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Representatives of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (an informal collaboration of organizations serving entrepreneurs in the Triad) have been meeting quarterly since 2015. In a retreat held in May of 2018, the group agreed that, in order for their various entities to best serve entrepreneurs, they need to provide an intentional mechanism to listen to entrepreneurs.

Enter Voice of the Entrepreneur, a new series at Venture Café. The first session, designed and facilitated by marketing firm Girl on the Roof, was entitled Charting the Path. In this exercise, entrepreneurs were asked to physically chart the path of their business along a timeline, noting milestones, setbacks, services (where they received help from the ecosystem), needs/gaps, and goals. Thirteen businesses participated in the exercise, each representing a different industry.

Although the feedback collected in the exercise is qualitative and subjective, the number of times that topics were mentioned by entrepreneurs on their path may be revealing for the ecosystem. For example, marketing (including the creation of a logo, the printing of business cards, and launch of a website or social media account) topped the list of milestones mentioned for a business. That is not surprising given the amount of marketing-related steps required to start and promote a business. But marketing was also the most commonly expressed need/gap in the ecosystem.

Carol Reeve of Girl on the Roof reflects on this: “Marketing is an area that all startups need, but since the needs of each business are unique, it’s not something a single class – or even a series of classes – can address.”

Not surprisingly, funding was the second most commonly expressed gap in the ecosystem. But it was in a three-way tie. Funding/capital, hiring/retaining employees, and sales/customer acquisition all received the same number of mentions by entrepreneurs.

Participating entrepreneurs worked independently in the charting exercise, which took place on July 12 at a Venture Café Thursday Gathering. Some participants were chatty, while others were more pensive as they drew out their timeline. Reeve said she noticed a participant struggling to share her setback. “She was embarrassed to include the loss of multiple team members on her chart. Then I pointed to my own chart where I had lost a few myself. There was a moment of solidarity that I think encouraged both of us.” Moments like that keep people coming back to Venture Café.

Stay tuned for additional sessions from the Voice of the Entrepreneur series at Venture Café.