Leading Indicators

Posted on Dec 1, 2010 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

THERE’S NO DOUBT SMALL businesses drive job growth. A new report looks to measure and track entrepreneurial activity across the New North.

New North, Inc. came together with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Small Business Development Center to develop and maintain the Northeast Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Activity Index.

While work began on the index a few years ago – it’s based on an index first developed by the University of Michigan-Dearborn – the first index was released this fall. Quarterly updates are expected.

The index is designed to measure entrepreneurial activity in the region and to track its growth (or decline) over time, says Bob O’Donnell, director of UW-Oshkosh’s Small Business Development Center.

This is the first time a regional index like this is being done. On the state and national level, the Kaufman Foundation for Entrepreneurship runs numbers, but New North had no idea of what the regional picture looked like, says Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center at Fox Valley Technical College and chair of the New North Small Business and Entrepreneurial Taskforce.
“It’s always good to have a starting measure so we can benchmark and track our success,” she says. “This one is specific to the New North so we will be able to compare how we’re doing on both state and national levels.”

O’Donnell says the index showed about 10 base points increase in entrepreneurial activity between 2005 when New North, Inc. was created and 2009. At the same time, however, the level of intellectual property creation declined, as did access to capital.

The index will help identify areas where strategies may be modified or services need to be changed to create a better entrepreneurial environment in the New North, Pietsch says.

“One area where we know we struggle with is the number of patents from this area so we will look at things we can do to drive more innovation in that area,” she says.

The small business taskforce will also be able to look at the index and align what they’re doing to help move the numbers upward, Pietsch says.

The index will be released once a quarter to local media and policymakers to show the return on investment that supporting entrepreneurship brings, O’Donnell says.

At the Venture Center, Pietsch says they’ll be able to look at the data collected and help provide guidance to the entrepreneurs and small business owners they work with. “We’re going to share what we learn from this index with our participants and it will help us provide a better experience,” she says.

While the taskforce is excited about the index, Pietsch says the group will continue to build on the strong networking and educational work already completed. “There’s been a lot of sharing and learning done and we will continue that and use the index to help us take it to the next level,” she says