impact in our community by shifting the organizations’ focus away from fundraising and back toward executing programs. We see this in Florida’s primary markets: Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa Bay. There, local policies work in conjunction with local community support to amplify existing efforts and therefore impact. Similar to tax incentives for corporations, such policies usually only provide a portion of ESOs expected costs. The government does not need to cover the entire expense of the venture. The best policies reduce barriers and shoulder costs with the company. 

What we see, however, are too many policies that limit and restrict access to resources. Our lawmakers must work together to reduce barriers and support resource hubs in our communities. Those who develop new forward-thinking policies will see explosive growth in their communities.

How can you activate your community? How can you connect with policymakers to show your support for new policies that support entrepreneurship? I encourage you to not only impact others but work to create ripples of change throughout your community.

Robert Blacklidge

Executive Director | Domi Station

Robert Blacklidge is fondly known as Startup Santa. USAF Veteran and serial entrepreneur. His work building the Florida entrepreneur ecosystem has… More