I've recently been attending the meetings of a group here in Louisville called BizJunkies (if you are local and want to go on Tuesday nights, shoot me an email). Last week, the lady that organizes the group gave a presentation about the state of entrepreneurship in Louisville versus similar cities. For those of you who may not realize it, Louisville has over 1 million people in the metropolitan area, and is the 16th largest M.A. in the country. How does Louisville stack up in entrepreneurship? Well that depends on who you ask.
Local government leaders think we are on par with other cities. Local entrepreneurs think we aren't. Most other people don't give a damn. That last sentence is what made me wonder…what role does local culture play in entrepreneurship?
Most of the research I could find looked at attitudes across different countries. But I want to know how political, religious, educational, and cultural issues affect entrepreneurship within local communities. I spent a good part of my life outside of the state, and being an introvert I don't exactly know a ton of people, but here is what I think, based on the people I do know that live here.
Kentucky's past was one of coal mining and tobacco farming, so education wasn't a priority until recently. We are definitely in the Bible Belt, with one of the largest churches in the country here in Louisville. That seems to breed a community more focused on family than anything else. There aren't many devoutly religious people insistent on introducing new technologies to the world, or on making a billion dollars.
So I think people here aren't raised to think about entrepreneurship. Education and success aren't high priorities. Most people I know get married fairly young (<25) have kids, and then their life is just on cruise control. There's nothing wrong with that if it makes you happy, but it isn't a culture that breeds entrepreneurship.
So what I wonder…how much can Louisville (or other cities with similar demographics)really do to foster an entrepreneurial future? All the incentives in the world won't matter if people are ultimately uninterested in developing new technolgies and new companies. It seems to me it needs to start with he people, not the government. There has to be some passion and some desire (and of course, a little luck). My best hope is that I'm wrong. I hope that there are entrepreneurial minded people in Louisville, they just end up moving away. That is a problem the government could fix with the right incentive programs, like providing more information about sources of capital and more help getting entrepreneurs ready to go after it. Then we could keep our entrepreneurial talent in state.
I guess it goes back to the question – are entrepreneurs born or made? If they are born, we should have our share just like any place else. If they are made, well, then we have a lot of work to do in that area.