Startup Network: 4 Resources for Growing Your Community

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No business can succeed on its own. An important part of starting and running a business is building a community of people who support the venture. This professional network of contacts can provide support in many different ways, such as through funding, by providing advice or by offering recommendations to potential customers. A startup ecosystem can help the business reach new target markets, develop new product offerings and improve profitability.

Build Your Startup Network With Business Networking Groups

Business networking groups bring entrepreneurs together to share ideas and strategies, build partnerships and gain referrals and contacts. Many cities have local business networking organizations that meet in person or online to discuss the day-to-day challenges they face. Such groups are a great way to get tactical advice and build local contacts in your area. These groups are usually open to small businesses and local startups in a variety of industries.

Professional networks, on the other hand, bring together people in one type of industry. For example, you may find a professional network for chefs and restaurateurs in your area. These groups are designed so that members can learn from each other about industry-specific issues.

While an in-person startup network is a great way to build your community, you can also look online for networking and professional associations. Leaving the boundaries of physical geography behind, an online network connects you to entrepreneurs across the globe. For example, On Startups, which has over 600,000 members, is one of the largest online networking groups on LinkedIn. It connects entrepreneurs around the world so they can learn from each other, build communities, find mentorship and gain support.

Get Insight and Funding From Investor Groups

For some startups and small businesses, funding is a critical element that requires network building. Investors — because they have a financial stake in your business — are a great source of experiential resources in your network, along with their financial resources.

Angel investors provide capital to entrepreneurs at the very early stages, before most investors are ready to take part, in exchange for equity in the business. Start by searching through your local business network and asking other entrepreneurs who have angel investor backing. You can also pitch to some angel investor groups like Harvard Business School Angels of Greater New York, 37 Angels and ARC Angel Fund, which are based in New York.

Venture capitalists are another source of funding for entrepreneurs. Unlike angel investors, who buy in at an early stage, venture capitalists usually invest in businesses that are somewhat established. Usually, venture capitalist firms focus on a particular industry, like technology or real estate, for example. Search for local VC firms in your area by focusing on your small business's industry.

While investors provide much-needed capital for entrepreneurs, many also offer indispensable advice and guidance. Investor groups, such as the Diversified Real Estate Investor Group and Texas Investment Network, bring together investors to network with their peers and with entrepreneurs. Business owners are welcome at most investor events, as they are a great place to meet leaders in the industry, talk shop and learn the ropes.

Gain Wisdom and Industry Knowledge From a Mentor

A mentor can help entrepreneurs take their business from startup to established enterprise. In addition to tactical business knowledge and actionable advice for day-to-day issues, mentors provide industry-specific insight and long-term business strategies. Many mentors have a large professional network and can connect small business owners with vital contacts.

When searching for a mentor, start with your local or online business group. There may be established entrepreneurs in the group who are looking to impart their wisdom to new business owners. You can also reach out to the Small Business Administration to learn about what mentor-protege opportunities exist in your industry.

Add Friends, Family and Employees to Your Community

Don’t forget that your family, friends and team members are a vital part of your community. Often the biggest cheerleaders for local small businesses, this group can provide references and referrals to potential customers. If they have a large social media following, you can also use their influencer status to reach new buyers online.