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Community Connections

I recently found photographs of the 1997 construction ground-breaking ceremony for the Santa Fe Business Incubator. The site, where a large building stands today, was a dusty field of weeds then. What interested me about those photos are the happy faces of the people: bankers and engineers, Board members and volunteers, the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce Director smiling as they turn shovelfuls of dirt to mark the occasion. Dozens of people had worked for three years to plan and realize the dream of having a Business Incubator in the community. The photos and their smiles tell the story of cooperation and hope for the future, hope to foster a community of entrepreneurs who would create a stronger economy and new career opportunities for these people's children and grandchildren.

Since uncovering those photographs I have been thinking about the concept of “community” in all its forms: community defined as; “group of people”; “neighbourhood or village”; “kinship, and cooperation”.

Like our communities, Business Incubators vary greatly in shape and orientation. Some are located in massive complexes and some in small structures; many are built shiny and new, while others are carved out of old grocery stores or vacant office buildings; some forsake a central facility using technology to deliver services. Regardless of what they look like, Incubators are formed to engage, unite and support a community of entrepreneurs within a broader public setting, creating convergence of place and people that looks both inward and outward.

Dr. Robert Meeder, an expert on Business Incubation, said the basic job of Incubation is to help entrepreneurs overcome risk and isolation. Creating an environment of connection and community inside the Business Incubator is key to preventing isolation. An Incubator client can get help from a staff person. He knows the entrepreneur across the hall faces the same challenges even if his business is different. This community “within” fosters unexpected synergies, something a colleague of mine calls “Incubator Magic”. I have seen this “magic” at work in many forms: Incubator visits by government officials or a bank president leading to casual conversations with entrepreneurs that opens valuable networks; clients sharing resources; business founders collaborating to start a new enterprise.

We Incubator professionals cultivate those connections within the Incubator and by links to the broader community outside. We partner with other economic development organizations; produce seminars and workshops; engage volunteers to help our entrepreneurs; help clients find employees; introduce them to sources of capital. We build strong Incubation programmes and advocate for them to stakeholders. We gather statistics on graduates and report economic impact. We engage many people from the community, concentrating on those we have ongoing interactions with.

Over time a well-run Business Incubator becomes an institution. The ceremonial shovels have long been stored and the excitement of the past seems distant. As I look at the photos of happy, hopeful faces from our earliest days, I want to throw open the doors and invite more people in, tell them the stories of the graduate businesses they see located around town, ask them to participate in our volunteer programmes or inspire them to start a business of their own.

At the end of the day the “communities” that matter most are not those formed solely by our efforts to improve our Incubators. They are created by the dreams and aspirations of everyone who lives in the communities we serve.
Published on 27-02-2013 12:34 by Mariel. 982 page views

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