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Sustaining Our Small Business Ecosystem


You may not know that St. Louis has become a mentoring mecca for would-be entrepreneurs. If that's news to you, there's no better time to get with the program and progress than during Small Business Week, the week of June 17th. If you need further proof of our prowess, all you need to know is that St. Louis is one of just five markets the Small Business Administration has targeted for its big event.

We love the notion of the ecosystem as a metaphor for how we need to nurture our nascent entrepreneurs. And with St. Louis being a hot bed and hothouse for so much medical and bioscience, we ought to care a lot about ecosystems.

You might ask, what would I know about the entrepreneurial mindset, given that Rodgers Townsend has been owned by Omnicom, a global communications giant, for the last six years? I would tell you that as an entrepreneur who, with Tom Townsend, started an agency with no accounts, no office and a combined six children to feed seventeen years ago, I never forgot what it's like to take that leap into the great unknown, equally energized and terrified. No matter how secure things may look like from the outside, inside you're still planning paycheck to paycheck.

We've also had the privilege of working with AT&T, The Hartford and others on communications targeted to small business owners. When you consistently see how fearlessly they take on the challenges and opportunities that confront them, with little or no support, you can't help but come away inspired.

With 40% of all new businesses failing in their first year, and 60% by the end of their second, it tells you everything you need to know about entrepreneurs: they're willing to take the gamble with odds they'd never accept at a blackjack table. It takes both fortitude and good fortune for the rewards to outweigh the risks.

I think being in the advertising business also gives us a special insight into the entrepreneurial mindset. Granted, we advertising people think we have special insight into everything, but let me explain why this is especially so with entrepreneurs.

Like their budding businesses, our ideas are fragile hatchlings that need nurturing and support if they're to have any chance of flying. There's always a skeptic pointing out the folly of our thinking, or demanding proof in the offing when the proof only comes through the power of commitment and competence.

Like us, the hopes and aspirations of small business owners are tied up in things their friends and families may not see, nor certainly not understand. I like how Jon Burgstone, who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of California, Berkeley, puts it:

"You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option, and try to make it fit. Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option, and then make it available."

In honor of Small Business Week, what can you do to help them along their path? If you're in a position to help and have the requisite experience, consider mentoring a small business owner in an area that might be outside their area of specialization.

If not, attend one of the many events, or read their inspiring stories, as it just might inspire you in your current line of work. It might even prompt you to take the plunge yourself.

Each of us can seek out a small business solution to that next product or service we need, and then spread the good word when you come across that gem of a business that most needs awareness to give them a fighting chance. Remember, they don't have research budgets, so they'll live or die on the feedback they so desperately need that you can provide.

At the very least, stop what you're doing for a minute on June 19th and tip your Cardinal cap to the undaunted courage of our entrepreneurs. And remember, with small businesses accounting for 64% of the job growth in this country they're more likely to hire your daughters, sons and grandkids than anybody else.