Featured In: Forbes | Networking Strategies For Startups In Mid-Size Cities
May 3, 2018
Networking Strategies For Startups In Mid-Size Cities
By Kelly Ehlers
While technology and innovation are connecting American brands globally, these resources are also enriching the entrepreneurial ecosystems in cities across the country. Entrepreneurship is within reach for any self-starter with a vision, no matter where your business journey begins. Economically speaking, now is a great time to launch a startup. Equipped with these networking tips, startups at any level or location can make connections and gain traction.
Build Your Community
Across the country, membership in co-working spaces is on the rise. For startups with limited square footage and resources, co-working spaces achieve the solution of less overhead and more networking. Membership was once out of reach for many young professionals, with waitlists and invite-only spaces in select locations. Today, mid-size cities are seeing a rise in co-working spaces. Co-working companies are opening locations in cities across the country, like my agency’s headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin. These spaces serve as an office for everyone from freelancers to founders, often featuring networking events and after-hours programming.
On a larger scale, incubators and accelerators provide an extended community designed specifically for startups. The organizations are helping pair founders with industry leaders and providing a space where entrepreneurs can intentionally partner with mentors, peers and investors. These hubs are at the heart of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing insight into local markets and getting the area’s up-and-coming innovators in one space.
Meet Online, Connect IRL
Cold-calls have been replaced by emails, pings and DMs, and mobile apps are working to bring those connections off the grid and get professionals in the same room. Founders are often early-adopters of tech solutions, and I’ve tried my fair share of new platforms and apps like Shapr and Bumble Bizz. Entrepreneurs can also take mobile networking to the next level with Brella, an app that serves as a concierge matchmaker. After gaining attention in Silicon Valley last summer at TechCrunch’s CrunchMatch, apps dedicated to networking at large-scale events are increasing in popularity.
This spring, the Midwest is getting a taste of Brella’s matchmaking magic at the Chicago-based OnRamp Insurance Conference. Facilitating these in-person connections yields a higher return on investment for all attendees, from early-career entrepreneurs to corporate teams. If your hometown does not have regular access to resources like incubators or accelerators, networking at regional events can introduce you to the right people who will help you begin building your local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Think Globally, Act Locally
Entrepreneurs know how to think big, but it’s important to stay connected to your local business community. The best startup ecosystems are institutionalizing a cycle of support by building up great companies, then redistributing knowledge and wealth back into their communities. To achieve “glocalized” success, start by considering how you can serve your customers’ local needs while still managing scale on a global level. Begin simply by identifying your most important local markets.
One way to ensure the solutions you hope to deliver globally are also relevant to your local audience is to do a little homework. Research consumer needs, the competitive landscape and even familiarize yourself with local or regional policies and business best practices. While your startup’s strategies and ideas may be globally generated, the most successful companies adapt to a local environment while staying true to their core value system.
You can also leverage your startup’s global success to give back as a mentor or board member or take on pro-bono clientele. Each year, my agency partners with a local nonprofit and I recently joined the board of StartingBlock, an incubator based just blocks from my office that connects local startups with business to help foster connections in the neighborhood and beyond. In effect, it is a self-contained entrepreneurial network — and it’s a model you can recreate wherever your business is located.
I’ve seen first-hand how growing startup communities are changing the landscape for regional startups. Working to innovate and broaden my network has empowered me as an entrepreneur to achieve national rankings, expand my agency to add a West Coast location and launch a second business. At its core, networking is about developing and maintaining personal relationships. Once you’ve made them, it takes work to keep them. Challenge yourself to improve upon these relationships and continue to contribute to the entrepreneurial community as you grow your startup’s network.
View the full Forbes article here.