I recently shared a post about the Innovation Ecosystem Maturity (check it out HERE) that discussed ways to build and improve innovation hubs around the world as well as the factors that influence the ecosystems’ maturity.
Oftentimes, such hubs’ innovative capacity can be fostered by a bottom-up, fairly inexpensive effort driven by like-minded ecosystem leaders. These leaders have the passion and the ability to involve the community around them, show others what innovation and entrepreneurship is and — as a result — make them join and support their growing innovative capabilities.
In this blogpost, we have listed concrete, easy-to-implement tools that support ecosystem development in any geography with the use of the willpower of self-driven innovators. Before you start putting these ideas into practice, determine who is your target audience, what is the purpose of your community (try to be specific and give yourself concrete goals for the first year) and understand what you would like community members to get from your activities.
Once you have this knowledge, write it down (!) and use the tools mentioned below to achieve your goals.
1) Establish a Social Media Group
Choose between Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Instagram or any other social network that is popular in your area. Create or share high-quality content once a day (at least) to attract an interested audience. Also, make sure you are consistent with posting, even if your audience is small at first. Use other groups related to your subject to make sure all the entrepreneurs and innovators know about your activity.
2) Meet up!
The best way to connect with people is to actually meet them. Organize a community meeting every couple of months in order to share content, invite interesting speakers and give them the platform to share their stories. There are many great formats that can attract many participants. For instance, check out the so-called “Fuck-Up Nights” concept, have a look at the “Lessons learned” talks of serial entrepreneurs, organize a pitch event for startup ideas where people are looking for co-founders or simply bring in a high-profile speaker once in a while to have a broader discussion about what innovation means for them.
A great way to share high-quality content is through a webinar — a web-based “meeting” where participants can join from anywhere in the world using an internet connection and a link. There are many ways to create webinars these days that don’t cost anything — for instance, using Facebook Live as an alternative to expensive webinar technologies.
Webinars are a great way to invite interesting speakers from around the world. For example, maybe there are successful entrepreneurs from your city or region currently living abroad. Their journey may be a great inspiration to others, but they are not based where you are today. If you create a web-based event with them, distance is no longer an obstacle.
One of the key factors in building a vibrant innovation community is consistency. To achieve that, you need constant, systematic contact with your audience. After all, you want to share with them events you organize, content you create, success stories to inspire others and further community development updates. Newsletters — when done right (e.g. avoid the word “newsletter” in the title) — are a great way to achieve that consistency. The content may be created by interviewing innovators, showing photos of the past events, sharing blogs or any other interesting content you find.
A hackathon is a great way to make people pay attention to your community. Also, it is a great way for you to attract new people to innovate. Since it does not require a lot of resources, it is a fantastic tool to use when you already feel that you achieved the critical mass, but it may still be too early to do something bigger (such as acceleration and incubation activities).
To organize such an event, you can find a place (e.g. through the city council or a local school, hopefully free of charge), ask a local retail company or producer if they’d like to donate some food (and coffee!) and create a campaign using social media.
6) Roundtable with the Public Sector
You want to make a difference in your local innovation hub and there are people in the public sector that could support you and make your work even more profound. Meet them regularly in order to promote the entrepreneurial potential, showing the value of creating programs for entrepreneurs and innovators, tax exemptions and cutting red tape. Even if they don’t seem interested in helping, plant the seed in their minds as to how they and their constituencies can benefit from such support: after all, good economic standing of the city or region will help them achieve their goals as well.
7) Database for Opportunities and Knowledge
When creating a vibrant innovation space, knowledge is key. Knowledge about other entrepreneurs that have succeeded and their stories, grants and programs that are available, key people that are willing to mentor and help, successful startups and anything else that could inspire others to innovate and start up companies or join you in promoting the local ecosystem. Such a database can be as simple as using a Google Sheets (free of charge) or Google Forms to create the knowledge base and share it.
8) Committee of Community Leaders
With time, the number of innovation ecosystem leaders may grow. This is when you need to organize in order to work together, not compete (or worse: repeat activities without even knowing it). The network of proactive entrepreneurship and innovation supporters is key for any innovation hub to continue its growth. You can open a WhatsApp group or meet up once in a while, whatever works best. Do not treat yourselves as competitors — if your ecosystem grows, there will be room for everyone!
9) Promote Innovation among Students and Pupils
Exposing young people to innovation is one of the best gifts we can give the young generation. They learn quickly and can be also taught to take risks and try new things easily — key ways to allow them experiment and innovate. One way to accomplish this is to introduce an “entrepreneurship club” in schools, teach students about innovation and technology or create programs once a month to give them exposure to innovation. This could be a great opportunity for you to scout volunteers that may help you create meetups, webinars, run the social media and more.
10) Mentorship Program
Exposure to mentors and successful role models is one of the key aspects of becoming an entrepreneur — knowing that others did it, learning how, being encouraged to try and finally taking the leap of faith.
There are many ways to create such programs — in many ecosystems corporate employees and entrepreneurs from the same industry connect 1:1 and participate in meetings to exchange best practices, talk about current projects and have industry-related discussions. Sometimes, group mentor-mentee matchmaking platforms are developed. A great way to start is by connecting to one company or organization where you can find a few mentors and growing the mentor pool through their connections.