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COVID Lesson: We Need to Build Stronger Entrepreneurial Ecosystems


April 26, 2021 | COVID Lesson: We Need to Build Stronger Entrepreneurial Ecosystems | By: Matthew Wagner, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer | 

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Many of us likely remember the old adage: from every tragedy comes a learning opportunity. The global pandemic has certainly presented many of those. It’s clear that in order to move forward with recovery, we cannot simply turn back on the light switch from February 2020. Despite revitalization efforts and successful business growth in experiential shopping over the last many decades, we have seen firsthand that without comprehensive support systems for small businesses at all phases of the business life cycle, downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts remain susceptible to disruptive economic shifts. As such, as we look ahead, there is an inherent imperative that Main Street leverages its leadership in place-based support systems to convene, connect, and coordinate efforts around community entrepreneurial ecosystem building.

To support downtowns and urban commercial districts along this journey, Main Street America (MSA) recently launched a suite of tools and resources to strengthen this critical aspect of revitalization and small business development. Our new Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Resource Center, supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, features a series of new tools, resource examples, blogs, and research from MSA and the Main Street Network. The focal point is the new Building A Community Entrepreneurial Ecosystem—A Self-Guided Training for Communities. This free, downloadable resource features a number of templates and embedded tools, such as the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Audit Tool and the Organization Implementation Matrix.


Don’t wait to begin your journey! While recovery is on its way, ecosystem-building can serve to harness some exciting opportunities created by the pandemic. Such opportunities include:

The transition to more diverse revenue channels for small businesses. No longer can mom and pop, bricks and mortar stores be solely dependent on foot traffic to drive annual sales. The pandemic has created new norms requiring small businesses to be nimble and embrace e-commerce and more convenience services around pick-up and delivery. Supporting small businesses in this effort can create stronger, more sustainable business enterprises along our Main Streets.

A new wave of “Covidpreneurs” entering the pipeline. From microventures, growing side-hustles, and solopreneurs, 2020 saw the some of the highest business formation rates in the past decade. Communities with strong support systems across all Seven Factors (see graphic right) will be well-positioned to harness this growth as part of their revitalization process.

And as a reminder, look inwards first as you explore this area. Our research demonstrates that most of your pipeline for new business growth—more than 70 percent overall—will come from entrepreneurs within your own community.

Moving forward, we view the new Resource Center as something organic and ever-evolving as we learn more from communities exploring this area and from the continuous innovation that we will seek to support through our own Field Services work in this area.

Please feel free to share with us and the Network along your Ecosystem journey! Tag us on social media using #WeAreMainStreet.

Meet the Author

MW_bio_pic.pngMatthew Wagner, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer: Matthew Wagner, Ph.D. serves as Chief Program Officer at the National Main Street Center, Inc. In this role, he is responsible for driving the Center’s field service initiatives including the development and delivery of technical services for Main Street America and Urban Main programs, directing the Center’s research agenda, as well as the recently launched New Business Development work to focus on national partnerships, brand leveraging and new business growth areas.

Read Matthew's bio.