Want to Change a Community? Break Down Barriers, Take Risks and Do What Fits You
For positive change and progress to take place, everybody’s got to be all in.
That message resonated through the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program seminar at the Shreveport Club Thursday as community members gathered to speak with Dr. Gregory Pogue from the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and Sandy Dochen from IBM.
Pogue and Dochen, both seasoned in the world of innovative business, shared their advice on what creates innovation, fosters startups and expands education in communities like Shreveport and Bossier City.
Starting Small and Building Big
Pogue has worked in the launching of six startups, none of which were in Austin, a city often known for its innovative technology and as a top place where startups take off.
Instead, Pogue believes startups can begin in small towns like Shreveport and Bossier City.
He told the story of Kentucky BioProcessing, a company he helped start that exploded after it was contracted to grow the drug ZMapp, an experimental treatment for Ebola that healed two Americans, including a Samaritan’s Purse doctor, during the Ebola crisis.
The company is in Owensboro, Kentucky—not what you’d call a hot spot on the map. But it proved to be a perfect environment to start and grow the bioprocessing company, which has made an $150 million direct impact on the economy and an annual payroll of $7 million.
Not to mention it’s caused a storm of three spin-out companies, employed more than 100 people and made the town of only 58,000 people a talent attractor.
But as the old saying goes, it takes a village. Pogue didn’t spend much time crediting only himself and his team for the startup. It took everyone around them to be involved to make it a success.
Factions fighting and competing against one another doesn’t equate to a progressive environment. It takes engagement from all entities—public or private, large or small—working toward a common goal.
Startups need human capital, educated people in the form of existing experts, interns, and nearby universities and companies. They need funding, which can come from angel investors, grant funding, bridge funding and other sources.
The region also has to support startups. It makes a difference when community members, influencers and major entities back new businesses, especially when they can greatly affect the prosperity of a region’s economy.
Creating relationships with peers can strengthen a small team with vision and connect them with other companies that can settle in the area. The area has to have an attractive element that brings people together and fosters culture, like a riverwalk with live music, bars and restaurants.
Investing in Your Human Capital Today
Dochen shared the concept of developing an innovative economy from a corporate perspective, drilling on the idea that resources for innovative companies may be right under your nose.
IBM focuses on education initiatives, like the implementation of science programs for low-income students and the sending of middle school girls to camps where they learn about taking on a career in science, a field where women are underrepresented.
Immersing students early could mean lots of potential employees for IBM when students choose to pursue STEM majors and careers.
It’s About Being Smart, Taking a Risk and Having Faith
You don’t have to be in Austin, Texas, or the San Francisco Bay Area to make an innovative economy happen. It just takes collaboration, patience and realistic expectations, Pogue said.
One of the most important elements is people. It’s their investment that makes economic development powerful.
You can’t recreate Silicon Valley. You have to do what fits your area. That includes thinking regionally, not just in terms of your city. If Shreveport and Bossier City continue to treat the Red River as the Berlin Wall, Dochen said, it’s a detriment. What happens in one city affects the other.
When you try to do something disruptive and new in the community, you’ll always hear the cry of the naysayers. But that’s okay. Find a supportive group of people, and make what you’re doing look attractive. You may find you have more in common with others than you thought.
Progress doesn’t happen with just one person doing all of the work. Everyone has to work together to create change. Have faith in your own community. You don’t have to travel to other places to experience innovation. The resources you need may be in the streets of your own city. You just need a spark to start the blaze.
TRANSFORM YOUR REGION
Want to be part of a major change in the community? By developing your startup, you also develop your surroundings. The EAP can get you there.