We’re surrounded by risk-takers every day — or at least it feels that way. Maybe you know a handful of entrepreneurs personally. Or, maybe you “know” people like Jack Dorsey, Rachel Sklar, Elon Musk or Leslie Bradshaw 140 characters at a time. Either way, particularly if you’re in the PR and social media space, odds are, you spend a decent amount of time surrounded by people who are disrupting the status quo and creating jobs and economic opportunities along the way.
Apparently, that’s not the norm. America’s culture has become more risk-averse. Companies are adding full-time jobs more slowly, investors are cautious with their dollars and individuals are starting fewer businesses and/or are less willing to move for new opportunities. This decline in risk-taking, both by individuals and companies, “has coincided with a broader slowing of the U.S. economy, particularly for new jobs,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
About half of my clients are startup companies, so reading that WSJ article was a good reminder for me. If you spend a lot of time in and around startups, you start to think that perspective is an accurate portrayal of the real world. It’s not. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and support founders (even if we do think their idea is a little cooky …). If risk-taking — and by extension successful startups — is key to economic recovery, shouldn’t we all do our part to encourage and support founders? Here are some ideas to help you get started.
5 Ideas to Support Startup Founders
- Formalize and get involved with your local startup community. Entrepreneurs are everywhere, but startup communities aren’t. VC Brad Feld, credited with building Boulder, Colorado’s startup community, has identified key elements of emerging startup communities, including entrepreneur leadership, long-term view, inclusivity and substantive activities (not just cocktail parties and award dinners). What can those events look like? The specific answer should depend on your community’s specific needs, but you could “borrow” an idea put into action by my friend Brian Zuercher, who helped start Wake Up, Start Up here in Columbus. Each monthly, three startups are invited to “pitch” their idea to nearly 200 people in the audience. The best part? At the end, the founder can make a specific ask, whether they need help recruiting developers, finding customers, connecting with investors or introductions to board members. They get practice making the pitch, and they have a captivated audience who may be able to help them tackle a current challenge.
- Mentor, advise or simply lend your brain. I know, I know. I’m like you: I hate when people ask to pick my brain (translation: get free consulting in exchange for a cup of coffee … or lunch, if you’re really lucky). But, a person wanting to start a company with nothing more than an idea will not have the resources available to “buy” your time. And, as PR people who greatly benefit when the economy is doing well (which happens when more startups succeed), I think we can spare a little bit of time every once in a while to help an emerging company. I’m not saying you should do a ton of free work, but we all have a half-hour to lend every once in a while to provide some guidance. Additionally, you can negotiate with some startups: Offer to provide PR counsel in exchange for a seat on the advisory board or maybe (if you’re giving away a significant amount of time/resources) even ask for some equity. Or, just spend a half-hour on the phone talking them through your process. Perhaps brainstorm some ideas to pique media interest. Or, campaigns to kickstart social media. Look back on your career: Odds are, someone (or multiple people) took time to help you. Pay it forward.
- Attend, host or sponsor a Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is a fantastic organization with a simple goal: “No talk. All action. Launch a startup in 54 hours.” I have no idea how many of these startups go on to be successful companies, but I don’t think that’s the point. The process itself is incredibly worthwhile for aspiring entrepreneurs. A cross-section of the community comes together, divides into teams and begins the process of building a company from the ground up. Think about what you learn in that first 54 hours — everything from assembling and managing a team … researching product/market fit … building a prototype … and pitching your idea to a larger audience. It’s a crash course in entrepreneurialism, and if our communities need more entrepreneurs, then that means we need to spend a little more time helping them learn how to succeed.
- Be a connector. A mentor once told me “The person at the center of the network owns the network.” In other words, if you can facilitate connections within your network, you become a much more valuable member within your own network. Sounds like a win-win, right? Assess your network. Who do you know would benefit from knowing someone else in your network? Make an intro. They’ll benefit … and you’ll benefit, too.
- Offer a word of encouragement. 75% of startups fail (there’s more to that stat, but that’s what people say …). As someone who quit her safe, steady job in the midst of the recession to launch a new company, I know building something from the ground up can be a nerve-racking at times. A word of encouragement or a bit of positive feedback goes a long way. Even if you can’t do anything else, go out of your way to encourage the risk-takers in your life. After all, it may be your kindness that convinces them to keep pushing forward.
What will you do this week to support an entrepreneur in your life?