While it may seem like Columbus is teeming with startups and small businesses, statistics say otherwise. Out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., Columbus ranks 80th in percentage of all employers that are small, 82nd in percentage of small business establishment births per 1,000 establishments, and 75th in percentage of all workers who are self-employed.
A recent panel discussion hosted by the Columbus Metropolitan Club featuring Mark Kvamme, co-founder of Drive Capital, Tanisha Robinson, co-founder of Print Syndicate and TicketFire, and Ross Youngs, founder, CEO and inventor, sought to answer the question of why Columbus ranks so low. What makes other cities more likely to spawn business startups and how can Columbus turn it around?
One of the biggest hurdles Columbus faces is its fear of failure. Hailing from Silicon Valley, Kvamme sees a cultural difference between the startup mecca and Columbus.
“In [Silicon Valley] it’s actually a badge of honor to fail,” he says. “People here, it’s not a badge of honor, it’s a scarlet letter.” Kvamme says, calling failure a good thing. Failing means at least trying.
Columbus needs more risk takers when it comes to not only entrepreneurial ideas, but investors.
When raising funds for Print Syndicate, Robinson had to look outside of Columbus to cities like Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas for funding, highlighting the lack of investors in the area.
While Kvamme is at the helm of one of the city’s limited number of venture capital firms, he would love to see two or three others like Drive Capital. He hopes that if Drive Capital has success, it will attract other investors to the area.
“We need the wealth creation, we need the entrepreneurs to stay here,” Kvamme says. Columbus needs to create a bigger pool of believers and success stories on which to build.
Youngs echoed Kvamme’s call to use success – or current lack thereof – as a means to bring in more capital.
“There is a fear of failure in this area, there is no doubt about that, and we have no real big wins,” Youngs says. “We have no real big wins that have returned lottery-type of money to people. When you take risk and you get rewards, you are more apt to go back out there and take a little more risk.”
Youngs cites a culture of wealthy individuals who would prefer to hold on to their money rather than invest a small percentage in a startup knowing it could turn into much more.
“There needs to be an acceptance that it’s ok to take those risks,” he says.
To the panelists, the solution lies in not only taking more all-around risks, but celebrating and building on Columbus’ strengths.
Columbus has shown its ability to build large, scaleable companies like L Brands, Nationwide and Cardinal Health.
“What’s really interesting from a Columbus perspective is the access to world-class, large companies,” Kvamme says. Big brands are here and with them, surprisingly easy and open access to top business owners.
Robinson calls for a focus on industries where the city shows strength, like fashion and retail. Real estate costs are low and, “Columbus provides a really powerful logistical advantage,” she says.
Kvamme puts it simply, “We need to be unapologetic about how great a place this is to build a business.”
The discussion wrapped up with the often-posed question, can entrepreneurialism be taught?
Robinson said there are aspects that no class or leadership book can ever prepare one for. One ccan never really be ready for the responsibility of others’ well-being, for their rent and their car payments, etc.
On the flip side, Youngs’ call for education is aimed at another group.
“It’s not what we need to tech to get entrepreneurs, it’s what we need to teach to get supporters of entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s what we need to teach to be able to create a little risk.”