Innovation is driving the way we live daily, from the way we monitor our health with activity bands to how our children learn using educational apps on smartphones and tablets to the way our homes are powered and controlled over the internet.
Those who embrace new technology will benefit from it. Likewise, cities, counties, and states that cultivate innovation by developing it, funding it, and promoting it will realize the economic benefits of tax revenue and high-paying jobs. Our mission at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce is to lead our community, drive commerce in our region, and advance community and regional collaborations, thereby enhancing the quality of life in Columbia.
Why should we embrace the innovation that new startups are spearheading? Because they’re the ones taking on next generation challenges in fields from energy to education to medical technology. And these companies are facing some obstacles that will threaten their long-term success:
- Lack of strong bond between established local businesses
- Diminishing support from local business community stakeholders
- Lack of engagement from local, regional, and state government
So what does this mean? It means that startups thrive in places that have a strong local business community with companies that mentor, partner, and encourage entrepreneurs to continue to innovate. Startups thrive where there is active communication and collaboration inside and outside the specific industries related to these companies.
The communities willing to nurture these types of companies will produce a vibrant economy that attracts the best and brightest. The Chamber of Commerce can be a convener of both public- and private-sector leaders in Columbia to support an environment that will be more attractive for entrepreneurs and businesses.
Brunswick Insight provided the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with analysis from a survey of 413 startup leaders in 25 cities with growing startup ecosystems; that survey yielded these four recommendations to communities who want to attract and retain startups:
Commit. Embrace what makes your city special and look for opportunities to establish industry-specific clusters that capitalize on your city’s distinct advantages.
Connect. Build connections between your city’s startups and local investors, government officials, and business leaders. Encourage and sustain open communication and collaboration between these entities.
Cultivate. Promote entrepreneurship and innovation in your city. Encourage local students and other inventive thinkers to solve big problems by joining your city’s startup community.
Champion. Share your city’s startup story far and wide to attract entrepreneurs, investors, and talent to your region, thereby fostering a robust local startup community.
We’ve got a lot going in our favor. In 2006, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, as part of its centennial celebration, created Centennial Investors, a group that has since provided funding to 18 startups. Thirteen of the companies are still operational, with one successful investment exit with the Media Convergence Group, better known as Newsy, which sold to the E.W. Scripps Company in 2013 for $35 million. Today, CI is bringing business leaders together to help cultivate the startup community through angel investing.
Regional Economic Development Inc. provides the REDI Innovation Hub for entrepreneurs. This is a location for entrepreneurs to work and connect with their fellow startups and access the resources they need to grow. REDI also provides a calendar of events for these companies to participate in and showcase themselves, such as the local events in the 1 Million Cups program, developed by the Kauffman Foundation.
We as a community have done a wonderful job of working to make Columbia a better place to live, learn, work, and play. But if we want to incubate innovation, we must continue to work to commit, connect, cultivate, and champion.
Jerry Dowell is the government affairs director for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.