There are many chapters in the Quad-Cities growth story, many yet to be written. One is as old as civilization itself — entrepreneurship. The first entrepreneurs can be traced back to nearly 20,000 years ago when people would exchange items of value for something they wanted, but didn’t have, from another who saw the need and filled it.
For millennia, entrepreneurs across the globe have identified unmet needs or unsolved problems and developed solutions to close the gaps. Many work to earn a living. Many seek to build an empire. All have a passion for what they do and aspire to make a difference. The same is true of entrepreneurs in the Quad-Cities across the decades from John Deere and Frederick Weyerhauser in the 19th century to many of today's community leaders. They all identified needs and problems, designed and delivered solutions, hired people, invested in the community and made a difference. In many cases, the impact has been profound. Local entrepreneurs have created large innovative companies, with regional or global reach, employing dozens, hundreds or even thousands of local citizens.
Although there are many notable examples of entrepreneurs growing massive billion-dollar companies, most entrepreneurs own and operate small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, U.S. small businesses (defined as 500 or fewer employees) number more than 30 million businesses (99% of the total number of businesses), and employ nearly 60 million people, or half of the private workforce. Importantly, most new jobs and new innovations come from small businesses and the entrepreneurs who own them.
Are entrepreneurs a “special breed?" They have a vision for sure and the courage to take risks with the hope of making a return. They work hard. They frequent and support other local businesses. Their kids go to local schools. They volunteer their time to help others. They mentor and support those wanting to become entrepreneurs. They learn continuously. They could be any or all of us.
The entrepreneurship chapter of the Quad-Cities growth story does not need to be written or re-written. We know how to start and grow businesses. It’s in our DNA. It’s part of our community. We have the foundation and seeds for growth right here and now. If we seed and feed entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs, the community will add jobs, attract talent and innovate. How? We have all of the elements in place. We have the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, several high-quality colleges and universities, innovative high school entrepreneurship programs, two local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC’s) and Quad Cities SCORE (both part of the U.S. Small Business Administration offering free advisory and mentoring services to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs), the University of Iowa Venture School Quad Cities, city government leaders, progressive banks, active local and state economic development agencies as well as many non-profit and for-profit private development partners, including Junior Achievement and the new Riverbend Angels investment group (think "Shark Tank"). The opportunity for our community today is to get energized and focused on the common goal of supporting entrepreneurs and the small businesses they start and develop. We can all be entrepreneurs driving growth. All it takes is vision, courage and a call to action by community leaders along with elements of education, funding, and support by all of the resources that we have in place today. We will all share in the benefits by enjoying a vibrant community built on a foundation of entrepreneurship begun 20,000 years ago which we have leveraged locally for many decades.