How Communities like St. Charles County Help Entrepreneurs Succeed

By Greg Prestemon, CEO 

What do you think of when you think of the word “entrepreneur”? There’s a decent chance you think of a Ramen-eating, be-hoodied young person working on an idea for a new app or social media platform.

When you think of the word “startup,” what do you typically think of?

Most likely a room full of Ramen-eating be-hoodied young people working collectively on a new app or social media platform, in between ping-pong matches.

But the word entrepreneur doesn’t just apply to the young and the hoodie-wearing. In fact, the stereotype of the young entrepreneur is just that: a stereotype. The reality, according to The Kauffman Foundation, is that the average age of a founder of a startup with over $1 million in revenue is 39.

That means the stereotypical entrepreneur is not the typical entrepreneur.

And typical entrepreneurs aren’t starting billion-dollar social media platforms.

In the United States in 2016, entrepreneurs opened about 1,000 new automotive repair shops. Granted, an automotive repair shop isn’t very scalable—no one is going to become a billionaire from owning one or working at one. (Though automotive repair shops must be profitable—unlike the CEO of Snapchat, Joe of Joe’s Repair Shop cannot become a billionaire by losing someone else’s money.)

As advanced as they are, cars have yet to learn how to repair themselves. Entrepreneurial mechanics play an important role in the overall economy, and in local communities. The point applies to more than just mechanics. Most entrepreneurs are a little older than we think they are and use the experiences gained during their career to open a business in their local community.

The traits required for entrepreneurs who fit that profile are still the ones we think of when we think of the Zuckerbergs and aspiring Zuckerbergs of the world. The founder of your local mechanic shop, market, restaurant, or brewery needs to be visionary. They need to be relentless. They need to be completely committed to their mission.

However, entrepreneurs need something else, something that almost never gets talked about when we discuss what it takes to successfully start a business:

Entrepreneurs need strong, thriving communities.

We often discuss civic life and the business sector as though they were completely unrelated. We discuss the qualities it takes to succeed at entrepreneurship as though starting a business occurred in a vacuum.

I don’t know everything—many people tell me I know very few things—but I do know this: Successful entrepreneurs usually come from strong communities. Entrepreneurs can overcome almost any obstacle, but they will struggle to succeed if they’re starting their business in a community that lacks resources and a supportive civic sector.

That’s true for your local automotive repair shop owner, and it’s true for the visionary people we think of when we think of entrepreneurs.

Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook while at Harvard University. Bill Gates had almost unlimited access to computers in junior high—in 1968. Steve Jobs went to high school in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs were visionaries and deserve all the credit they get, but we can’t forget that they got their starts in some of the most supportive environments in the history of mankind.

It’s easy to think of entrepreneurship as a story of one person and an idea. But that person and their idea are far more likely to succeed if they exist within a community that has a strong civic identity and has established a culture that supports and encourages homegrown entrepreneurs.

I’m lucky to be a part of a community like that in St. Charles County. It’s a big reason why we’ve had so many entrepreneurial success stories here. The organization I have the privilege of leading is a direct outgrowth of the cities and counties here making a commitment to fund the resources our local entrepreneurs need.

The lone, heroic image of an entrepreneur makes a great story.

Batman is a great story too—and even he needed Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Batgirl, and the willingness of all of Gotham City to pretend that Bruce Wayne was not obviously Batman.

In other words, even Batman needs a community behind him.

And so do entrepreneurs.