Want to Future-Proof the Hampton Roads Economy? Support Local Entrepreneurs

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Here in Hampton Roads, people LOVE to talk about entrepreneurs and innovation and how startups and small businesses are going to single-handedly save the local economy.

Don’t believe the hype.

Even though I’m a die-hard supporter of local entrepreneurs, there’s just no “single-handedly” about it. If we want to boost the local economy, we’ve got to do it together, or not at all.

Here’s the thing: I believe in the power of smaller, homegrown companies. As a partner in Silicon Valley tech startups during the 1990s, I saw what happens when great ideas are given a chance to grow. And as a Business Development Manager for the City of Norfolk, I was lucky enough to work with a whole new generation of bold business thinkers.

I’m not going to pretend to know the secret for solving our region’s economic problems. But I do know that if one person can grow one great idea into a successful local business, that’s good news for everybody in the Hampton Roads MSA.

It’s in our best interest to make sure local entrepreneurs succeed. 

To me, “making sure” doesn’t mean we stand around, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. It doesn’t mean that we cheer them on from the sidelines. It means we roll up our sleeves and join them on the field.

So the big question for Hampton Roads business owners is, “ARE YOU IN?”

Because the people who are struggling to launch new companies and kickstart new ideas can’t do it all by themselves. They need help. They need advice. They need you.

After all, every huge company on the planet was once a tiny startup. Apple. Amazon. Starbucks. Even Sam Walton started with a single variety store in Newport, Arkansas. 

And those founders who became business legends? They all had help.

In some cases that help was a big check (Walton got a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law and Steve Jobs found a co-signor for $250,000), and in other cases, that help had nothing to do with money (MacKenzie Bezos drove from Texas to Seattle so her husband Jeff could sit in the passenger seat and write the business plan for Amazon).

Think back to your first big job or your first big break.

Did you get it all by yourself?

Kudos if you did, but I’m guessing that there was at least one moment when somebody made a phone call, an introduction or a recommendation. Somebody wrote you a check or gave you a ride. Somebody opened a door to save you the time and energy of kicking one down.

The bottom line is that somebody did something that made all the difference in the world.

If you own a business right now, you can be that somebody.

Right now, there are people all over Hampton Roads working to turn their dream of owning a business into reality. You can help.

You don’t need to be a Shark Tank panelist or an angel investor with deep pockets. You can be a freelance graphic designer who works from home or the owner of a Fortune 500 company with thousands of employees. All you need is time, knowledge and the desire to do something.

If you’re a business owner in Hampton Roads, you’re already a role model for someone who wants to start their own company.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or formal. The best way to get started is to take one simple step.

If you’ve ever made a mistake, help someone else avoid it.

If you’ve found an easier way, point it out to someone.

If you’ve ever received a great piece of advice, pass it along.

If you hear of a great opportunity, share it.

If you have access to extra space, equipment or resources, donate them.

If you drink coffee or eat lunch, invite someone to join you.

If you read something useful online, email it to someone.

If you know two people that could help each other, introduce them.

If you hear of an entrepreneurial event or organization, get involved.


Can it be that simple? I think so.

One thing I know for certain is that it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Yes, the pace of modern business can get hectic. It’s a challenge to find the time to deal with your own issues, let alone tackle someone else’s. I get it.

But supporting the startup community is important. 

Helping others feels good. Sharing your knowledge and the lessons that come from experience can make all the difference. Just one conversation has the power to change someone’s life. And it may even give your own professional path a new sense of purpose. 

Supporting startups makes economic sense for every city and county in Hampton Roads and for the region as a whole. At the very least, paying it forward by helping entrepreneurs is just good corporate karma.

Now maybe it’s easy for me to tell you what to do because I’m an economic development director and helping grow businesses is part of my job description. 

But shouldn’t it be part of everyone’s job description?

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in Inside Business.

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