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Change often begins at the edges. It starts with just one voice — one idea that makes a difference. “Penny on the Edge” champions those who are willing to go first and challenges readers to think differently about how we grow our economies. This means understanding the intersection of entrepreneurship and economic development, along with the need to balance grow-from-within and traditional recruiting strategies. My intention is to provide ideas and support, make you laugh, and sometimes even annoy you as together we drive change from the edges.

One size does not fit all: The difference between serving startups and scaleups

It’s amazing where we learn lessons — my latest was in a Traverse City, Michigan, boutique where I learned the meaning of OS — one size fits all. I looked at the little top skeptically, but the smiling clerk assured me it was indeed a communal size. Hmmmm…not so much. “How’s it going in there?” the cheerful clerk asked through the dressing room curtain. My response was muffled, mainly due to the fact that the little OS top had turned vicious, wrapping itself around me to the point where I was certain they would need the jaws of life to set me free.

No, my virtual friends, OS does not always fit all. Not in the dressing room and not in our business communities. Our businesses are different sizes with different needs, methods of learning, cultures and ways they communicate. And while it is tempting to develop a program you think will serve everyone, this easy-way-out approach can be a quick road to failure, particularly with your growth businesses that are often ignored simply because they are perceived as more challenging to serve. But let’s start with the companies that are easy to understand — the startups and small businesses.

These companies are hungry — for information, basic help and being around anyone who has taken the path before them and has lessons to share. Their issues are more operational than strategic and a one-to-many approach works well since many of them are looking for the same thing. You can get by with giving them advice and they love to network, so the more the merrier.

Second-stage businesses, those with 10 to 99 employees and revenues around $1 million to $50 million, face very different issues that are more strategic than operational. They are expanding their teams and markets, and sometimes in the process of diversifying industries. Good luck giving this group advice, because you are not likely their trusted source.

So who do they trust? Their peers. Demonstrate you appreciate their differences by developing peer-to-peer networks like CEO roundtables, and putting them in front of research experts on strategic growth issues around market identification and expansion, competitor intelligence and digital marketing.

And when it comes to networking, growth companies are more selective. You’ll not likely find them at your after-hours social/networking events. Instead, get them together with a successful third-stage company willing to share their experiences and watch the room light up. If you’re still stumped on how to serve these folks, for heaven’s sake, just ask them what they need. I’ve seen amazingly innovative programs arise from one question, “What kept you up last night?”

Regardless of who you’re serving, remember the importance of speed to market. By the time you’ve finished your third study and sixth focus group, these folks have moved on to greener and speedier pastures, and you’re not likely to get them back. Gather information, get feedback and get moving. While OS sounds appealing, your companies will thank you for going the extra mile to understand how incredibly different they really are.


Penny Lewandowski
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A thought leader in entrepreneurship and building an entrepreneurial culture, Penny Lewandowski is senior consultant of external relations at the Edward Lowe Foundation. She is a frequent speaker on new ways to think about economic development – especially how a grow-from-within strategy leads to thriving and sustainable economies. To send Penny comments,   click here.

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