Business Perspectives

Get out of your comfort zone and make real connections

A large group gathered for the first 1 Million Cups event at Wichita State University's Old Town location. (February 10, 2016)
A large group gathered for the first 1 Million Cups event at Wichita State University's Old Town location. (February 10, 2016) The Wichita Eagle file photo


’m not sure if you are keeping track, but a growing number of entrepreneurial events are taking place in our community these days.

1 Million Cups meets every Wednesday morning to hear about two new ideas or innovations being embarked upon in our community. Startup Grind brings back a successful innovator to share the lessons they learned along their path.

This summer’s FuturEpreneurship Expo showcased thriving youth programs and introduced children to hands-on entrepreneurship activities through the support of many of Wichita’s established entrepreneurs.

If you attended any (or hopefully all) of these events, I feel confident that you would have felt the energy in the room. The excitement of innovative ideas, people connecting and plans taking shape permeate these gatherings. Connections are made and relationships are formed, which is why we consider them so important to our mission.

Recently, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation decided to take a closer look at how these connections really work. As part of their KC Connector Project, Kauffman hired Dr. Karen Stephenson, a Harvard-educated anthropologist, to take a three-month, in-depth look at the Kansas City entrepreneurial and education ecosystem. Dr. Stephenson concluded that the heartland is a likely hotbed for innovation and attributed that trend to the creation of a group of people she refers to as “hybrids” – those who connect and relate with people across multiple disciplines and other social networks.

“What people are more inclined to do is connect with people of their own tribe,” Stephenson said. “But, we know that research shows that innovation comes from diverse interconnections. It comes from getting out of your comfort zone and reaching out across to other disciplines.”

Creating opportunities for these hybrid relationships to form is definitely in line with building our entrepreneurial ecosystem, but an increase in connection and innovation benefits all facets of our community. Existing businesses profit from employees with expanded horizons and new ideas. Our education system is stronger with a broader worldview and diverse resources to call upon. Government and nonprofits prosper when new, creative ideas are put on table.

Personally, I’m not surprised at Dr. Stephenson’s conclusion that new innovations have and will continue to arise from the heartland. These hybrid connections seem like a natural fit to the way our midwestern communities operate. It’s just a matter of getting back to knowing your neighbor, thinking beyond your day-to-day routine, and understanding the importance of making real connections.

This is only the first step. The power of hybrids doesn’t end with a person’s personal network. The next step is becoming a hybrid connector – making introductions, bringing together diverse people and groups. I’m hoping this is the role that many of us will choose going forward.

If you don’t know where to start, I would like to suggest you join us for 1 Million Cups on Wednesday mornings and Startup Grind on each second Thursday evening. And mark your calendars now for Global Entrepreneurship Week (Nov. 13-17) when we will host a series of Accelerate the Heartland events.

Wichita is ready. It’s time to step out of our silos and reach out beyond our tribes to move toward hybrid innovation.

Brandy Willett is manager of operations and the e2e Incubator at e2e Accelerator. Contact her at brandy@e2