Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor and diligent genius who earned 1,093 patents over his lifetime. Often working 18-hour days in a cramped lab, he took his meals at his desk. He reserved time for few things besides his work, neglecting vacations, sleep and often, bathing. It's the classic story of grit, hustle and good old-fashioned hard work. But something is missing from this story ... actually, there is a lot missing.
The idea of the lone, lonely inventor is a myth. Edison was surrounded by equally obsessed lab technicians that put in the same 18-hour days. That pervasive myth leaves out the messy yet beautiful process: collaboration. The sharing of a common vision. Moving from "my idea" to "our project" takes many hands not attached to the founder title.
The process of building a company from a dream is often an arduous and lonely venture. The promise of freedom draws many to the entrepreneurial lifestyle; no overbearing boss, crippling bureaucracy, or unnecessary meetings. However, by the same token, starting a business lacks the structure and built-in support system of a traditional work environment. The day-to-day reality for many entrepreneurs is working tireless hours hunched over laptops in loud coffee shops or at cluttered kitchen tables. Without upper management to turn to for guidance or co-workers to bounce ideas off, it can be difficult to know where to even begin.
Innovation and creativity require people working together at all levels. Working in shared, collaborative spaces helps founders better avoid the early bumps in the road that can make-or-break a company. While company concepts and industries are wide ranging, the basic steps, processes, obstacles and pitfalls are the same. In these environments, new business owners enhance their company by tapping into the corporate and creative experience, resources and skill sets of their immediate counterparts.
For instance, the EdTech founder's experience in digital marketing taught them how to develop a consumer pipeline. The data analytics founder knows how to interpret the information once a pipeline has been created through marketing channels, and years of working directly with patients developed the HealthTech founder's understanding of how to provide excellent customer service. The cross-pollination that occurs from having these parties in a shared space gives them access to a network of knowledge and resources otherwise out of reach for a company in its infancy.
Connecting founders to resources that support a shared vision is the mission of Innovation DuPage (ID). As a space designed for collaboration, ID offers entrepreneurs and small business owners a road map for turning ideas into viable commercial ventures. There is an intentionality to the process that enables entrepreneurs to efficiently build a startup by searching for product/market fit rather than blindly executing on assumptions.
Startup founders receive guidance while they craft a scalable business model, define their value proposition, enhance their competitive differentiation and collect customer insights. Vetted mentors assist entrepreneurs through rounds of constructive feedback grounded in expertise. By sharing knowledge and pushing founders out of their comfort zone, entrepreneurs learn to effectively grow or pivot. Considering all of these benefits, I recommend that founders in the Chicagoland area join innovation communities that best fit their needs.
Successful entrepreneurs search for the truth about their ideas -- wherever that may lead. Failing fast and moving forward is an important advantage of working in a community of entrepreneurs. Operating out of a safe and nurturing environment results in more successes and fewer failures than when founders go it alone. The process develops more resilient entrepreneurs who have a dedicated support network mirroring the experience of Thomas Edison.
Until next time remember: "Genius doesn't fade just because we stopped watching."
• Travis Linderman is managing director of Innovation DuPage and has served as director for three venture incubators.