Entrepreneurs are often depicted as solitary figures working against overpowering odds to bring their vision to life. In reality, entrepreneurs tend to be connectors who continually reach out to others for emotional and practical support and to help make that vision succeed.
That was the message from a recent “Power to the Small” panel discussion, hosted by Windstream. One example of this kind of connector is Houston restaurateur Jerry Lasco, who says he is an active participant in many local business groups, not just to network, but because it creates “good business karma”.
When Lasco moved to Houston in 2001, he was struck by how the community embraced small businesses, so he likes to provide space in his various restaurants for business groups to have meetings. Lasco tells other business leaders to bypass his company’s event team and contact him directly. He also waives any kind of event room fees.
He acknowledges that having business leaders congregate in his restaurants is good promotion, but also feels the power of networks goes much deeper.
“I want smart, interesting people in our space, because they in turn attract other smart and interesting people,” he says. “It’s the circle of life.”
So when an organization called Houston Young Professionals recently held a networking event at Lasco’s Tasting Room restaurant, Lasco himself was the special guest. He provided entrepreneurial insights on the topic, “What is on your Bucket List?”
Of course, a network also can help entrepreneurs check items, such as starting a successful business, off their own “bucket lists.”
A Higher Path
Jane Henry, founder of the Houston management consultancy xcution, has a similar philosophy about forging connections with local businesspeople. In fact, she traces the origins of her company to a business network.
She launched her career working for the international business consultancy Accenture. In 2001, she moved to Houston to work at Enron, an energy company that later became a byword for business excesses and abuses.
A few years after that debacle, she took stock of herself, asking, “What am I doing? This needs to be bigger than just me. There’s a higher path here.”
She found that higher path after she attended her first Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA) event and discovered an entire network of women professionals who had followed their dreams. In this group, she unearthed both inspiration and wisdom, with members willing to answer her many questions about entrepreneurship.
“It was comfortable enough to ask the dumbest questions in the world,” she says. “It’s so much easier to do things when you leverage existing knowledge.”
Within six months, she had founded xcution.
A Competitive Advantage
Henry has since joined several more business networks. Meeting new business contacts has even become a key competitive advantage for her. She used those connections to form a consortium of Houston-area businesses providing professional services that complemented her work, such as legal counsel, marketing, and printing.
“The consultant business is cutthroat. Because there is so much overhead, everyone fights for money,” she says. “In the consortium, we have agreed-upon roles, responsibilities, and payments, so there is no infighting.”
This “CarMax approach,” as she calls it, eliminates haggling and allows her to bid on large-scale projects at rates that are seven to eight percent lower than big competitors.
“I get to know anybody in the area who offers professional services,” she says. “I leverage the broader brain and knowledge of Houston.”
And that’s smart. As these successful entrepreneurs demonstrate, business networks provide both practical and psychic benefits. They take from the community and give to it-; which is the very essence of good business karma.