“Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.
― Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
When we build our city into an economic engine to create opportunity for everyone--regardless of your gender, race or zip code--Grand Rapids will be a successful economic development model for other cities to follow. We really believe that.
The Kauffman Foundation reports that for every 1 percent increase in the rate of new businesses started in a state, there is a 2 percent decline in the poverty rate. Whether it’s Forbes ranking Grand Rapids 51 out of 52 cities for African Americans to live or this Mlive article that only 1.5% of all economic development dollars were spent in an area where 33% of the population lives, the data validates self-evident truths:
- Doing things the way they’ve always been done in Grand Rapids is not an option.
- Making small changes to the way it’s always been doesn’t result in change at all.
Everyone can nod their heads at those statements. However, most people underestimate how hard it is to actually change.
In October, people reached out to Start Garden surprised by the MiBiz article, Grand Rapids, Start Garden seek to repair relationship. It summarized a contract dispute we were in the midst of with the Local Development Finance Authority and Office of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. At the time, we were surprised by people’s surprise. We live in a time that demands big change and big change is never easy. So why is it a surprise when there is struggle?
This week, Grand Rapids, Start Garden hone SmartZone focus with proposed new contract, the much more positive follow up was published. The new contract referenced in the article was approved Friday, February 22. It took eight months, a lot of meetings and, at different times, everyone around the table seriously doubting we’d get to where we wanted to go.
This friction we worked to resolve is hard. It required all parties to sit at the table (literally), including representatives for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, City of Grand Rapids staff, Start Garden and a committee of LDFA board members committed to long, tense conversations. Often, the phrase was uttered, “Let’s not get lost in the weeds.” But the reality is, the weeds are where the work takes place. If we’re not willing to get into the weeds and make a better system, we’re passing this friction down to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Ecosystem development is about removing friction for wouldbe innovators and entrepreneurs that would leave, or never start in the first place, keeping the resulting wealth creation here today. To have the city we want in the future, we must fill it with opportunities today. It’s more about putting nutrients in the soil than sitting and waiting for plants to show up.
The question is how resilient are our leaders when change is a struggle? I’m pleased to say in this instance, we did what wasn’t easy because some key leaders in the community were willing to get stuck in the weeds and stay until we could find a better way.