A Publication of WTVP

Small business is the driver for job growth. President Obama and many business leaders confess that small business is the backbone of America’s economy. Need proof? According to Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, “Today, roughly one-third of our GDP growth is attributable to about 1,000 high-growth firms created every year. Even though there are fewer than 30,000 such firms, they account for nearly all the job growth in our economy.”

The American entrepreneurial spirit was immensely affected by the recent recession, but it was not destroyed. In a report to the president, the Small Business Administration explained that, although many Americans were still being adversely affected by the difficult economic conditions, entrepreneurs were again looking ahead to new opportunities for small business growth. The report goes even further to say there was optimism among entrepreneurs in late 2009.

Our government recognized the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit when it launched the “Start Up America” program earlier this year. Illinois was the first state to sign on as a regional center for this national program. Startup Illinois enables mentors, advisors, funders, major corporations, service providers and government organizations to collaborate in order to help entrepreneurs start and scale companies in our state. This is in line with the vision of Peoria NEXT by creating a collaborative effort to produce the best possible entrepreneurial ecosystem to start, grow and expand new innovative businesses.

These are great changes, but more is needed. We need to see education, financial and cultural changes in this region in order to continue cultivating a climate ripe for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
On the educational front, universities aren’t known to teach students how to become entrepreneurs, and high schools rarely discuss the subject. However, studies suggest entrepreneurial education coursework might improve students’ abilities to identify and take advantage of new entrepreneurial opportunities.

In the financial arena, remember, these businesses need seed money and equity to get started. Financial institutions don’t normally get involved at this level. On the positive side, we are seeing an increase in angel investors (consider Central Illinois Angels) as well as an increase in venture capital opportunities.

On the cultural front, we are a conservative region by nature. We are risk-averse, and we don’t like to take chances. Unfortunately, we can lose great ideas because of this way of thinking. All indications point to now being a perfect time to launch a small business, so our conservatism has to loosen some if we want to stay in this game. Some say we can’t afford it, but the economic statistics suggest that we can’t afford not to.

Do you realize that major inventions like penicillin and the Super Slurper (absorbent corn starch material found in diapers) were created right here in central Illinois? But they left. One can speculate it was because the climate wasn’t conducive to the entrepreneur. Imagine where we would be with two additional multi-billion-dollar industries in the region. We have to continue on the path of being more open and friendly to new concepts and ideas. We have to be more progressive and innovative if we want to attract the entrepreneurial spirit. We are on the right path…but we have to keep moving.

What Can You Do to Make a Difference?
Entrepreneurs: If you have an idea or a technology, reach out to Peoria NEXT, and we will connect you so that you can get your foot in the door and get on the right path. Set your mind to success.

Service providers: Be kind and open your doors to entrepreneurs. Support them by offering pro bono or discounted services to help them get started. If you’re in the fields of accounting, law, marketing, insurance…these entrepreneurs could use your consultation in some form or another.

The general community: Encourage someone to go for it. If you know someone with an idea and a desire to start their own business, encourage them to go for it. Spread the word that Peoria NEXT and this region have the resources to help them get going. iBi