Who are the Ann Arbor region's new entrepreneurs? What do they need? Jan Gensheimer and Gerry Roston do more than just offer consulting services. They also help run the New Enterprise Forum, a non-profit organization committed to assisting local business innovators through mentoring programs, networking events and monthly forums. Guess what they'll be blogging about?
Jan Gensheimer & Gerry Roston - Post 2: Who are the professionals who serve entrepreneurs?
In Michigan, we have the good fortune to have a host of programs that provide encouragement and resources for entrepreneurs – business plan competitions, training, networking, and early funding. These programs grant or loan or award money to start-up teams to accelerate their growth.
While the ideas are often novel, the underlying requirements for growing profitable businesses are pretty standard and there is an impressive group of professional service providers – consultants, lawyers, and accountants – that work diligently with start-up companies to accelerate their growth. These pros know that things are done a little differently with entrepreneurs in their earliest days as opposed to later on when there are lots of customers, employees, and money. Unlike entrepreneurs and investors, who own a share of the company and receive a share of the profits, these service professionals are generally paid for their time and expertise.
How do we reward that expertise? We ask them to provide their services for free – especially consultants. We ask them to reduce their rates. We honor their expertise by devaluing it in the economic infrastructure of entrepreneurship in Michigan.
And, believe it or not, many of these service providers line up to do the work.
Some have established practices and contribute a portion of their time to supporting start-ups, either as a way of giving back or to find and nurture long-term clients. Some of the service providers are setting up their own business and earn credibility by doing this early development work. Others are subsidized to consult and are paid by various government-funded or grant-funded support organizations. These groups underwrite professional services for early entrepreneurs in recognition of the fact that the start-ups are short on both cash and specialized expertise. The grant-funded and government-funded groups are run by service professionals who also trade high incomes for meaningful work in the entrepreneurial eco-system.
For the most part, however, service providers offer their time because they love the entrepreneurial spirit – the enthusiasm, creativity, and attitude of the people who are founding companies and have a vision for the future. And boy do these people give of their time. Over the past twelve months, volunteers associated with New Enterprise Forum (NEF), a 23-year old, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization whose mission is “linking entrepreneurs to resources” gave more than 750 hours of time working directly with entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit is contagious and refreshing, and keeps service professionals involved for all the right reasons.
However, as a business community, we need to be very careful. We are teaching new entrepreneurs that these important services can be obtained for free or nearly for free. When state funding and other grants to support these efforts dry up, and when we move on past the economic crisis, we will be dependent upon this pool of entrepreneur-wise professionals to support companies in their earliest stages – without subsidy.
Let’s hope that by then we have built a Michigan entrepreneurial eco-system that can also support the service providers.