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January 21, 2013

3 Ways To Aid Entrepreneurs In Worcester


How can we keep entrepreneurs and young start-ups in Worcester and MetroWest? Too often, I hear from young entrepreneurs that they want to move to Cambridge or Silicon Valley to be "where the action is" because they feel they will find more resources, a larger network and a better environment to start, launch and grow their businesses.

The challenges of growing any new startup are the same everywhere — the need for three basic things: capital, manpower and facilities. And, for the most part, these are readily available to entrepreneurs characterized as experienced, focused, well connected and having well-articulated, sound business models. However, this is not enough to keep young, budding entrepreneurs in the Worcester area. Why? Because many don't yet have those characteristics.

They need three additional ingredients — a strong networking atmosphere, mentoring and a good start-up environment. Let me address each:

1. Networking Atmosphere. When I'm attending a networking event, there's a tremendous sense of entrepreneurial camaraderie, sharing, support and knowledge exchange. Much of the energy in the Boston area comes from the college students and recent graduates. I see the same thing in San Francisco — a tremendous network effect in all aspects of entrepreneurial growth — technology, innovation, venture capital, partnerships and human capital.

We have the energy and human capital here, starting with the more than 30,000 college students. Unfortunately, each of the area's colleges remains somewhat isolated as little islands of excellence. Combining this energy and brilliance could generate an increased level of networking.

2. Guidance. Entrepreneurs often need assistance for some of the simplest things: When and how should I incorporate? How can I protect my intellectual property? Where can I find marketing interns? The resources that could help guide the entrepreneurs are hidden throughout Worcester. Each college has a lot of expertise within departments, faculty and alumni, but it's not known to those in need or readily accessible when required.

At the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program at Clark, we have initiated a program to develop a mentor resource network for young entrepreneurs. Initially we'll support our undergraduate entrepreneurs, then expand to graduate students, and then to recent alumni. This supports the immediate needs of startups and creates an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

3. Environment. The entrepreneurial ecosystem only grows and thrives when the overall environment is conducive to growing new businesses. The local business environment must foster conditions favorable to creating new ideas, starting new businesses and removing obstacles to growth. How can we do this? One example, the Massachusetts BioMedical Initiatives (MBI), has done a great job supporting start-up biomedical companies with lab space, shared resources, mentoring support and legal and accounting help.

The Worcester area already has many resources for startups, such as a very skilled workforce, access to financing and inexpensive office space. By focusing on developing an entrepreneurial network, a friendly mentoring ecosystem and a startup-focused business environment, we'll foster a level of innovation, creativity and excitement that, when achieved, becomes self-fulfilling.


Jeff Schiebe is entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program at Clark University.

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