We want to create an atmosphere of creativity, where entrepreneurs in all industries are willing to take a risk.
In January, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors officially declared 2016 the Year of the Entrepreneur (YOTE). This yearlong campaign will promote, support and recognize Sonoma County’s entrepreneurial spirit and achievements. The ultimate goal is to strengthen our entire entrepreneurial ecosystem—its entrepreneurs and every organization, agency and business that sustains them.
Entrepreneurship is where new ideas come from; it creates a diverse economy rather than a monoculture. While large companies may add a few new positions or open a new division, it’s the new businesses coming onto the scene each year that create most new jobs.
Nationwide, entrepreneurs and microbusinesses account for 90 percent of all net new job creation. Roughly 120 million workers nationwide are employed by 28 million small businesses and it’s estimated that, within the next 30 years, two out of every five people in the workforce will be entrepreneurs. Clearly, in the future, entrepreneurship will be a vital component in any healthy local economy.
In Sonoma County, more than 44,000 nonemployee businesses—“solopreneurs” (individuals who start out doing something alone)—generate $2.5 billion annually, 10 percent of the county’s total business revenue.
Other areas of the country, like Silicon Valley or Austin, Tex., have become magnets for aspiring entrepreneurs. In Sonoma County, we have our own entrepreneurial spirit, and we want to make it stronger and more successful. We want to create an atmosphere of creativity, where entrepreneurs in all industries are willing to take a risk and have the tools and resources they need to try something new.
The YOTE project itself started as an entrepreneurial idea, without money or budget (both of which are now falling into place). A 15-member founding task force planned the basic YOTE structure, but the details are evolving and expanding as the year progresses.
YOTE activities kicked off with the North Bay Make-a-Thon in March, which featured a 27-hour innovation competition with live pitches and cash prizes, plus an expo highlighting local independent creators of all ages.
Starting this spring, a series of celebratory events take place each quarter. Each series starts with inspirational talks to get people thinking about a particular issue or challenge, followed by either a Hack-a-Thon looking for a software solution or a maker event searching for a product solution.
Participants will put together a team and work on prototypical solutions for a set length of time—24 hours or more—to create a prototype that they can pitch at the third event of each quarter, with a session to select the best solutions to the challenge. At the end of the year, the best ideas will be brought together in a final pitch event. Those with top solutions will get money to further develop their ideas.
A project initiated by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB), YOTE seeks to bring a new level of attention to Sonoma County innovators and the local organizations dedicated to their success. YOTE represents a yearlong investment by public and private supporters in the future of our entrepreneurial and small business community. It’s based on the belief that Sonoma County offers a tremendous source of talent and inspiration for innovators and an ideal environment to develop new ideas, products, and services.
YOTE is an ambitious plan, but its events are designed to attract the younger talent that seems to leave Sonoma County for the greater Bay Area, time and time again. These are the types of challenges many youth want to address; it’s something they’re doing elsewhere. YOTE is an innovative approach. Entrepreneurship is about coming up with new ways to do things and using the creative process to overcome traditional barriers. When it’s successful, entrepreneurship also happens to be profitable.
This is the first time that Sonoma County business development and entrepreneurial elements have worked together to shape the future, and the EDB is relying on the community to help make it happen. We’re looking for speaker suggestions, event space, volunteers and other event support, participation from local companies and organizations, and help spreading the word. Be part of creating an entrepreneurial-attractive Sonoma County. Visit www.yote2016.com to learn how to get involved, whether as a participant, supporter or sponsor, and to check the calendar for upcoming events.
Ethan Brown is a program manager at Sonoma County Economic Development Board
. He can be reached at (707) 565-7589