If I Knew Then

About the company:  

Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) is a nonprofit created to funnel to create opportunities to put the entrepreneur in front of “whale investors,” and Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE) connects Triangle-area and statewide investors with coastal startups.

The Mistake:

Sticking with the status quo and expecting to get ahead.

I was really struggling to find my place in the business community when I was in my late 20s, living in a fast-growing city in the New South. Maybe I should not have expected many leadership opportunities at that age, but I did not know any better.

I was very involved in the city and was so active in the local chamber of commerce – so much so that people thought I was an employee. Per usual as a newcomer to a new city, I did not have the right last name that locals knew, and my nasal Chicago accent made it clear I was not from this area of the South.

I expected to get ahead by sticking with the status quo. That was not the case. By continuing with business as usual, I wasn’t advancing my career goals or the entrepreneurial potential of the city.

You have to decide if it is worth it to go against the grain.

The Lesson:

I read about how other cities were growing their startup communities, and I noticed our city was missing out on this important economic development trend. I started a nonprofit to hold monthly events for local entrepreneurs where they could learn from keynote speakers and meet the people who could help grow their business. The events were always about how to get more money in the hands of the entrepreneurs with topics about raising capital or increasing sales.

Another tough lesson to learn is that some people only hear the negative, instead of taking the time to hear that the city needed to evolve, to grow the next generation of employers to create better-paying jobs. Being a change agent in a city can cause ripples and can alienate the very people whose help you need to succeed. These current city leaders often have the resources, funding and contacts that your efforts need.

But had I not gone against the grain, this would not have succeeded. The only way to recover from this marginalization or alienation is to achieve results beyond expectations. Through hard work and persistence, I delivered on what the startup entrepreneurs needed.  At the end of the day, if you want to be a true change agent, you have to decide if it is worth it to go against the grain. And if you do, decide where are the resources and fuel going to come from so you can have a positive impact on the city where you live.

Follow Jim Roberts on Twitter at @redspireusnc.