3 Ways Local Government and Business Leaders Can Support Entrepreneurs

Want the bad news first?

Then go read something else.

Seriously—there is enough bad news. You won’t have a hard time finding it.

I want to talk about good news, and what we can do to create stronger communities and economies at the local level.

This week I was proud to witness an event that did just that, right here in St. Charles County.

On Wednesday night, roughly 150 people attended the St. Charles County Demo Day, where four startups competed for cash prizes and in-kind services. The winner received one of those really big $10,000 checks, and the runner-up received a really big $5,000 check.

The four finalists were some of the most exciting startups in the region:

While Babyation and DSquared won the first- and second-place prizes, it’s not trite to say everyone who participated was a winner. For one thing, startups received cash depending on their ability to answer judges’ questions on specific aspects of their business plan.

Even more than that, the event was a great example of what it takes to organically grow an economy and an employer base at the local level.

But that wasn’t all I learned last night.

Here are a few specific takeaways from the St. Charles County Demo Day.

1. When no one wants to take the credit, we all win.

Last night’s event featured sponsorships, prize-funding, and staff support from a diverse group of public-and private-sector entities.

The St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners, City of St. Charles, OPO Startups, Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce, Lindenwood University, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis, Flat World Holdings, Brown Smith Wallace, Polsinelli Law, and McKissen + Company all played an important role in making Demo Day happen.

And while I personally wanted to thank them for their support, none of these organizations and businesses did it for the credit. They all participated because they believe in the power of entrepreneurship and making good things happen at the local level.

Like Missouri’s only President, Harry Truman, was fond of saying: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

2. When successful local entrepreneurs give back, great things happen.

OPO Startups founder Randy Schilling and Demo Day Judge and Flat World Holdings Managing Partner Kirk Ferrell have founded some of the most successful companies in this region. Randy’s enthusiasm for and support of the entrepreneurship community is well known, and he is someone this community and region is extraordinarily lucky to have.

Flat World Holdings also has a well-deserved reputation of supporting local entrepreneurs in a variety of different ways, just like—as Ferrell often says—people supported them in their early days.

Successful entrepreneurs like Schilling and Ferrell play an important role in building the next generation of entrepreneurs, and in doing so they become more than just successful businesspeople.

They become leaders.

And we are fortunate to have a lot of those in this region.

3. Apparently, no one at Demo Day got the memo that the world ended.

Right now, our country faces a lot of uncertainty—and it’s not just about politics. Our economy is changing, and in a time of change people feel justifiably nervous, and even scared.

But last night we saw a large, diverse crowd come together to watch an event that was, at its core, about the belief in a better tomorrow. Startups serving everything from lactating mothers to the mining industry were there with a belief that the future is bright, and that there is room for new companies in their industries.

That’s not to say that we don’t face significant challenges in our communities and in our economy.

However, one of the best ways to overcome those challenges is for local government and business leaders to support people with new ideas and new ways of thinking, and help them create more opportunity for all of us.

I saw that last night, in a room full of hopeful people, creative entrepreneurs, and leaders who were willing to get things done, no matter who got the credit.

And it was awesome.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.