For many, JumpStart is synonymous with early-stage tech investing — providing assistance and capital to early-stage tech businesses that have significant growth potential.
While this is true, it may surprise some that we also work with many non-tech entrepreneurs — the kind that may not attract venture capital, but also have great potential to create jobs and opportunity within their communities.
When working with so many different kinds of entrepreneurs, it’s easy to focus on the differences — sorting and serving them by size, sector or some other category. This is especially true when working with funders/partners, who often have very specific goals in mind that inform where their dollars should be spent.
However, focusing too much on these differences can also lead to narrow, siloed programming.
That’s why we choose to focus on the many ways the businesses we serve are similar. Well-constructed financial projections are important no matter how much growth lies ahead. Do fundamental business assistance programs really need to differ based on whether or not the opportunity is tech-based, or whether the entrepreneur is based in a particular neighborhood?
At JumpStart, we answered this question when we developed the service framework for our Core City: Cleveland program. Our goal was to help small business owners living in Cleveland’s core neighborhoods grow their business and become strong members of their local economy.
Would they benefit from the same kind of help we would provide to a tech entrepreneur? Was it appropriate (or realistic) to hold them to the same standards we would expect from a venture-backed startup?
In a word, absolutely.
We chose to assemble the same service tools and workshops we use to support tech entrepreneurs to create the Core City: Cleveland program. By making a deliberate decision to not focus on the ways clients differ from one another, we were able to leverage our service resources based on how entrepreneurial companies are similar.
As a result, we continue to build out a curriculum that teaches the same solid fundamentals, regardless of whether the business is tech or non-tech, urban or rural, pre- or post-revenue. With this foundation, we can still layer another level of programming that targets specific needs such as how to navigate FDA approval or how to generate leads for B2B software products or how to apply for a small business loan.
The point is, whenever possible, we try to think about our services offerings in terms of the value they can bring to all entrepreneurs. And increasingly, we are offering workshops that are attended by a diverse set of entrepreneurs representing a wide range of business models.
We are seeing interaction between attendees with unique perspectives in these sessions that creates increased engagement and higher program satisfaction. It truly exemplifies the value of being inclusive. Not only is this a more efficient and impactful way to help businesses succeed, it’s a better way to build a stronger economic ecosystem in our region.
This post originally appeared in Smart Business Magazine on August 27, 2018