Quit posturing and bulls**ting about how difficult it is to generate jobs in your community, and how hard it is to recruit businesses. It is actually very easy. The businesses, or the ideas for new ones, are already in the community. All they need is a space to meet, and some experienced mentors. And how do you attract those mentors?
There is a very good potential job-generating program in every community: the Community Development Block Grant program.
This program, funded by HUD, provides funds to train low to moderate income people, or low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, with training in how to start and grow businesses. It pays the mentors a very moderate stipend, just enough to grab the people who would have been the most enthusastic mentors anyway. (In Arizona, that would be me, ed, and phil.)
In 2003, the City of Phoenix gave our company, Stealthmode Partners, its first grant to offer entrepreneurship training through CDBG funds. At the time, I didn’t know what a block grant was, nor a grant proposal. I only knew how to share my entrepreneurial experiences with people who needed help.
The innovative thinking of the economic development professionals in the city of Phoenix created or retained about 150 jobs over a four-year period. Almost all of the companies or people we’ve served are still either in the same business they started with us, or on to founding the next one. Believe me, they’re not drawing unemployment benefits.
The City of Tempe, adjacent to Phoenix, was next. Then the town of Gilbert, the City of Mesa, and the City of Maricopa. We now mentor four separate programs, each enrolling 101-5 people or businesses twice a year.
Over the past 8 years, we have coached, counseled, and connected more than 550 entrepreneurs. We have helped people start businesses, and others survive the Great Recession. We’ve even shown people their ideas wouldn’t work, and sent them off in a different direction.Attorneys, bankers, and marketing specialists volunteer at our sessions, and the Chambers of Commerce are also usually involved.
We have built a network of startups and small businesses in Maricopa County that comes together once a year at the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference.
Looking back on what we’ve done, it amazes me how simple it is. The Kauffman Foundation has wonderful tools to help entrepreneurs, and three of us went to Kansas City and got certified, which combined our own business experience with their research-based tools.
Then we got groups of about ten businesses together for three-hour sessions a week, ten weeks each.
The power of the group does the rest. It’s crowd sourcing at its best. By about week 6, the group has formed a trust network, and will buy from each other, and pass leads to one another. By the end of the program, everyone is sad, not happy, to have three extra hours a week returned to their lives.
And although we sometimes separate out the technology companies, more and more we’re coming to believe that “mainstreaming” them into the New Venture and Growth Venture programs is the way to go. Why? Because commercialization of a technology is a small part of building a business. And besides, every business needs technology, and every geek needs a vet, or an attorney, or a cool coffee shop. Even better, every geek needs to meet her potential market.
For a small fee, I’ll go anywhere to spread this gospel. I’m tired of listening to the complicated plans of the politicians about stimuli and shovel-ready projects. To me, every entrepreneur and every business owner is a shovel ready project.