Why I Started Entrepreneurs Assembly

by Matt Westfield, Adams Hub Entrepreneur in Residence

matt westfield portraitEntrepreneurs Assembly (EA) was born in the shadow of the Great Recession, in 2011. A lifelong, serial entrepreneur, I had years of experience in mentoring business plan competitors and assisting startups. But as the “recovery” staggered forward I found myself interacting with a striking number of displaced professionals who’d lost their jobs to the recession and were attempting to reinvent themselves. For many of them, starting a business was a survival strategy fueled by desperation.

Time was of the essence for many of these aspiring entrepreneurs. Many years before this (2003), a buddy and I decided to build a startup curriculum module that we’d never seen anywhere else. It was straightforward and action-oriented, providing a starting point for an entrepreneur to help shake out his or her business model, add chronological marketing steps, and build a plan to stay on track and reach his or her goals.

We revived and expanded that curriculum for these post-recession startups, and realized that we needed to create a network that could engage, nurture and foster accountability among these startups. Structured in 30-day intervals, the network meetings would keep the founders on track and get them to the customer more quickly and more effectively–with a good value proposition and a compelling story to tell. This new network turned out to be the precursor to Entrepreneurs Assembly.

To build the network we sought an initial partner to provide us with meeting space. We met with the economic development folks who needed the metrics for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which we could build. We met with UNR, who wanted to develop a minor in Entrepreneurism, and also needed a place to direct the entrepreneurs who were hatched by the business program at the University.  Other partners referred potential entrepreneurs to us. The response to the Entrepreneurism curriculum was electrifying.

One of the biggest benefits of the course is that it helped foster accountability. As people began to graduate though, we also discovered a new need: entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs who now needed a way to keep on track and maintain forward momentum. So, the Entrepreneurs Assembly (www.EA-NV.org) was formed with two mentors and two startups who’d come through the class and wanted more hands-on guidance.

In four years, EA has grown from a one-chapter program with a mentor and two founders to three chapters in Northern Nevada mentoring about 100 startups each month. We are proud to build a new chapter in conjunction with the Adams Hub for innovation, launched in Carson City, and delighted to say that we’ve just passed the “1,000th company founder served” mark since our inception.

EA has a very simple, yet compelling model, with a peer-to-peer engagement strategy that holds participants accountable within 30-day intervals. First, when someone signs in they are automatically agreeing that anything divulged in the room stays in the room unless expressly permitted (by the specific founder) to share that information with those outside of EA.

Everyone in the room is held to an ethical and behavioral model which respects the participants, offers constructive critiques and nurtures creativity. As well, participants are encouraged to open and share networks and resources with others in the organization.

Meetings begin with introductions, business, and last month’s “marching orders update,” whether completed or not. Marching Orders are the action items that each participant has committed to for the 30-day period following the previous meeting.

After a quick break, facilitators divide participants into round tables with about 5 or 6 entrepreneurs and one or two mentor/facilitators at each. The next two hours are devoted to the roundtable sessions, with equal time for each participant who has completed their assignments from the prior meetings they attended.

If a founder doesn’t complete their respective marching orders from the prior month, for any reason, they’re welcome to attend the next meeting, but not permitted to take time from the ones who’ve completed their assignments and are prepared for the next session of business development. This ensures that maximum energy is offered to the founders who are executing their plans.

The mentor/facilitator’s job is to keep everyone on track, keep conversations constructive, encourage peer input and not allow anyone to dominate. Mentors-facilitators are also not expected (or wanted) to be the font of wisdom and “answers.” Energy is focused on one speaker at a time. We’ve found that the true power and dynamic rests with each entrepreneur’s ability to share, contribute and learn throughout each session.

The results of each meeting are energy, focus, and dynamic networks of like-minded people of every age who live it, breathe it and “get” it.

EA is open to the entire business community, from someone with a new business idea to founders of startups, new businesses, flat businesses, or businesses in need of turnaround. There is no cost to participate.

EA Carson launched in August and meets on the third Wednesday of every month. For more information, contact grow@adams hub, or call 775.222.0001. You can also visit ea-nv.org to learn more about the organization and all its chapters.