Student business plan competitions foster an array of diverse ideas with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Grand Valley’s 2012 competition featured ventures such as an on-demand bike locker rental system (left), water purification invention (middle), and personalized air vent manufacturer (right).

Diversifying the Entrepreneurial Club

As it seeks to diversify its entrepreneurial community, West Michigan would do well to listen to the time-honored ideas of Peter Drucker.

Peter Drucker

On November 11, 2005, a few days short of his 96th birthday, Drucker–author, professor, lecturer, consultant–passed away after a 70-year career that profoundly changed the world of business management and established him as one of history’s most influential business minds. Political and business leaders throughout the world sought his counsel.

In Japan and East Asia, Drucker achieved a kind of rock-star status and was honored with the likes of W. Edwards Deming, founder of the modern Japanese manufacturing system. His innovative ideas about decentralization and strategic goal-setting were the basis of huge changes at General Electric. A variety of other organizations, including the Salvation Army, the Girls Scouts and Rick Warren’s modern mega-church movement, were deeply influenced by Drucker’s teachings. As his career progressed, he focused less on large corporate organizations and more on the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in a changing and evolving world economy.

He continuously expanded his field of knowledge, diving deeply into such subjects as Eastern philosophy and early medieval Paris. He did this because he understood that new experiences, intellectual endeavors, and an appreciation for diversity are key to nurturing ideas and creating new ventures. Entrepreneurs who are exposed to an array of experiences, he reasoned, are better equipped to make those ventures successful. Such openness to change is also vital for investors looking to discover enterprises that will cater to the changing needs of an increasingly diverse world of consumers. Similarly, angel groups and early-stage investment vehicles need to proactively seek diverse membership to aid in their understanding of these dramatic changes.

Instilling New Experiences and Diversity in the World of Entrepreneurship

Communities benefit from actively encouraging women, ethnic minorities, and people from different disciplines to participate in entrepreneur development programs. For example, business plan competitions, which typically attract white male participants, need to reach out and attract members of underrepresented groups. Similarly, expanding the reach of entrepreneur programs to academic disciplines outside of business schools expands the potential for uncovering fresh new ideas.

Diversifying Entry Points to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

It is also essential to have various ways for individuals to enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem. If the traditional path is through the club-like nature of existing angel groups, entrepreneurial competitions, and startup programs, the system will continue to get individuals who are already familiar and comfortable with the process. To its credit, West Michigan does seek to promote diversity within the ecosystem through such organizations as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Inventors Club, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, and the 5×5 competition. While these and other organizations have provided support and guidance to many new entrepreneurs, much more needs to be done to enable further sustainable changes in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Modifying the Financial Institution

Financially successful community members also need to step up their entrepreneurial support by investing their money in promising ventures and their time in mentorship or other related programs. When entrepreneurs receive support from their communities, success follows. Ted Zoller, PhD and entrepreneur researcher at University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, has shown that the strength of an entrepreneurial community is greatly affected by the presence of its deal-makers — individuals whose time, money, and support bring investors and entrepreneurs together.

In all these endeavors, we have much to learn from Peter Drucker and his systematic approach to seeking out new thoughts and perspectives. If we in West Michigan apply that same discipline in creating a more diverse and powerful entrepreneurial community, everyone–whatever race, creed, heritage, or background–will reap the benefits.

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