Over the past decade, entrepreneurship has played a bigger and bigger role in the practice of Main Street at the national, state, and (hopefully) local levels. Main Street America (MSA) has done extensive research to develop resources to guide local efforts on building healthy Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, and Virginia Main Street (VMS) created and spun off the Community Business Launch (CBL) program that has supported the creation or expansion of more than 200 locally owned and operated businesses since 2015.
What can a local Main Street program do to support entrepreneurs and small businesses? Let’s celebrate the start of National Small Business Month by brainstorming together!
First, coordinate and convene meet ups. This may be for existing small businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs, or broken down by sector such as craft beverage producers. Networking, information sharing, crowd sourcing, and general socializing are imperative for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Be sure to determine what focus the group will take and to plan accordingly. Small business owners may find early morning or evenings as the best time to meet, whereas entrepreneurs with irregular business hours may prefer lunch time gatherings. Select a central location that is accessible and welcoming to all potential participants. Some people are intimidated by the complexity of navigating a college campus, while others may not feel welcome in private houses of worship.
Second, find out what your businesses and entrepreneurs need by asking them! We very often get questions about the best way to support a local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and while the pieces to consider are the same, the strengths and opportunities vary from place to place. Your entrepreneurs may need access to capital while in another locality a small business start up may need assistance navigating city offices to get permits and licenses in place.
Third, considering creating an ambassador program. Your Economic Vitality committee members can each be assigned to certain businesses within the district and charged with connecting with those business owners once per quarter. This helps the organization to communicate new ideas and initiatives to the business community while also hearing from the business owners themselves, as to challenges and/or accomplishments. Developing relationships and building trust between your Main Street organization and the business community is imperative to building a work plan and activities that serve their needs and support the sector.
Fourth, connect your entrepreneurs and businesses with technical assistance and resources. Host a representative from your regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in your office or at the small business meet up once per month. Business owners are busy and not always aware of the resources that are available to them. Providing the opportunity for connection and education can be invaluable!
Without strong and resilient small businesses, our downtowns would be pretty ghost towns. A well rounded Main Street program supports, promotes, and grows local businesses. What is on your Economic Vitality committee’s work plan? We want to hear from you – email@example.com – and learn more about your best practices and innovations to share with the VMS network!