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Economic Gardening

Mike Sullivan - Editor-In-Cheif of MO.com

It is December and we’re talking about gardening in Columbia, Missouri. Economic Gardening. Columbia, like a lot of cities, has pockets of entrepreneurial activities. What is different about Columbia is that we are trying to grow the entrepreneurship culture. It takes a community effort to do this. Columbia is a college town. We have three institutions of higher education. We are overflowing with young talent. Our implied goal is to capture that energy and brand ourselves as a supportive and engaged community that fosters new ventures. How can that be done?

Greg Bier, University of Missouri College of Business - Economic Gardening

Museao in Columbia, Missouri. Home base for Brent Beshore and the League of Innovators.

Economic Gardening. In order to grow new businesses we need the right conditions…just as if we were growing vegetables. The right conditions? We need capital. We need investors. We need mentors. We need physical space. We need supportive government. A lot of cities have all these things. We do too. What we are doing with economic gardening is pulling all the pieces together into a comprehensive network. Economic gardening is an approach used to grow our local economy from within. Local entrepreneurs build ventures that create local wealth. Economic gardening is a culture; a culture that encourages the creation of companies that grow jobs, the tax base, and tax revenues. Economic gardening is not about attracting large employers that move facilities from city to city looking for incentive packages and government enticements. Economic gardening grows employment without incentives or tax breaks for a very specific target company. It is a ground-up approach that is often initiated by successful local entrepreneurs themselves. In its simplest form, it is an entrepreneur’s phone book of community assets. Along with an inventory of assets we need a centralized communication tool. In its simplest form, it is a calendar.

The phone book. Phone books are so 1970’s. The intent however remains the same today. An inventory of community and regional entrepreneurship assets and resources, but web-based. For Columbia, we have a lot of resources but no consolidated listing of them that someone new to town, or someone unfamiliar with town such as students, would know of. The list provides the web of resources that typical entrepreneurs may need to start a venture. Far from all-inclusive, our list would include:

• Commercial banks with small business centers

• University of Missouri initiatives

o Rapid prototyping facilities

o University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

o Small Business Development Centers

o The University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance

o Missouri Innovation Center

o MU Entrepreneurs

o University of Missouri MBA Consulting Class

o Student Angel Capital Program

o University of Missouri Research Park

o Technology Transfer Offices

o Life Science Incubator

• League of Innovators

• Centennial Investors

• Chamber of Commerce

• Emerging Professionals in Columbia

• Regional Economic Development, Inc.

• Collaboration and Leadership Innovation in Missouri Business

• Columbia Public Schools Career Center


• Business Research Librarians

This web of resources should include a brief description of each entity and the key point of contact. Every entrepreneur will doesn’t need every resource. It is another cafeteria plan. Look at the items that are available and take away from it what you want.

A vibrant entrepreneurship scene involves networking. Networking provides endless opportunities to meet and greet entrepreneurs, mentors, potential partners, investors, etc. However, those new to the community or unfamiliar with the community need to know when and where key events are being held. Having a centralized entrepreneurship calendar is vital to getting the word out about events. Ideally, calendars would include (at a minimum):

• Entrepreneurship meet-ups

• Local small business courses

• Pitch competitions

• Chamber of Commerce events

• Start-Up events

Economic gardening must be a collaborative process. Ours is being guided by representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Missouri’s Economic Development office, two very successful entrepreneurs that are INC 500 recipients, and numerous other entrepreneurs and stakeholders with a common purpose; to create an entrepreneurship culture for young entrepreneurs.

If our focus is youth entrepreneurs our goal is to get our youth to not “take a job” but to “build a job”, and build it here in Columbia, Missouri.

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