and taught me the importance of market access!
by Lee Krieg
On October 6th, 2015, I had the honor of hosting a group of nine visitors from Europe who came as part of The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The individuals were from Albania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine. Most of the individuals work towards fostering entrepreneurship and industry in there own countries. Academia was well represented, several individuals were responsible for technology parks and one was a member of Parliament.
As part of their visit to greater Cincinnati, the group took a tour of The Manufactory. Most of them were familiar with the makerspace concept so there were a lot of specific questions about how we operate and the ways in which we help people start and grow businesses. The term makerspace is a broad one and is used to describe many different types of facilities. Our space fit their ideal very well because it can be used as a platform to develop and launch new ideas into the marketplace. The group was primarily eastern European, but extremely diverse. Thankfully all of them spoke English very well, so communication did not require interpreters and involved discussions could occur. Even though the group had been traveling together only a few days I could see friendships among many of them.
My wife Pam and I also attended a meet and greet in the evening where four of them described their efforts in more detail during a panel presentation. It was a great opportunity to learn more about their work and the triumphs and the barriers they face. All worked under a variety of governments with varying degrees of support available. The common thread that I heard from all of them was a difficulty in accessing markets, particularly western Europe and the U.S. They have ideas, products and labor to sell but cannot break into these large markets. Some of these countries are very small and have populations comparable to greater Cincinnati. The ability to sell outside their borders is critical for economic growth.
I view this as a parallel to the experience faced by American entrepreneurs. As big businesses grow bigger in this country, they are putting up more and more barriers to small business participation. Great ideas and products can come from anywhere, large organizations are missing opportunities when they fail to consider great innovations taking place in garages and places like The Manufactory. There needs to be more avenues of access for small businesses to interact with big business. Brick and mortar retailers decry the rise of companies like Amazon, mostly because they find themselves unable to compete, but they also fail to recognize the democracy of Amazon. If you have something to sell, Amazon will put it in their store. The brick and mortars, particularly the big boxes, need to make it easier for small businesses to get their products on store shelves. I must admit to a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I love the opportunities they create for small businesses but I hate how they are eroding the traditional retail model. But when it comes down to it, business is dog-eat-dog and that means some dogs will be eaten.
I would again like to thank Michelle Harpenau of the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council for inviting us to participate.