I had the privilege of following closely the conceptualization and the writing of this book, chapter by chapter. A privilege that has allowed me to meet the author monthly over a lengthy period of time, discussing the ins and outs of this book that I think should be in the library of each one of us who works in the field of entrepreneurship support. We are reminded of the fundamentals, that to some extent we have lost over time in the constant hunt for the next billion-dollar scale-up. Too often we neglected the bigger picture, the overall business community that is made up of myriad of small companies and business owners that in the end are those that generate stable wealth and jobs and that are not necessarily growth and innovation oriented. We have also neglected over time the importance of the buildings, the fundamental role that buildings play in our communities, in creating them and in animating them. My extensive travelling has brought me too often to witness the desolation of empty buildings that were meant to attract businesspersons and companies, the failing investments in “cathedrals in deserts” where flawless modern and perfectly functioning buildings fail in attracting businesses because sponsors (usually governments) do not listen to the business communities that are in their backyards but want to attract international high-growth companies. But it is the back yard entrepreneur the one to whom they should be really paying attention as they are the ones that can and will (re)vitalize the regions, given the appropriate conditions. By searching for the latest innovation, the latest ultrafast-high-growth startups, we forget that local entrepreneurs, those that create the greatest value, are stimulated by other factors, and that usually a great infrastructure is not a big enough incentive.
My recent visit this summer to the Batavia Industrial Center, the first renowned business incubator born in 1959 thanks to the foresight and vision of the Mancuso family, coupled with the privilege of reading first-hand the material that was passionately written and passed on by my friend and mentor Tom Mancuso, has been an eye-opener.
Entrepreneurship support programs, tailored to the needs of the local entrepreneurs are of fundamental importance. The technicalities of support, the entrepreneurship support services, and their delivery mechanisms must be designed around local entrepreneurs. Building entrepreneurial communities is of fundamental importance. A well-conceived and managed building, where programs are delivered, where services are deployed, and where a community can thrive, can be the ingredient that makes the value created for entrepreneurs greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Tom’s comment “there is no incubator without a building”, but I do get his point and I do understand much better now the relevance of the physical space and the importance of designing it and managing it in way that encourages entrepreneurialism.
By sharing his thoughts and massive experience Thomas Mancuso, makes us rethink those that are the fundamental elements of our trade (jobs and local economic development) from a perspective that we have somewhat lost over time and that needs to come back to the forefront of our thinking and reasoning. The why, the how-to, the what works, and the what does not work in specific contexts, are all in this well-construed book that puts small businesses and entrepreneurs at the center of the action and makes us understand how buildings and spaces (when well-conceived and smartly managed) can play a fundamental role in the development of an entrepreneurial community.