Last month I was invited to the Final Pitch, a series of presentations by local entrepreneurs who had just completed a rigorous two-month start-up program at Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.
Their ideas were hatched, refined and sharpened into more realistic businesses and implementation plans. Here’s some of what they learned.
Sessions in the start-up program included business skills such as building your vision and mission, deciding on a marketing strategy, developing the plan, using financial systems, how to perform a SWOT analysis, identifying accountability systems and more.
Personal skills included time management, a know-thy-self assessment, management development, networking skills and more. After the program, they were ready for the Final Pitch.
One after another each entrepreneur, seven women and one man, told their stories: what their business was, how it got started and where it will go from here.
They sought reactions and advice from an audience of Hannah Grimes instructors, consultants and successful entrepreneurs. They listened, took notes and were enlivened by a good idea that could make a positive difference in their success.
I watched their enthusiasm, confidence and eagerness to learn more. They were not disappointed. A lively flow of ideas prompted notes and the visual expression of “I’ll try that. Thank you.”
The whole event sent a positive signal that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the Monadnock Region. The number of women making the pitch wasn’t a surprise given that women are the fastest growing group of new entrepreneurs in the country and probably the world. There was reason to cheer.
The region needs new start-up companies to provide the new products and services faster than large corporations can. Some ideas will be disruptive breakthroughs that will either draw the attention of a prospective buyer or sink a company that can’t adjust fast enough, unable to keep pace with a volatile marketplace.
At the local level, we need them to provide new jobs and revenue for the towns they are in. But what obligation does the community have toward these new start-ups?
They need support in terms of suppliers of raw materials and goods, and trained human resources. They need the cooperation of local governments as they expand and need more real estate. They will need our money through local banks, investors, or “angels.” They will need their success stories highlighted in the local press to inspire others to follow them.
The road ahead may be a bigger challenge than expected. The customer base may be smaller than anticipated; the ability to develop new products and services may be slower than market demands; there may be fewer skilled employees available in the hiring pool; and the early excitement may confront the realities of running a business.
The creative skills and gut instincts that empower new ideas and a high desire for achievement don’t always translate into the key skills of managing people as the business grows. Mentors, coaches and advisers, friends, and close relatives can provide the reality checks and solutions needed in a timely way. Other local business owners can offer encouragement and advice.
For example, Michael Faber, general manager of Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, suggests that entrepreneurs “be flexible and adapt to changes.”
Kim Blair, vice president of business development at Cooper Perkins — a technology development company in Lexington, Mass. — says new entrepreneurs can “do selected workshops and other activities to keep on learning.” Good advice to learn the new skills of managing people and keeping pace with the marketplace
As our country moves through major economic and social changes over the next few years, I applaud the new entrepreneurs for their courage and willingness to dive in and to make a positive contribution to our local economy.
Jason Garland, president of qaZing.com, a growing app in Peterborough, sums up encouragement to our Rising Stars well: “Go for it and try out your ideas. Make it work!”