27 Feb Grassroots entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurism is naturally contagious. What better way to spread it than through an Inventors and Entrepreneurs (I&E) Club? In January 2003 I was involved in launching Wisconsin’s first I&E Club in Juneau County to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in which the whole community could celebrate and participate. This was truly a grassroots effort. We successfully brought together inventors, entrepreneurs, existing businesses, investors and service providers to create an idea-commercialization ecosystem. Today our club has over 1,500 members in its database and the I&E Club movement in Wisconsin has grown to include over 40 countywide clubs, with additional sub-I&E Clubs in communities such as Mt. Horeb and Evansville.
These clubs, often facilitated by economic development professionals, give members the opportunity to learn the proper steps to explore an idea, motivate each other, educate each other, tap into other members’ networks and locate the resources available to commercialize an idea.
During these tough economic times, individuals are often forced to become entrepreneurs. As long-standing corporations fail and hundreds are laid off, I&E Clubs around the state offer a place to pursue new business ideas. When corporation fail, the talent doesn’t disintegrate. It is still there, and that talent can now explode into numerous new businesses that find their niche in this new and changing environment, eventually creating jobs.
When the world watched in horror as GM employees left the plant, possibly for the last time, we had a group of them at our I&E Club. They were as excited as school kids, because they were starting new businesses with ideas and passions that they had for a long time.
Most I&E Clubs in Wisconsin meet monthly. Inside the clubs you will find a supportive community, where everyone wants to see the others succeed. Whether you are working on a nanotechnology project or a low-tech project to bring in an extra $5,000 annually, there is a place for you in an I&E Club. Our Club recently formed clusters such as writers, game inventors, alternative energy, foods and biostuff.
The number of success stories coming out of Wisconsin I&E Clubs grows daily. The I&E Club concept has now spread beyond Wisconsin as New York, Nebraska and other states try to copy what we are doing. These states realize that resources alone can not create a culture of entrepreneurship. I&E Clubs offer a place where everyone can be involved, from the busy housewife, to the small business owner, to the inventor. It’s a system that helps people move their project forward step by step. The Club fosters a culture of action that in turn becomes a feeder system to existing resources.
Communities and counties with an entrepreneurial base will better withstand the economic downturn. Through the grassroots effort of Wisconsin’s I&E Clubs, we are creating an economic base of entrepreneurs that we support, encourage and grow to withstand the challenges today and the changes that will happen in the future.
Check out wenportal.org for more information about I&E Clubs near you.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.