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How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution in Six Months

07/07/2010 11:30 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cross-posted from Harvard Business Review

In the weeks since the Entrepreneurial Revolution article appeared in Harvard Business Review, government leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, NGO directors, heads of institutes, university professors, and foundations have been asking me to help them instigate a revolution. Here is my advice to all of you on how to get started in just six months.

  1. Revolutions start local. Start the revolution in one locale and spread it from there. Every ecosystem has its own idiosyncrasies, and skepticism is prevalent, so start with quick wins that make sense in that specific location. And make quick correctable mistakes. Once you get on the right track in one locale, you can spread the revolution quickly. You don't have years to wait for measurable results before scaling up, just know you are on the right track.
  2. Revolutions need participants. The "shot heard round the world" will be a town-meeting-style, entrepreneurship stakeholder workshop to create excitement and commitment, and to learn. Convene representatives of banks, churches, universities, public schools, unions, cooperatives, entrepreneurs, the municipal and federal government, trade and industry associations, economic development organizations, some "foreign" diaspora resources, and the media. Meet with them individually to prepare them, and learn about the assets and liabilities of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  3. Revolutions require resources. In parallel, connect the community's entrepreneurial support resources, both online, and bricks and mortar. It's very possible to get that up and running in just a few weeks, and the same platform can be scaled immediately when the revolution heats up.
  4. Revolutions need revolutionaries. No society is devoid of entrepreneurs, ubiquitous protests of "we have lost our entrepreneurial spirit," notwithstanding. They may be under the radar, languishing in non-entrepreneurial positions, or channeling their entrepreneurial spirit in non-productive ways, but they are present. Find and enlist them. Support and mentor them. Galvanize the entrepreneurship resources and stakeholders to support them as well. Use your positions of power to help them find new customers, investors, advisors, and business partners.
  5. Revolutions need a call to action. Use the conventional and social media to generate unprecedented legitimacy for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Ask people with the hunger to create to come forward with their ideas and then "flood the zone": give interviews, have television programs, bring in high visibility experts, create billboards, etc.
  6. Revolutions need an inner council. Convene a small band of revolutionaries to advise you, many of them entrepreneurs. Listen to them. Share your concerns openly. Engage in frank, candid, open dialog. Avoid speeches, politics, and grandstanding. Reach out to the people who have left your community and who became successful outside, because there are almost always pools of entrepreneurial talent living overseas, and most of them would love to help back home.
  7. And last but not least, revolutions need leadership. Public leaders and their co-instigators have a key role to play in sparking the revolution and keeping the torch lit. If you are not at the top, go and enlist the most senior public officials around -- mayors, senators, prime ministers or whomever. Get them to go out and visit new ventures, large and small. Give them awards; tell your public that entrepreneurship is key to your future. Repeat the message, and repeat it again, on television, online, in tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts. Make sure they inspire everyone to do his or her part.

The most important deliverable in these first six months is to engage, excite, and empower the entrepreneurship stakeholders, demonstrate commitment, and show your constituents that you mean business. This will set the stage for the next phase of new policies and programs to help hardwire the change into the fabric of the society.


Daniel Isenberg is the Professor of Management Practice at Babson College, Founder and Executive Director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, and author of the Harvard Business Review article, "How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution " (June 2010).