More than ever, entrepreneurship will continue to play an instrumental role in driving the global economy. Marketing has the opportunity to help catalyze this, particularly as regions around the world increasingly look to further harness innovation at a local level.
Successful outcomes are a prerequisite for entrepreneurship to thrive on a sustainable basis. Marketing remains instrumental in making this happen. Many of the critical roles it serves are familiar to this readership – from packaging compelling value propositions for driving market adoption, producing creative branding and PR campaigns that fuel demand, or by implementing new marketing and sales models that lower customer acquisition costs and open up new market segments.
But what about the role marketing can play in terms of inspiring and fostering an environment for nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship?
Connect and enable the next generation of entrepreneurs. Much can be learned from those who have already done it. Barriers preventing the next generation from connecting with the existing entrepreneur community, as well as each other, need to be removed. Gatherings and one-on-one mentoring can be orchestrated to bring entrepreneurs of all stages together to better enable the free flow of ideas and advice. The challenge is to leverage existing institutions to get these off the ground and/or give them critical mass, while encouraging the organic emergence of new platforms over time.
Silicon Valley has always been exceptional at providing this type of environment. Other regions are also stepping up and bringing new ideas to the table. “First Tuesday” – a forum for bringing entrepreneurs together on an ongoing basis – has caught on globally. In Boston for example, WebInno, MassInnovationNights, and The Venture Café are some of the more recent initiatives underway to address this.
Connecting the next generation with the broader innovation economy of key service providers and other company-building experts is important as well. This can be done through business plan competitions and other activities As entrepreneurship evolves in a region, what started as forums for sharing insight and advice matures into a vibrant and proven support ecosystem that entrepreneurs can rely on to help get their startups off the ground.
Enhance the supporting infrastructure. People and ideas are key pillars of the entrepreneurial foundation. But access to capital, talented employees, and a supportive business environment are what help many succeed.
Creative programs for facilitating the flow of early capital and/or venture expertise to entrepreneurs can be essential. While some venture capital firms are still active at seed and early stages, YCombinator, TechStars, SeedCamp, and myriad other groups have emerged over the past several years to address this opportunity.
Of course, not everything should be “just about the entrepreneur.” Top talent is continually needed to fuel the realization of the entrepreneurial dream. Many future entrepreneurs – executives, engineers, scientists, or new grads – are well served early on in their careers by working in a best-in-class startup where they learn firsthand about building great companies. Entrepreneurial DNA is exchanged and it helps prime the pump with qualified individuals for follow-on endeavors.
Grassroots marketing efforts can have an impact on improving the underlying infrastructure around public policy as well. For example, employee non-compete agreements can thwart the starting of new ventures and even force entrepreneurs to abandon a geography for greener pastures. In certain regions, there are campaigns underway to abolish non-competes and level the playing field in this area.
Celebrate and brand success. Success breeds success. Fortunately, we're not starting from ground zero here. Today's young generation has grown up with entrepreneurial “hero” figures around them. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell have inspired for decades. Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg are some of the more recent examples of individuals who are showing the way.
Opportunities abound to keep the entrepreneurial fire lit and, when certain things go right, turn it into a raging inferno. Constant chatter around entrepreneurs, startups, and new products is a good thing and must be more prevalent. PR and media play a big role here – both at a global and local level – to celebrate successes. Word of mouth is also essential by bringing additional awareness and credibility for inspiring and encouraging the next generation.
People want to be part of the next big thing. It's part of our human nature. Branding around this helps to attract the best talent to entrepreneurial initiatives. Our global economy would be well served to capture more than its fair share of both.
Michael Gaiss is CMO of Highland Capital Partners. Since joining the firm, he has worked individually with 100-plus startups and emerging growth companies on a variety of marketing-focused initiatives.