Venture Town Hall
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Venture Town Hall

5 Easy Event Recipes to Spark Local Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs live everywhere. Entrepreneurial communities are more sparse.

Events are often the easiest way to bring fellow entrepreneurial spirits out of the woodwork. Don’t shoot for an event of self-proclaimed “entrepreneurs.” Instead, simply provide an arena for diverse and motivated people to engage. They’ll do the rest from there.

Here are some of the tried and true formats that you can start in your hometown today:

1 Million Cups

On Wednesday mornings, community members gather around a presentation screen, cup of coffee in hand, and watch local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. After each presentation, the community provides feedback on the pitch, or whatever business questions the founder/presenter may have. Started by the Kauffman Foundation, this lightweight meetup format happens in hundreds of communities across the U.S. monthly.

Learn more about caffeinating your community here.

Networking + Beverage

It’s a tried and true formula. Simply offering a free drink can give folks the nudge they need to show up to a networking event. Just make it clear that you’re meeting for a reason to keep folks from slithering in and out for a free drink. If your drink of choice is alcoholic, make sure you offer non-alcoholic options too — inclusiveness is paramount.

Pick a place, create an event (a Facebook or Meetup event + Flyers), and find a beverage provider who supports local entrepreneurship.

Consider varying the format to include a speaker, pitch, or community discussion too. A couple of examples:

Hellgate Venture Network — monthly speaker and networking event in Missoula, MT

New Tech — monthly pitches and community discussion in Colorado’s Front Range tech communities

Smart Talk — Steamboat’s techies meet, chat about tech, drink, and play ping-pong

*Organizer Tip — Before you dive into any programming, give a few minutes to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves and state why they came. If the crowd is too big to go around one by one (a good problem to have), give a chance for anyone hiring to announce their opportunities, and anyone seeking a role to do a quick self-promotion.

Local Showcase

What better way to inspire local entrepreneurship than to showoff what your neighbors are already doing? Try to find local sponsors to help provide food and beverage (giving them a chance to showcase their products too), and then see what exciting local companies you can bring together to show off their businesses. When finding companies to participate, highlight what’s in it for them (and be authentic):

  • Employee recruitment
  • Meet investors (if they anticipate fundraising) and helpful connections
  • Promote to potential customers and gather product feedback
  • Local goodwill

Example: Boulder Beta

Startup Weekend

While it is more time intensive to organize, Startup Weekend has helped move the needle for local entrepreneurship in over 2,900 communities in 150+ countries. In just 54 hours, teams of strangers will come together to try and turn an idea into a reality.

*Organizer Tip — Make sure you promote the event well beforehand and reach out to a diverse range of local groups to participate.

TEDx“Your Hometown”

The label of entrepreneurship can often be a turn off for potential attendees. TEDx events are a great way to bring people together to learn and celebrate the amazing thinkers in your community.

As the organizer, you will need to find good speakers, then coach them to be great, and promote it to the community to maximize their voice. While the infamous “TED” style videos that get published to the web are a great upside for the speakers, the event experience is what will get people talking.

Entrepreneurship is a powerful tool for communities, and not just for economic growth. If a startup is born in your hometown, thanks to your efforts, be proud. But also be proud of the engaging conversations that wouldn’t have happened without your efforts.

As a community organizer, you are trafficking in unlikely collaborations.

This is where diversity and inclusiveness pays dividends. Go out of your way to make sure you are reaching people well outside of your social spheres. A significant portion of your attendees should be new to you, and reside well outside the “cult of startup.”

By enabling ideas to flow across the typical social boundaries, you are providing an arena for new, novel ideas to be birthed. These can be ideas for new businesses, or new solutions for municipal issues. In the end, you are empowering your community with a highly capable citizenship.

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jamie finney

jamie finney

Greater Colorado Venture Fund | Startup Colorado | Kokopelli Capital … Small Towns + Big Ideas @jam_finney