The town in which I live can boast of being the world headquarters for some pretty impressive players – we have multi-billion dollar big boy EMC, expanding Bio-Tech player Caliper Life Sciences, and of course, Main Street Ventures!
Despite the presence of some pretty major businesses, most day-to-day commerce takes place outside of Hopkinton’s borders. Our Main Street has only a handfull of small, independent businesses. A couple of commercial development projects promised to bring new services into the town, but the recession has stalled (and in some cases completely terminated) their progress.
Ironically, local residents have cried for “revitalization” of Hopkinton’s downtown business district for many years. Yet even when economic times were better, the town’s independent business community wasn’t exactly thriving. The future for independent businesses doesn’t look promising – the kind of companies being courted for those stalled developments are predominately larger regional or national operations. Neighboring communities have their own “flavor” of this phenomenon.
With such strong and clear public demand for local services, why aren’t there more successful independent businesses along the main streets of our communities? One reason lies in an age-old paradox. Whether they’re just starting out or have been operating for several years, most independent businesses can’t afford the breadth of expertise needed to create a truly sustainable and profitable business. The sad irony is that in those situations where affordability is not an issue, there’s often a lack of awareness as to what’s needed to get to the next level. Let’s take the process of navigating the regulatory environment as an example.
The volume of federal, state, and local regulations at play when you’re looking to start and operate even a small business is truly staggering. Something as simple as hanging a sign outside your business requires the filing of a permit – and by the way, payment of an associated fee. In some cases, public hearings are required, imposing even more costs and adding several weeks onto the process.
To make matters worse, agencies and departments charged with administering the regulatory process are frequently unhelpful, lapsing into a bureaucratic coma when it comes to assisting a business owner. Sure, businesses can hire professional help, but with hourly rates for attorneys starting at $150 or more per hour, that becomes a tough nut to swallow. So business initiatives are abandoned, either because the owner fails to successfully navigate the process or because they walked away after considering the time, effort and expense involved. And this is just one small piece of the puzzle.
I happen to believe that successful, local, independent businesses are vital to the economic and social well-being of a community. This was a major factor behind the decision my wife and I made to leave “big business” many years ago and start Main Street Ventures.
Though we’ve helped a wide variety of “main street” businesses over the past several years, you can’t bring significant change to the independent business landscape by working with one company at a time. So over the past several months we’ve taken our informal process (traditionally delivered through one person – me) and transformed it into a structured program of integrated solutions that can be replicated anywhere.
Last month we launched the first phase of our new program with the opening of the “zen bungalow.” A coworking space and professional community, the bungalow is a tool for bringing together independent workers who are interested in collaborating with other creative and talented people. In the context of our larger program, we see the bungalow serving 3 main functions ::
- Individual Business Development (the bungalow environment is ideal for helping members obtain the critical expertise and resources needed to grow their own businesses)
- Regional Business Development (by actively managing the community, we can facilitate strategic collaborations and partnerships among members or with businesses located within the region)
- Regional Resource Creation (when appropriate, we can incorporate the products and services of bungalow-based businesses into our program of integrated solutions – solutions ultimately delivered to “Main Street” businesses located throughout the region)
Starting this month, the zen bungalow will host “Lunchtime Office Hours with the Main Street Mentors (sm).” Part networking event and part professional services, participating businesses will receive up to 20 minutes of individualized assistance from a trusted serviced provider. These lunches are intended to provide substantive help to the business owner, and not be just a general consultation.
This month, attorney John Koenig of the Indigo Ventures Law Firm (offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado) will be the Main Street Mentor(sm) of the month. This lunchtime event will be held on Friday, November 19, and is limited to 12 businesses. The cost is just
$10 $12.50 per person. More information is available at the bungalow’s website :: http://zenbungalow.com We hope to see you there.