How important is community for a small business?

One reoccurring theme of the Voom Tour 2017 has been the strength of the local support networks and small business communities across the country, helping to propel the next generation of entrepreneurs to success.

As last week’s final tour stop in Dundee the Virgin Media Business team assembled an expert panel to discuss the role of community in the start-up ecosystem, as well as weigh up the pros and cons of plugging yourself into your local community. The panel was comprised of Elaine Cox of Dundee City Council, Kallum Russell of Acorn Enterprise and Su Johnston of Crowdfunder - three organisations which all thrive on strong communities.

For Acorn Enterprise, an organisation that educates and accelerates new businesses, community is the lifeblood of all that they do. Kallum and his team have helped over 100 start-ups in Fife during the last five years. Impressively, 70 per cent of those businesses are still growing - which is pretty much the complete opposite of most start-up stats you'll read (the accepted norm being that 70 per cent fail across a 10 year period). 

They have just opened a Dundee incubator, where they hope to replicate their successes in Fife. So, is community the reason for such positive numbers?

Loneliness and isolation kills businesses

"Having your own business can be so lonely, even if you have a co-founder it can be quite an isolating experience, I think that’s a factor that kills so many businesses. Thankfully there is so much good support out there, the start-up community is probably the most generous and open with its time and resources of any community I know," explains Kallum.

"Thanks to social media it’s easy to reach out to people and ask for help. Also, Scotland is really small, so you can always find anyone quite easily. However it’s about speaking to the right people at the right time. If you want feedback or advice on your business idea then do not go and ask friends or family, that’s probably the worst thing you could do. Go and find people who have run their own business or work in your sector."

For Elaine, there are few better start-ups communities than Dundee to be based in right now. The city is experiencing a wave of investment and interest from the outside world, which makes it a perfect time for entrepreneurs to look to do business in the region.

Understand your local community

"What’s going on in the city is really exciting; we’ve had so many different types of start-ups emerge recently. Dundee definitely feels like it’s the place to be for start-ups at the moment, there’s a lot going on here," she notes.

"I see my role as someone who is here to help people overcome barriers and get them into business. From a collaborative point of view, community is crucial. You need to get out there and meet people, work out who are your peers and who are your competitors. There are so many opportunities out there for collaboration; you need to understand what’s going on in your own city and community."

Despite the unquestionable community credentials of Kallum and Elaine, arguably the biggest community expert on the panel was Su Johnston. Crowdfunder has raised millions of pounds for thousands of businesses and local projects, none of which would have been possible without the presence of a community. Which is why it came as a slight surprise that the only note of caution would come from her.

Community solves everything - most of the time

"The importance of a community on your success does really depend on what your product is, but saying that my rule would be that community is everything. It tells you if your idea is any good, it gives you a market, it’s a great test bed and it can give people trust in you.

"However I would put in the caveat that it does depend what you’re doing. Some ideas are so brilliant, such as if you were building a rocket ship and had all the money you needed, then you might be able to bypass the community. Even in that instance a community would add another facet to what you are doing - I would say they’re crucial 99.8 per cent of the time."

To find out more about what happened in Dundee, head over to our Voom Tour 2017 section.


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