Over the years, we’ve written many times about the entrepreneurship ecosystem in this region and its importance to economic development in the four western counties. This is an area dominated by small businesses, and it always will be, with growth coming organically, rather by recruiting the likes of a General Electric (bad example, given what’s happened to that company) or a Smith & Wesson (OK, that’s another bad example and a rather sore subject.)
But you get the point. This is a region that needs to consistently encourage entrepreneurship, but also providing a support system for those inspired to try to work for themselves, rather than someone else.
And that’s where the small army of mentors now working with agencies like Valley Venture Mentors, EforAll, SCORE, and others comes in. As the story on page 6 reveals, these mentors are doing critically important work, not just by helping individuals with the many technical aspects of running a business — from marketing to reading a spreadsheet; from building a website to writing and rewriting a business plan — but also with handling the roller-coaster ride that is owning your own business.
These mentors come with different backgrounds and experience in various sectors. But they share one common, and important, trait. They’ve been there, and they’ve done that. And, for the most part, those they are helping have not. And that’s why they are so important.
Entrepreneurship has been described as a lonely undertaking, even if there are other people involved in the business. And it is. The heavy weight of decisions, the risks assumed, and the anxiety that comes from working without the net of a steady weekly paycheck makes it a difficult, nerve-wracking undertaking.
Mentors understand all this, and they also understand that fledging entrepreneurs simply don’t know what they don’t know. So, they make a point to make sure they know more. And in the process, they may enable them to avoid some mistakes, but, more importantly, they help make sure that they learn from the mistakes they do make.
More important still, they make it clear that mistakes are not just common. They are to be expected. They are part and parcel to owning a business, whatever the product or service may be. And they can overcome.
Indeed, one of the most important lessons these mentors impart to those they are assisting is that failure isn’t something to fear. It is another part of the process, one very logical outcome when someone assumes risk and takes a chance on an idea. As one mentor reminded us, every entrepreneur of note has failed at some point in their career, and it’s not the failure that is noteworthy; it’s how he or she responds to it.
The mentors we spoke with for this issue all talked about the rewarding nature of their work. They all mentioned the pride they take in helping someone transform a rough idea from the back of a napkin into a success story.
All of us in this region share in these rewards, because each of these success stories brings more vibrancy and more jobs to Western Mass.
That’s why the work of these mentors is so critically important.