Spring-Field of Dreams?

July 1, 2013 in Community Development, Makers by Jen

“If you build it, they will come”- a popular and inspiring line from the 1989 classic Field of Dreams. But, can the same notion be carried over into business and small towns struggling to bring new jobs and industry?

According to H. Brevy Cannon,  University of Virginia ,and Joyce Smaragdis, Batten Institute, U.Va.’s Darden School of Business  in their Forbes article, “The Next Silicon Valley? Small Town America.” (4/9/13), it is exactly what is happening. In fact, they state that it is the ‘build it and they will come’ notion that is capturing the attention of entrepreneurs of all ages.

The article goes on to describe some of the success factors of Silicon Valley and other regions that have become dynamic business incubators. They identify “having at least one major university, a strongly affiliated industry group, access to human capital, and a major catalyst or company which creates new markets and opportunities for other entrepreneurs” as the keys to success.

We wondered how Springfield would stack up- do we have these key ingredients for success?

  • Major University: Well, we certainly don’t have a major university here. Or do we? The Howard Dean Education Center partners with leading institutes throughout Vermont to bring opportunities to this community. Educational Partners include University of Vermont, Johnson State College, and Vermont State Colleges.  A definite asset to the area.
  • Strongly Affiliated Industry Group: There is a surprisingly strong affiliation in this town and region to the Maker MovemeSpringfield Vt logont- even before it was popular and had a cool name. If you aren’t familiar with this movement, it is worth checking out, and is a topic we will continue to cover regularly. Basically, it combines many aspects of the ‘geek revolution’, inventions, technology, DIY, and creators of all kinds. It is a shift in manufacturing that could provide Springfield a forward-facing stronghold for entrepreneurial incubation and growth.
  • Access to Human Capital: We have people. Hard-working, motivated people. There is potential to create a community for thriving entrepreneurial ventures that taps into all of our talents. This region offers many amenities that are attractive to those raising families and could become a major source for attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • A Major Catalyst: There have been many catalysts for change here. VTEL’s expansion of high-speed broadband is a major catalyst. It helps position Springfield as a center for high-tech entrepreneurs.  The redevelopment of 100 River Street is a catalyst. This new platform,  (802eureka.com) is a catalyst- offering new ways to engage community members and organizations, to focus on and build on our assets as a community.  There is a resurgence of energy permeating the town that is uniting groups and individuals. Together, we can be the change we want to see.

So, what are the next steps to tap into all this potential? The Forbes article continues:

Whether a small town entrepreneur with a big idea, or a major corporation launching a new business line or offshoot – finding the courage to jump into the uncharted waters of a start-up venture is daunting. Risk-averse cultures – whether corporate, university or community-based – have difficulty accepting that failure is part of the innovation process, a fact of life for fast-moving Silicon Valley companies which have learned to pivot fast and often.

The University of Virginia and other leading universities are making a concerted effort to build entrepreneurial ecosystems and programs that provide students and faculty the academic foundation, practical tools, and opportunities to cross-collaborate, with the understanding that great ideas are not created in isolation, and great businesses are inherently multi-disciplinary.

Perhaps we can take a note from the successes of these universities and Silicon Valley and become the “Spring-Field of Dreams”. The foundations are being laid, groups are working together, and we are ready to take it to the next level to become a hot-bed for the Makers, the shakers, and the Entrepreneurial Risk-Takers.