Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Support Networks Matter for Entrepreneurs

I was speaking with a friend this morning, an early-stage entrepreneur who has invested the past two years in her start-up. She has made progress- there is a product, a team, and some seed funding. But she still feels far away from the vision that drew her to launch the company in the first place. And there are many day to day challenges as an entrepreneur- from raising funding to dealing with uncertainty and motivating a team of people to work exceptionally hard for less than they could be making at an established company.

We tout entrepreneurship as Europe's saviour and the source of growth for developed economies worldwide. We applaud the Steve Jobs of the world. We celebrate successes and acquisitions and IPOs. But we rarely talk about the long and often difficult process. And the struggles. And the emotional toll that entrepreneurs experience. The road to success is often longer and bumpier than we think.

Social capital has been cited as a key factor in entrepreneurial success; it both encourages nascent entrepreneurs and helps them advance through the start-up process. Yet much of the research on tech ecosystems has focused on access to funding and government regulations. As governments worldwide look to create "the next Silicon Valley", we need to start focusing on the importance of strong networks. Large concentrations of entrepreneurs create a sense of community. Incubators, mentors, and MeetUp groups help entrepreneurs find one another, share advice and provide support.

My personal experience with Astia has been so beneficial that I remain involved seven years after participating in the incubator. Social entrepreneurs involved with the Impact Hub rave about the sense of community that co-working creates. Online communities have been a key resource for entrepreneurs who live outside tech ecosystems.

If entrepreneurship is the way forward, then we must focus on the tools to help entrepreneurs succeed. Entrepreneurs, who shoulder an enormous amount of stress and operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty, need support beyond capital and loose regulation. By acknowledging the impact of social capital on venture outcomes, we can focus on creating more social networks (both physical and virtual) to provide the holistic support that entrepreneurs need.

Photo Credit: DeskMag