Entrepreneurship a ‘community sport,’ Kauffman leaders say in annual address

About three in 1,000 people start a new business in the United States each month. The success of our communities depends on the 997 people who aren’t entrepreneurs, Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation leaders said at the foundation’s 10th annual State of Entrepreneurship Address Wednesday in Kansas City. 

“We need to get beyond the idea that entrepreneurship only matters to entrepreneurs,” said Victor Hwang, the foundation’s vice president of entrepreneurship. (The Kauffman Foundation is a supporter of Missouri Business Alert.)

One of the Kauffman Foundation’s flagship events, 1 Million Cups, is an example of how the foundation has attempted to foster the growth of entrepreneurship ecosystems over the years. 

Seven years ago, the event was just a small gathering, Kauffman Foundation President Wendy Guillies said. Last year, 1 Million Cups expanded to 181 communities across the country and impacted 149,000 people. 

“All change begins with an idea based in passion,” Guillies said. 

The foundation hopes to help 200 communities create “more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems,” she said. 

The annual address, usually held in Washington, was hosted in the foundation’s hometown this year to return to its roots. 

The growth of small businesses is paramount not just to Kansas City but all over the country, Hwang said. 

“By lifting up our entrepreneurs, we lift our communities,” he said, “and by lifting our communities, we lift our nation.” 

A Facebook livestream of the event highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship to communities from the East Coast to the West Coast. Facebook users chimed in to say hi from Detroit; Mesa, Arizona; Chicago; Houston; Cincinnati; California and various other places. 

“This is a nation that doesn’t wait around” to solve problems, Hwang said. 

“There’s no large corporation that’s going to wave its magic wand,” he added. 

It’s a group effort. 

“Entrepreneurship can be very lonely,” Hwang said. “But you can turn entrepreneurship into a community sport.” 

Wednesday’s event included a panel conversation featuring individuals who have worked to build entrepreneurial communities across the country.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James highlighted the need to genuinely and effectively think about diversity in building those communities. He said people have a misunderstanding of what diversity really means. 

To truly address the issue, companies and entrepreneurs have to “be on the street and doing it yourself,” James said. “You can’t expect others to change what they’re doing to fit (your culture).” 

Panelist Kim Lane, who runs an entrepreneurial support organization in Conway, Arkansas, said her group works to co-develop programming with diverse leaders. 

“We throw our own egos out the door and say, ‘OK, how can we work together with different communities?'” Lane said. 

The panelists also discussed the importance of building trust. 

“The first thing you have to do is simply be present,” James said. 

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