Indiana recently celebrated Entrepreneurship Week, honoring entrepreneurs and the great risks they have taken to launch a new business and the contributions they make to Hoosier communities. Entrepreneurs take great risk. As many fail as succeed.
Entrepreneurs offer a product, process or service for consumers. Often they introduce a new product, or a new or better way of delivering a service. They seek to fill an unmet need as they design, launch and run a new business.
Entrepreneurs pour great time and resources into a venture that has great uncertainty. In most cases they put their own career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea.
Entrepreneurs often begin as a small business. And those small businesses are critical to Indiana’s economy. Today, ninety-seven percent of all businesses in Indiana are classified as small businesses. Those businesses employ close to 1.2 million Hoosiers.
But small businesses can evolve into larger ones. We sometimes forget that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, and Warren Buffet are/were entrepreneurs. They each took great risks along the way and overcame setbacks before they enjoyed great success and the fruits of their hard work.
Locally, our communities were built by entrepreneurs that saw an opportunity and took a risk. Pierre Navarre and Alexis Coquillard came here to trade furs. Schuyler Colfax saw a local newspaper opportunity. Alanson Hurd came to mine bog iron. Studebaker, Oliver, Singer, Eberhart and Beiger all saw this area ripe for business opportunities.
Those are the names we all recognize, but there were thousands more that we don’t that played a critical role in the development of our area. Some operated a general store, some small manufacturing companies, while others offered needed services. Their efforts netted a bustling and growing economy that thrived.
We lost that entrepreneurial spirit for a period of time and we experienced little overall growth. At the same time, other communities with a strong entrepreneurial culture have flourished. But we’re making a comeback in this arena, and that is playing an important role in our economic comeback. It’s also leading to population growth, higher employment, and rising wages.
Today, few vacancies exist, there is a shortage of available housing, and there is a tremendous amount of construction happening in our urban areas. In those areas, entrepreneurs see opportunity and are taking great risks on some big projects.
Innovation Park at Notre Dame has become an important launch pad for new businesses evolving out research happening on the University’s campus. Their success has the University contemplating the need for a second building.
Ignition Park is seeing a number of new tenants with the opening of the Catalyst buildings. They join Data Realty, an entrepreneurial venture that opened there a short time ago. The Renaissance District too is welcoming a number of entrepreneurs as it works to develop its one million square foot footprint.
The St. Joe CEO Program graduated its first class of future entrepreneurs and seeks to grow its program in our region. Others like Elevate Ventures, the Northern Indiana Small Business Development Center, the Spark Program at St. Mary’s, Junior Achievement, the Robinson Community Learning Center and the South Bend Code School are all working to develop and support future entrepreneurs.
Sometime this week, stop and visit that shop on the corner, or that local restaurant, or service provider, tell them thank you for taking a risk. Or better yet, think about what opportunities lay ahead for you. Are you ready to be an entrepreneur?
Jeff Rea is chief executive officer of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.