No Wrong Door for Entrepreneurs?
The Winter 2005 edition has a number of good articles about innovation, tech transfer, and entrepreneurship. One is called Creating Systems for Entrepreneur Support. The author points out that the reason many entrepreneurs have difficulty getting the services they need is not that the specific programs are bad, but that the programs "exist within a crazy quilt of programs, initiatives, and suport efforts. Entrepreneurs don't know how to access these programs, and the programs themselves are not user-friendly."
He quotes a study done in North Carolina that says "(Support systems are)...opaque and too complicated for entrepreneurs. While public officials and service providers understand the differences between, say, a Small Business Center and a Small Business Technology Development Center and the services they offer, entrepreneurs do not. Nor should we expect entrepreneurs to understand these differences. Thus, when an entrepreneur seeks assistance and is referred to 'some other office,' her typical response is intense frustration."
The author's solution? Not a "one-stop shop" but "no wrong door," where the burden of understanding how best to access services is moved from the entrepreneur to the system itself. There would be common intake procedures (so you don't have to fill out yet another set of forms after the first agency determines they can't help you), clear referral systems (so the entrepreneur can get to the right place in one step), and regular collaboration (so the various agencies actually measure whether they are serving entrepreneurs well).
The Pittsburgh Region has a wealth of capable agencies and resources for entrepreneurs, but the entrepreneurs themselves say it's hard for them to navigate, and they frequently have to go through lots of wrong doors to get to the right one -- and that's only if the entrepreneur has the time and stamina to keep going to and through doors.
Here's a quiz for you: You're a startup technology firm in the Pittsburgh Region. Who do you call first? The Technology Collaborative? A Small Business Development Center (there are several)? Innovation Works? Idea Foundry? The Life Sciences Greenhouse? The Small Business Administration?
We know we're short on entrepreneurs here, so we need to work extra hard to make sure they aren't wasting time knocking on service provider doors rather than on customers' doors.