If you asked me a year ago what the term ‘Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ meant to me, I wouldn’t have had a clue. And now, I’m at a point of reflection having been immersed in an amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem right here in the Bay of Plenty. I joined the Venture Centre team nearly a year ago, knowing that my role would involve contributing to the wellbeing, uplifting and empowerment of entrepreneurs. As my time in the role went on, I started to further understand not just Venture Centre’s part in the local ecosystem, but also mine on a personal level. And recently, I came to gain insight into the ecosystem on a national level at the Electrify Aotearoa Conference in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
The Venture Centre team travelled down south as a team to attend this conference, and after hearing from a number of incredible female founders, my emotions and excitement were running high. I lead from the heart when it comes to contributing to the betterment and empowerment of others. Having started my own photography business five years ago, I’ve experienced the struggles of questioning myself and my potential. ‘Am I good enough to do this?’ ‘Will people actually pay me for my work?’. Nearly every speaker at that conference shared similar feelings as these from the start of their entrepreneurial journeys. Following these anecdotes, came the stories of their success despite it all. I felt a strong reminder of my place in the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a cheerleader for all of those people who need that extra little reminder of their value, place and contribution to their community.
There were a few key highlights I took from the conference, one being a conversation I held with a fellow female founder. She said she didn’t like the question ‘what are you passionate about?’. She preferred ‘what makes you forget time when you are doing it?’. This stuck with me, in a way reflecting my approach to my career. I’ve worked in a few different jobs where I’d find myself looking at the clock wishing it’d move just that little bit faster. But the work I’ve been doing in this entrepreneurial support space is, in fact, work that makes me forget time. We were also encouraged to think about what our version of the future looks like. What makes up our little corner of the universe? Much like the question we’re asked when we’re young ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. When we’re young, most of our dreams feel achievable, despite how far-fetched they may actually be (I wanted to be an astronaut). But as we get older, that sense of self-belief can fade, so being asked what my version of the future looked like was a great reminder of my ability to do meaningful work that I enjoyed, and to encourage others to do the same.
Speaking of this meaningful work, my last year working within the entrepreneurial ecosystem meant a whole lot of learning and the wearing of many different hats (often all at once!). Through my role as Project Lead at Venture Centre, I was in charge of facilitating over 15 digital enablement workshops and events, 56 one-on-one Digital Navigation sessions, and 56 one-on-one Office Hours sessions. Overall, I facilitated the education of 194 business owners in the entrepreneurial and digital space. I also learnt how to utilise my ‘match-making’ skills, pairing entrepreneurs with people who could help them further their business and/or business idea. It was also within my realm to communicate with the volunteer experts in our community, who gave their time to provide support to our communities.
Learning about what the term ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ actually means, as well as being embedded within it, has been an incredible journey. It has opened my eyes to a way of helping people, that I never considered as a career path. When I look back at the mindset I had when I started my photography business, I recall feeling apprehensive about whether I could actually make something of myself. Now, I’m coming up to five years running my business, and I attribute a lot of success to those who ignited my entrepreneurial spirit along the way. So I know now it is part of my life’s work to always remind people of their strength, their contribution to the world, and their ability to bring their ideas to life.
I encourage everyone who’s starting out on their entrepreneurial journey to get involved with what’s on offer in terms of support and networking opportunities. Here at Venture Centre and in the wider entrepreneurial community, there’s something for everyone. You just have to reach out and make the most of it.