Community Is the New Currency
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.
In her book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, Hillary Clinton famously (or infamously, based upon your politics) advocated for a society that assumes shared responsibility for raising children. The book became a New York Times Bestseller and a conservative lightening rod to denounce what the right deemed as a nanny-state intrusion on family.
For me, the value proposition of the book boiled down to the societal benefit of raising socially balanced children with the requisite cognitive and academic skills to contribute to society—an aspiration that is not the sole providence of the right or left.
I have concluded that there is some value to "the Village," but in an emerging way that may be redefining what we expect from the communities in which we engage. As it relates to entrepreneurs considering where to start a company or how to engage the assistance of others, I see increasing value in a variety of forms of communities such that I believe communities are emerging as a form of currency in our economy. Namely, some communities are providing direct economic benefit to entrepreneurs capable of identifying, engaging and leveraging these communities.
Let me offer some evidence. In March, I attended the fifth annual gathering of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Rio de Janeiro. More than 2,000 people representing 130 countries attended the Congress and shared ideas, best practices and assistance promoting an assortment of programs, resources and networks. There for all to witness was activity that had genuine economic value -- either as gifts of resources, time and access or other linkages.
Whereas the research purists reading this would (rightly) suggest that one couldn't simply assert that economic benefit is directly caused by this global network, one could certainly observe a correlation. By virtue of many individuals coming together in a community of common interest and purpose, they can extract value in obvious and less obvious ways.
Back in the U.S., we launched a new experiential-based learning program for aspiring entrepreneurs starting new firms called 1 Million Cups. The premise behind 1MC was built from the notion that if we could have more conversations (presumably over a cup of coffee), we could encourage and assist more individuals to start firms by sharing the knowledge and experiences of others. The program ostensibly has become a platform for community-based experiential learning for the aspiring entrepreneurs who present every Wednesday morning.
Founders of two startups get six minutes to present a company overview followed by roughly 20 minutes of Q&A from the audience, which now boasts more than 200 weekly in Kansas City, Mo. Invariably, each company gets the question, how can the community help? For the entrepreneurs who have done their homework, namely participate as a community member in several 1MCs prior, they will anticipate this question and get a rare opportunity to ask a sizeable crowd to: sample my product, register for our newsletter, help with warehouse space, sign our petition, help us find programmers or other employees, etc.
At the recent one-year anniversary of the program, alumni got on stage and shared an update on their progress post-1MC. Participant after participant could point to tangible benefits from the program, by virtue of the 1MC community that engaged with them.
A more recent book espousing the virtue of community (ecosystem) is Brad Feld's Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. In the book, Feld identifies roles for people in the community: Leaders and Feeders. In his view of successful ecosystems, Leaders are bona fide entrepreneurs and Feeders are everyone else who has an interest in supporting and growing such communities.
The existence of these communities, however, isn't always obvious. That's why we recently deployed a new channel on our website, entrepreneurship.org, named ID8 Nation. ID8 is a multimedia online journal focusing on entrepreneurial ecosystems of cities around the country. The channel debuted with a look at the iron city better known as Pittsburgh. Stories, videos and photos attempt to stitch together a tapestry of the vibrant community in Pittsburgh, partly to help its residents see what's happening among them, and partly to showcase great ideas that can be shared with other communities looking to promote similar activity.
In an increasingly mobile world with lessening geographic constraints to starting and growing companies, we need to help entrepreneurs identify the communities that may best serve their needs. In so doing, communities will realize the economic benefit of supporting the activities and needs of founders who are working hard to plant the seeds of economic growth in their "community gardens."