Ask anyone who has ever built a business from the ground up, it’s probably the hardest thing they have ever done. It demands more of their time, energy, resources, creativity, patience, families and fortitude than they could have ever anticipated. Yet each year thousands of ambitious entrepreneurs take the leap of faith and start businesses backed by innovative ideas and big dreams. Even for those who successfully grow past the first year, it takes a long time for a new business to give back, and startup entrepreneurs can find themselves short on resources and enough hours in the day to make their dream a reality. That’s where the village comes alongside them to provide support and guidance. Our “village” is the Holland and Zeeland business community, and support mechanisms come in the forms of SURGE and the West Coast Chamber.
When a business moves to town or gets off the ground, many existing Chamber members will tell them that their first course of action should be to join the West Coast Chamber and become part of the massive support network that helps our business community thrive. But what about entrepreneurs who don’t have an established business yet? Who helps them?
Those in the early stages of starting a business can be served by a specialty support network created just for them. SURGE is an entry point for entrepreneurs making products to export or in high-tech, high-growth industries, into the programming, networking and resources available through Lakeshore Advantage and the Holland SmartZone. The program connects West Michigan entrepreneurs with each other, mentors and Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN) members to share knowledge and experience. SURGE also works with startups to apply for and secure Business Accelerator Funding (BAF), grants earmarked to bring promising technology to market. To date, SURGE has served ninety-four startups, helped twenty-seven high-tech companies expand, and helped emerging businesses raise over $8 milion in capital.
The great news for startup businesses is that SURGE and the West Coast Chamber have a long-standing partnership of connecting their respective members in order to build the bridge that helps entrepreneurs cross over to successful business. Recently, the West Coast Chamber and SURGE announced a new category of Chamber membership created for participants in the SURGE program. The “Entrepreneur Membership” allows these startups to join the Chamber at a reduced rate, subsidized with additional financial backing from SURGE. Entrepreneur Members attend Chamber events that will help them build their network and learn from experienced business professionals, and as the startup business grows, so does their own investment in their Chamber membership, with the goal of unsubsidized membership at the end of three years.
At our May Wake Up West Coast Breakfast on the topic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we recognized two tables of SURGE participants, most of whom were attending their first Chamber event. As critical as it is to build a business network, entrepreneurs will also come to find that membership in the Chamber is not all about networking. The benefits menu at the Chamber includes educational programs, leadership development opportunities, and access to advocacy platforms, all of which can fill skills gaps that new businesses will inevitably have. However, without the nudge and financial considerations opening the door to the Chamber world, it can turn out to be a missed opportunity for startups. But no more.
The development of the Entrepreneur Membership is a further evolution of a long-standing relationship between the West Coast Chamber and Lakeshore Advantage.The Chamber and SURGE have partnered on the Entrepreneurial Support Network for several years. Chamber members sign up to be part of the ESN, which involves providing in-kind services to startups on a project basis. These are services that the startups have neither the time, expertise or resources (or none of the above) to take care of on their own. Currently there are twenty Chamber member businesses enrolled as ESN providers, providing services such as Finance and Accounting, Graphic Design, Human Resources, Legal / I.P., Photography, Public Relations / Marketing, Product Development and Web Development.
Here are some startup survival stats, taken from smallbiztrends.com. Of all small businesses started in 2014, 80 percent made it to the second year (2015), 70 percent made it to the third year (2016), 62 percent made it to the fourth year (2017), and 56 percent made it to the fifth year (2018). How does a new business make it to that 56 percent after four years? With help. With the support of organizations coming alongside them to connect them with other entrepreneurs navigating the same waters, with financial guidance, and with experienced businesses willing to lend an ear or a hand. Providing new businesses with the strong support networks we have in place in our community is one of the reasons we have been named “The Best Small City to Start a Business” for the fourth year in a row, and the collaboration of SURGE and the West Coast Chamber means great things for entrepreneurs taking the leap of faith to bring their dreams to reality.