Breaking the cycle of entrepreneur isolation

By Heather Wentler – StartingBlock Entrepreneur in Residence

What does the word community mean to you? Merriam-Webster defines “community” as “A group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)”, or as “A group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.,” or as “A group of nations.” They also define it as “A unified body of individuals” – I like this definition the most.

If you sat down and wrote out all of the lists of names of people who are part of the various communities you identify as being part of, which one of those lists feels most important to you? Which feels like it’s where you identify most as a person? Is it your family community? Is it your religious or spiritual community? Your activist community? Or your entrepreneurial community?

Since my role within StartingBlock Madison is Entrepreneur in Residence, I want to focus on your entrepreneurial community. How are you part of that community and what does it mean to you? Lately, I’ve been having many conversations with entrepreneurs who are feeling more and more isolated as entrepreneurs and not part of a greater community.  While there are always many layers to the feeling of isolation, I do believe isolation is always part of the entrepreneurial journey. And now more than ever before, the feeling of isolation has been heightened the past 20+ months due to COVID, restrictions, how workplaces operate, and how our entrepreneurial communities and ecosystems interact.

Most entrepreneurs are introverts. That may surprise you, but what introverts are known for is putting their heads down and “getting shit done.” They’re the people who can turn off the outside world to problem-solve, create timelines and strategies, and find solutions in ways extroverts may not see or are unable to focus on because of their personalities. This is not a knock on either type of personality, it’s a fact and part of what gives each personality superpowers in our work and lives. It’s important to recognize this because it goes back to the idea of community and how we honor each other’s superpowers. Having in-person community events (of any attendance size) does not work for many introverts. Having written communications and webinar presentations doesn’t work for many extroverts. But a blend of all of these creates more equity within spaces and supports all community members to make them feel recognized and included.

By this point in this post, you may be thinking how this relates to you, your entrepreneurial community, and your venture? It’s all connected. Go back to those lists of names for your various communities. Why are you part of them? How do you feel connected to them? What brings you joy for being part of them? How can you change them to make others who aren’t like you feel part of them? I’m betting that the communities you’re most engaged with are those where you are heard and honored. How is your entrepreneurial community doing that? And if it’s not, how can you engage so that you’re not feeling isolated, and how do you make sure others with different needs feel more accepted within those communities?

Go back to those lists of names for your various communities. Why are you part of them? How do you feel connected to them? What brings you joy for being part of them?

Not everyone is going to show up within your community if you only create opportunities that fit your needs. We need to create opportunities that may make you feel uncomfortable but help others feel like they finally belong. And you should show up when something makes you feel uncomfortable – as long as you’re invited into those spaces, having communities within communities is OK too.

If the isolation is feeling too overwhelming please seek professional support. Also, reach out to someone you feel comfortable and safe with (within your professional or personal networks) to have conversations about feeling isolated. Sometimes just acknowledging the feeling within yourself or telling someone else will help it feel lighter and remind you that you’re not the only one feeling this way. 

As someone who is active and has been part of the Wisconsin entrepreneurial community for over a decade, there have been many times that I’ve felt isolated, overlooked, or not heard within the community – still to this day. As a leader within this community, I strive to make sure you don’t feel that way too. I mess up sometimes on this, as we all do, but I try to do better and advocate for changes. I also know it’s important to pass the torch, so if you want to get more involved within the entrepreneurial community please let me know. Your voice and perspective deserve to be heard. 

Want to talk more about how to make a change within our entrepreneurial community? Or to talk about anything else related to running and working for a startup? Schedule an Office Hour with me.

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