Business Leaders Take on New Initiative
What are the significant levers that Moore County needs to pull to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship, and is it feasible?
Those were the top questions Tuesday when Moore County Partners in Progress and Forward Communities welcomed about 70 stakeholders for the public kick-off of a study to determine if a social entrepreneurship initiative can be launched in the county.
“I think we’re about to undertake one of the more interesting things we’ve done in the county in quite some time,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress. “We’re going to try and do things that haven’t necessarily been done here before. Looking around the room today, I think there’s a base of enthusiasm for where this can go.”
Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, called the turnout “fabulous.”
“It wasn’t just the quantity, but the cross-section of people. I think it was extremely encouraging,” said Coughlin, also a member of the feasibility study steering committee. “The challenge now is going to be finding ways to engage all of these folks.”
Partners in Progress hired Forward Communities earlier this year after raising $15,000 to pay for the study at its inaugural Partners Cup golf tournament.
Forward Communities is a subsidiary of Bull City Forward (BCF), a Durham-based nonprofit focused on catalyzing sustainable enterprises. BCF was founded in spring 2010 and served as the model for last fall’s launch of Queen City Forward in Charlotte.
BCF builds pipelines for future entrepreneurs through school and university partnerships, recruitment of outside talent and retaining existing talent, among other methods.
It provides a strong environment to incubate and accelerate new ideas through shared workspace for co-working, a comprehensive assistance network and access to critical support resources, including financial capital.
Christopher Gergen, founding executive director of BCF, told those gathered at Pine Needles on Tuesday that Moore County is the first rural county to hire BCF and he promised an engaging ride for the next four months.
“It’s going to be an active, iterative process,” Gergen said. “By the time we get to September, the study won’t be a mystery document. We will have ongoing community outreach throughout the process. ”
The study will include a comprehensive asset map and a needs analysis, as well as suggested next steps with a proposed budget. It will also assess whether office space is available in Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen to host specialty incubators for niche industries like technology, health care and military contracting.
“Imagine if we can just get a couple of these things working together. We could have a dramatic affect on how we cultivate entrepreneurs in this county,” Coughlin said.
Typically, local entrepreneurs don’t have the support they need to reach their full growth potential. Among other things, they can lack critical business skills, access to talent and strong networks.
Gergen said the four levers used by BCF are building an entrepreneurial pipeline, enabling success by providing resources, measuring progress and advocating within a strong public-private context.
“Our sweet spot at Bull City Forward is enabling,” he said. “Our hope is to expand this model across North Carolina, and we’d like to be able to connect Moore County into the network.”
Partners in Progress is recruiting volunteers for working groups that will explore each of the four aspects and how the BCF model might fit in Moore County.
“We’ve created the awareness. Now, we need to get people actively involved in the process,” Corso said. “I thought the kick-off was a great start because everyone was very engaged.”
Gergen helped lead that engagement by having each table rate the county’s entrepreneurial status from one to 10, and then put a number on where it will be in five years. Most respondents had the county at a three now, with the expectation that the number would double.
Perhaps the most telling reason that the county wasn’t rated higher was the following comment: “This is a place where successful people live, not necessarily a place where people become successful.”
“It shows that we have a lot of work to do,” Coughlin said. “But we’re in pretty good shape considering we haven’t got all the moving parts working together yet.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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