Effective networks are the key to a successful business. A close-knit association of organizations, distributors, retailers and customers can help launch small local businesses to nationwide markets and recognition. Developing those networks, however, can be challenging — many beginners feel overwhelmed by the task. Fortunately for St. Louis entrepreneurs, the city is moving to create more entrepreneurial and small business support, giving those looking to build their own network of rock stars the opportunity to do so.
Growing St. Louis’ Entrepreneurial Community
Similar to Kansas City and Columbia, St. Louis is making a concentrated effort to improve job creation through the support of entrepreneurial business growth. These efforts are supported by economic development organizations as well as many other organizations that have formed to build the St. Louis entrepreneurial community. There is an understanding that entrepreneurial growth and job creation are linked — more startups mean more jobs.
Creating a Rock Star Network
What is a “rock star” network? It’s a network of individuals who can provide something of special value. This value has to be defined by each individual. One person might value receiving invitations to national events or conferences. For another, gaining a personal meeting and advice from a revered expert in her particular field could be essential. The value is often based on an exchange of knowledge or commerce.
So who are the possible “rock stars?” For many, these people provide connections to capital, angel investors, venture, or banks in terms of commerce. Mentors and coaches can also be part of this network. In general, rock stars are those individuals who can open new doors and make proper introductions to expand someone’s professional network. Of course, creating a professional network requires more calculated effort than maintaining a personal network. By identifying the specific people and organizations desired for business growth, prosperous networkers begin to make connections that lead to introductions and relationships with viable and beneficial contacts.
Identifying Local Resources
Developing these networks begins with the opportunities available in a specific location, and St. Louis has quite a few to choose from. Local nonprofit organizations, such as the Missouri Venture Forum and ITEN (Information Technology Entrepreneur Network), frequently sponsor programs dedicated to building a stronger entrepreneurial community. Higher education institutions also host conferences and workshops aimed at local businesses and entrepreneurs. Look at Washington University’s Skandalaris Center, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, or the Center for Entrepreneurship at the John Cook School of Business for small business-focused events. And in addition to those organizations, Startup Weekend St. Louis, Accelerate St. Louis, Women Entrepreneurs of St. Louis, and Innovate St. Louis are all valuable networking opportunities worth looking into.
Non-industry events can also provide avenues to explore. Volunteering for local events, such as LouFest, the St. Louis International Film Festival, charity runs, and school events are not only personally rewarding, but they can potentially be networking outlets. A volunteer gains an opportunity to exhibit his or her skills and experiences as well as working access to like-minded community members.
Establishing a rock star network, above all else, requires a willingness to meet new people and communicate honestly about mutual goals. For some, this means stepping out of their comfort zones and becoming more proactive in their professional growth. The process of identifying who or what would be an advantageous piece in the network puzzle can seem daunting, but the results can significantly aid a company, brand or individual’s long-term growth. As St. Louis’ entrepreneurial networks continue to gain traction, now is the time to take a lead in this movement and build your own rock star network.
About the Author: Mike Brooks
Mike Brooks is President of REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in Columbia, Mo. REDI promotes positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating. As president, Mike led REDI in creating a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurship and business growth in Columbia. Mike welcomes anyone to reach out to him on LinkedIn or REDI at columbiaredi.com.