By Bill Reagan
While we might like to believe that being an expert in a field is the best indicator of business success, whom you know often has a much greater impact than what you know.
Making good connections is important throughout the business life cycle, but it’s especially critical during the startup phase when entrepreneurs struggle with so many unknowns. They might not know how to calculate the costs associated with going into business or how to apply effectively for a loan. They likely aren’t familiar with real estate, how to find a business location, negotiate a favorable lease or gauge the qualities of potential landlords.
Too often, fledgling entrepreneurs don’t adequately research regulatory requirements to understand zoning issues, what permits are required, how much time and money it will take to meet conditions for a certificate of occupancy, or whether they will have to obtain special licenses or authorizations. This is where our various organizations and city departments can step in.
In Alexandria, we recognize the importance of supporting local small businesses and creating an environment where they can be successful and make the necessary connections. Our economic development, business and government organizations are more closely coordinated and integrated than many other localities. While we have always believed that this was the right approach, it turns out that creating this type of infrastructure for business success is backed by research in the entrepreneurial field.
The Kauffman Foundation, whose mission is to foster economic independence by advancing education and entrepreneurship, has conducted extensive research on this topic. Their findings repeatedly highlight the importance of communities fostering entrepreneurial connectivity to enhance economic vitality and create an environment in which entrepreneurship tends to thrive. These stakeholders include entrepreneurs, government, academia, banks, investors, nonprofits, veterans and the support organizations critical to business daily needs.
The ideal entrepreneurial ecosystem also encourages connectivity among businesses, whether it is clusters of interdependent businesses or affiliations of entrepreneurs who know and network with one another. Alexandria has one of the fastest growing populations of millennials — an influential cohort that thrives on interconnectivity, whether it’s to learn from one another or merely for social contact. Continuing to focus on how best to foster entrepreneurial connectivity is important as we look to the future of our city.
At each step of the way, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, through its staff and website, helps entrepreneurs make the right contacts, whether it’s to city government offices, attorneys, accountants, or other businesses. We see this as one of our most important functions.
Our goal is to continue to support entrepreneurs and to work with our partners who promote Alexandria as a great community for these driven and talented individuals. We know Alexandria is a great place for small businesses in the region, and we will continue to take a research-backed approach to creating an environment in which these businesses can thrive. As a community, we create the connections that make Alexandria great for businesses and citizens alike.
The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.