Why succeeding in entrepreneurship and business isn't always a win/lose situation
It's a fair bet to say that most people associate business with competition and that for someone to win, someone else has to lose. Yet there's evidence to suggest that economies which exhibit higher levels of collaboration also generate more wealth for the people who live in them.
It's an approach that requires us to think differently about entrepreneurship and something I always bear in mind when I'm influencing the culture in our Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery.
Recently, in conjunction with Belfast City Council, we hosted Opportunity Knocks - a day-long event for local entrepreneurs, scale-up businesses and larger corporates to come together in St George's Market to discuss issues ranging from accessing finance and sustainably growing your business, through to managing the effect that macroeconomic trends can have here in NI.
The energy was palpable and I was left enthused about the prospects for local entrepreneurship. There is a growing ecosystem that works together in a collaborative fashion to channel the right support, at the right time, to those starting new companies.
For those businesses that don't suit Entrepreneurial Spark, we take the opportunity to refer them to the other great public and private accelerator programmes and support that exist. We're proud of what we do, but we also know that we can't cater to every need, and to try would distract us from what we can do really well for those in the Hatchery.
The benefits of this kind of lateral approach are clear to me - once you stop thinking of NI plc as a 'winner takes all' game, it becomes easier to listen to your peers and to think about mutual benefits, deepening supply chain links and perhaps even taking your product design in a new direction.
When our entrepreneurs heard from Kris and Ciaran (profiled today), I don't think too many will have been in the interior design or fast food industries.
But their stories of dealing with adversity, managing change and personalities, and accessing the finance needed to grow, are all skills that young businesses need to be thinking about in order to thrive. Our mission is to build the people who build businesses, and it is through more context, learning and collaboration that we will do that - meaning that they have lots of resources and experiences, other than their own, to draw on when making finely balanced judgments.
We continue to look for new ways to collaborate, whether that's through events that bring people together or by inviting the best of our local leaders to be mentors for those just starting out.
I've found that people actually really enjoy telling their story to a willing audience and the people I have the opportunity to work with certainly take on board whatever they can get.
So, what does success in this field look like?
In my view, it means that in five years' time, a man or woman on the street who is thinking of starting a business has a clear picture of all the support that they can get, and that their family and friends see starting a business as less risky and more rewarding than it is today. Is that a challenge?
Absolutely - the good thing is, we don't plan to get there on our own.