Earlier this month, The US Surgeon General published a report on the long-term health effects of the epidemic of loneliness in America.
According to his report, social isolation can increase risk of health problems like heart disease and stroke.
Social connection, on the other hand, reduces the risk for premature mortality by 29 percent.
In the entrepreneurial ecosystem building world, we often focus on the economic, social, and business benefits of building strong connections between entrepreneurs and the organizations who support them.
But it’s important to consider the impact of strong community ecosystems on the mental health of everyone involved—especially the entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely journey, especially for those who:
- Have recently left a job with lots of coworkers and colleagues
- Are starting a business without a partner or founding team
- Don’t have many supportive relationships in their life outside of the business
If you add the loneliness of entrepreneurship to the enormous levels of stress and emotional intensity involved, it’s easy to see why entrepreneurs are vulnerable to mental health struggles in general, and even some of the other health outcomes detailed above.
So how do we address this problem? How do we mitigate the negative effects of the entrepreneurial journey, which we should be celebrating, among the “starters” in our own communities?
It starts with reimagining the typical narrative around entrepreneurship.
The Typical Narrative
If you scroll on social media for long enough, or listen to enough podcasts, or follow enough entrepreneurship “influencers” on YouTube, you’re sure to encounter some recurring messages about starting a business.
An entrepreneur is a lone wolf, according to these narratives (and usually a young white man). Upon a stroke of genius inspiration, he quits his boring day job to “hustle” and “grind” in his basement, working until 2am on his business idea. He also gets up at 5:30am to journal, work out, and read financial news.
He watches interviews of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos as he eats. He doesn’t need 8 hours of sleep—he gets his energy from internal motivation and discipline.
He doesn’t have time for friends, romance, or a family. Those matters are beneath him, because he has a business to work on.
Yes, this is a bit of a caricature, but you know what we’re talking about.
If a life like this lone entrepreneur’s sounds exhausting and impossible, that’s because it is. But this is what we’re told entrepreneurs look like. It’s the imaginary ideal that entrepreneurs are implicitly told to emulate.
If we keep this image of an entrepreneur, we won’t make any progress in supporting the starters in our own communities. We’ll only set them up for failure.
In reality, entrepreneurs are an incredibly diverse group of people.
All of these entrepreneurs had to build their businesses out in their communities—not their basements. They had to talk to potential customers constantly as they built out their business models. They had families and communities who relied on them.
The reality is that a business needs at least two people to exist: the founder and the customer. Entrepreneurship, therefore, cannot be treated as a solo sport. It is, quite literally, a communal endeavor.
So how can our entrepreneurial ecosystems reflect this reality?
First, we have to model a spirit of collaboration ourselves as ecosystem builders and entrepreneur champions.
This may seem obvious, but the emergence of the “ecosystem building” industry can lead many to subconsciously assume that ecosystems exist for their own sake. Many communities are plagued by a spirit of competition and a mindset of scarcity.
This attitude reinforces the idea that we all work in silos, which is the opposite of the message we want to communicate.
And second, we have to work to connect entrepreneurs with not only the resources in the community, but with each other. Entrepreneurs need community, but they especially need people to bond with over the businesses they’re working on. (Even when they have families, entrepreneurs often don’t want to bring their work home with them.)
That’s why all CO.STARTERS programs use the cohort model. It brings entrepreneurs together to learn with and from each other. When asked about the most beneficial aspect of CO.STARTERS Core, our alumni always mention the relationships and connections forged within the cohort. This is an intentional feature of the program.
At the end of the day, we want to use entrepreneurship to transform our communities into places that are better and brighter for everyone. This means working to make entrepreneurship in our communities a joyful endeavor that looks attractive and sustainable.
And in the words of our core philosophy at CO.STARTERS, that means investing in the individual while putting community first.