Startups & Economic Development: A Sweeper's Guide to Success

Entrepreneurs see things differently.

The really great ones can even see things that are invisible to the rest of the world.

Take the guy who invented curling.

Way back in the 16th century, he looked at a frozen pond in Scotland and saw potential. All he needed was a big rock, some brooms and a half dozen really bored townspeople.

And boom, just like that you’ve got a new winter sport.

Curling also provides the perfect analogy for what economic developers can do for entrepreneurs.

I’ll spare you the granular details of game play, but two of the most important members of a curling team are called the sweepers.

Sweepers are responsible for clearing a path for the stone. Their quick sweeping motion clears debris, melts the ice and reduces friction for the stone. Sweepers help the stone travel farther, faster and straighter towards the bullseye.

The best economic developers do the same for people who want to launch their own businesses.

And they don’t even need a real broom to do it.

The Balanced Economic Development Diet

Economic development success depends on a balanced diet.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in a big city or a rapidly growing coastal community, you need to keep your plate full of the three basic ingredients essential to economic prosperity:

Each of these ingredients is important, but that last one? That’s a big deal. Because the other two can’t happen until somebody creates a business.

Small businesses are the backbone of every local economy.

Professor Howard Stevenson of Harvard Business School brilliantly defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.”

I love that definition because it gives credit to entrepreneurs for taking risks and dreaming big… even if they don’t have the money or the means.

My job as an economic development director is to help bridge the gap between what entrepreneurs have and what they need. 

Sometimes they need money or property or equipment. Sometimes it’s less tangible stuff like knowledge, insight or an introduction.

Every new business is different, but my job remains the same: do what I can to help them succeed.

startups economic development success

Wielding the Economic Development Broom

Think of a new business as a big rock. The entrepreneur wants to get that rock from one end of the ice to the other, as close to the “center of the house” as possible.

They can go it alone and hope for the best. But they don’t have to.

I have a broom and I know how to use it.

As an economic developer, here are three big ways my “sweeping” can benefit local entrepreneurs:

I Can Help Them Move Faster

I can be a point of contact, a resource and the one who guides them from Point A to Point B.

The quicker I know who needs my help, the more help I can be. It doesn’t matter if somebody wants to launch an online eBay store or give professional tax advice from their spare bedroom. Even if they don’t need my help at the start, I let them know that I’m there.

Establishing a line of communication between potential business owners and their local economic development office is vital. And it never hurts to start talking sooner rather than later.

I Can Help Them Travel Farther (and Straighter)

Businesses can’t thrive in a vacuum. There’s no reason for a startup to bear the weight of launching by themselves. Many hands make light work, right?

When it comes to starting a company, the biggest secret to success is building a network of peers, mentors and professional support. I love connecting people who can help each other succeed. If I can’t solve their problem, I can usually point them to someone who can.

The business world has a dog-eat-dog reputation, but most of the owners and entrepreneurs I know are ready and willing to share their knowledge and experience. And here’s an interesting stat: One study shows that mentored startups grow 3.5 times faster and raise 7 times more money. 

I Can Reduce Friction

I know that I’ve already got a curling analogy going here, but let’s throw in some football too. There are countless obstacles standing in the way of startups and most of them don’t need to be there. I can’t eliminate every one of them, but I can lower my shoulders and knock a few of them on their backsides. This includes reducing the red tape and translating some of the more cryptic rules and regulations. 

Once that rock has made it safely into the center circle, big things can happen. Companies can thrive, jobs can be created and quality of life (and revenue) can go up!

entrepreneurship startup success

Entrepreneurship: Green Sneakers and Deep Pockets

Our ideas about entrepreneurship have changed over the decades.

Back in my day, the word “entrepreneur” was reserved for that one kid who spent all summer mowing lawns. By the end of August his sneakers were bright green and he had a shoebox overflowing with cash.

Today, we picture entrepreneurs as Silicon Valley billionaires or Shark Tank success stories. We think of bright ideas and million-dollar pitches.

But the more typical entrepreneur falls somewhere in between. They have passion and persistence to take them most of the way, but they still need a hand getting over the finish line. 

The good news? We don’t need a network TV show or a deep angel investor pockets to help them prosper.

Think about this: one-third of new businesses are launched for less than $5,000.

Most of those founders just need a boost… some advice… an introduction. They need to know they have an ally.

That’s where economic development can really make a difference.

You want to help local entrepreneurs? Grab a broom and get to work!


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