One of the talk/workshops that I’ve done many times in many different time zones is designed to help local government and nonprofit people understand how small businesses and entrepreneurs are different from the larger businesses that they are used to dealing with, and how they can address those businesses’ very different needs (spoiler alert: you have to do different things, too).
Last week, I had an interesting opportunity to turn that discussion inside out. I was invited to conduct a workshop at the Co.Starters Summit in Chattanooga, Tennessee to help small business people and organizations learn how to work more effectively with local governments and old-line nonprofits, like Chambers of Commerce. Inverting your own content like that is a strange experience — it’s like finding a new way to assemble the crossword puzzle. But unlike most of my cram-the-puzzle-piece-into-the-hole-to-see-if-it-fits experiences, this one actually worked.
If you don’t know Co.Starters, you probably should. Born out of Chattanooga’s innovation and start-up cauldron, Co.Starters created a series of curriculum for fostering small-scale entrepreneurship in situations ranging from craftspeople to historically disinvested neighborhoods to high school students and people interested in launching social good organizations. I’ll be writing more about the approach as soon as I can, but the key features are a training program (similar to many small business launch strategies) coupled with a strong emphasis on peer learning and building a community of entrepreneurs who can support and help each other. If you don’t deal regularly with small business and entrepreneurs, that can sound fluffy, but if you do, then you probably realize how critical that support is to entrepreneurial success, especially among people who don’t come from money, connections, or a long line of entrepreneurs in their family. In many cases, the training (“here’s how to write a business plan!) is the easy part, and often ineffective on its own.
But back to the inside-out workshop: the people who participated came from several small business accelerators and support organizations, along with a few nonprofits, a couple of university-based small business programs, and a few others. Rather than set up a conversation-killing PowerPoint, I decided to simply have a conversation, and based the conversation on a summary sheet that CoStarters asked trainers to develop as a means of giving everyone an easy-to-use takeaway. You can download the summary sheet from this workshop right here:
My thanks again to CoStarters for a mind-blowing visit with a whole assortment of people doing awesome stuff. If you want to learn more about them, check out Costarters.co.