Entrepreneurial Community

I recently attended the Spark Centre’s Ignite Central Pitch Competition. Twenty three entrepreneurs powered through three minute pitches in front of a panel of judges and a large audience. It’s wonderful to see the enthusiasm and drive of each of them, and to hear their ideas for new technology-based businesses.

As I listened to the proceedings of the evening, I got to thinking about community. Community was mentioned a number of times, by the MC, Tracy Hanson, and in the ‘Power Panel’ Q&A. (The power panel is the group of seven accomplished entrepreneurs who volunteered their time to mentor and judge the competition). A few people remarked how wonderful the event was for bringing together the entrepreneurial community of Durham Region. And it was. I had a fine time catching up with people from all niches within this community: the educational institutions, the economic development folks, the business people and service providers. All of these are part of the community.

I’ve been thinking about community building a lot recently. I’m reading about something called ‘Blended Learning’. Blended learning makes use of both on-line and face-to-face teaching to help people learn. What has become clear to practitioners of blended learning is that modern learning involves culling knowledge from the vast reservoir of information available to us. Often, this can be effectively done through discussion with fellow learners. To make this work effectively, especially on-line, a community of learners need to exist amongst the class or group.

It’s easier to build community in person, at least at first, but it can be sustained on-line. To facilitate community building, the common goals of the community need to be defined, and people need to get to know each other, so that a level of trust can be developed. People need to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns and questions. Community encompasses respect and recognition of the contributions of each member of the larger community.

When the topic of ‘great’ entrepreneurial communities comes up, I’ve heard Calgary mentioned, with their ‘Can do attitude’. Silicon valley also comes up, where it’s possible to have casual conversations, at the coffee shop or restaurant, that help to build business or solve entrepreneurial problems. This is something to aim for.

What does Durham Region need to makes its entrepreneurial community stronger and more vibrant? Many advances have been made in building our entrepreneurial community in the past few years but I hope we can go further. I believe it’s important to engage as many individuals, from as many different niches within entrepreneurship, as possible. I suspect there are entrepreneurs in our community not currently engaged. These may be business owners who have been running a successful business for years or people who have an idea but haven’t found the inspiration to develop it yet or creative folks with lots of ideas to share.

I’d like to see the day when an entrepreneur could walk down the street in Oshawa or Port Perry and bump into someone who knows someone who could help them move their latest project forward. Or maybe they’d come up with a bright new idea together. To me, community is about hundreds of tiny connections between each community member and every other one, so that we have one, big strong fabric to create things from. Sort of like a spider web, which is made of slim, flimsy strands, but pretty strong and sticky when it’s woven together.

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