From the Good Ideas File: Accelerators aren’t just for tech types

I’m currently participating in a Good Idea that I’ve known about for quite a while, and I thought it might be useful for you, too.  Business accelerators are a hot topic in economic development anymore, but they’re usually described as a way to get technology businesses off the ground. As we say in the book, though, it’s critical to understand a local economy as an ecosystem that thrives or fails because of many interrelated and interdependent parts, not just a few Big Things that we can push or pull, in faith that doing that will somehow get us what we want.  And in an economy where fewer and fewer people can rely on large employers to take care of them and their families, the business that is not on track for the Fortune 500, but which supports a family and enables people to do the work they are good at and excited about …that’s important stuff.  Very important stuff.  More important, and more long-term beneficial for many communities, than quixotic quests after big manufacturers.

A business accelerator combines teaching, coaching, mentoring, peer support and growth challenges in a short time frame to help a potential or nascent business build its capacity.  Through all of these tactics, the business owner figures out their market position, operational needs, financial strategy and all the rest of the necessary elements, all of which enables them to put their business into action with less of the risky trial-and-error that leads so many small businesses to an early demise.

The accelerator that I am currently going through is called Bad Girl Ventures, which operates in three Ohio cities and is mostly focused on women-owned startups,  I am in it to try to work out whether a tech business I am considering is feasible, but most of my classmates are not tech firms — there’s a few dance and yoga studios, some speciality foods, a day spa and some others.  In talking to them last week, though, I realized that part of what they are gaining is the technical information, but part of it also is the guidance and encouragement of their advisors and peers.  Since this isn’t my first time to the rodeo, that was a little bit of a revelation to me — one that I’ll be taking with me when I talk about entrepreneurship at Middlesboro’s Better Block Part Deux later this week and other events this summer.

Another confidence-builder for new entrepreneurs is learning to articulate their business concisely, and getting that audience feedback.  A couple of weeks ago, some of the accelerator classmates had a chance to practice “pitching” their business to an audience.  As I often tell local government people, we forget how scared most people are of public speaking, and for some of my classmates, this was their first time doing this in front of an audience.  So you can imagine what a sense of achievement they felt when they got that applause!

So here’s 4 of the 10 giving their pitches.  It”ll give you a sense of the range.  Awesome folks!

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