Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

The entrepreneurial ecosystem is starting to come together in Chicago.  Startup Illinois is another new addition. It’s a nicely designed website designed for all levels of entrepreneurs.  What if you simply have an idea for a business, and can’t get past that simple idea?  Go to Startup Illinois and click the link “Idea”.  The website will take you through some steps to try and develop that idea.  

At the recent Booth Chicago Management Conference, there was a great panel discussion featuring Silicon Valley venture capitalists.  They had some very interesting points about growing an ecosystem.  

First, they were adamant that government has very little to do with it.  It’s all about individuals acting in their own self interest that creates the ecosystem.  Entrepreneurs collaborate with investors that reach out to networks.  Private industry adds to the rich mix. Central planning doesn’t work, and cannot create the ecosystem.

Second, there needs to be a culture of risk taking.  Risk is a dirty word to many people.  But taking a calculated risk on a company-either through investing or through starting one, is what moves the entrepreneurial ecosystem needle further along.  Hand in hand with that is a degree of openness.  Deals are co-invested and shared-spreading out risk.  Different opinions and views are tolerated.  25% of Silicon Valley CEO’s are not US born.

The other thing that needs to happen is that a high percentage of the community needs to be engaged in entrepreneurship.  Starting companies, investing in companies.  It’s important to know that you aren’t alone.  You have plenty of opportunity to get a mentor.  It’s easy to find support.  This creates economies of scale and scope, and all the resources of the economy are developed to build in those support systems-right down to the places they eat breakfast. 

Frugality is a huge theme.  Entrepreneurs do a lot with a little before they even pursue start up capital.  There is a sense of urgency and passion.  They employ a high degree of sweat equity.  Nothing gets done by wishing it.  But, there are plenty of off the rack free things at a founder’s disposal to get things started. 

Keep a close eye on debt.  Debt can kill the entrepreneur.  This means college loans, too much credit card debt, too much mortgage leverage.  Debt kills. 

Universities have a role to play.  At the university level, a culture of entrepreneurship needs to be created.  Ideally, it crosses over all of the academic silos.  Professors in music studies need to be thinking entrepreneurially along with sociology, chemistry, engineering, and business school professors.  Everyone passes that passion and creative entrepreneurial thinking into the student community.  From those seeds companies will sprout.  

The Midwest will never be like Silicon Valley.  The region has different strengths, and weaknesses.  The culture is different here.  But, we can create our own unique entrepreneurial ecosystem that will be every bit as robust as the one in Silicon Valley.  It just takes commitment, and to start thinking about it.  

What can you do today as an individual to begin growing that ecosystem?  What can your company do to grow that ecosystem?  

2 thoughts on “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

  1. Interesting Post. Would love more infor on how to find the right type of mentor for a start-up. Thanks


  2. Lots of places, IIT, Coleman Center, CEC, Polsky Center. Give them a call and good luck.


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