I read a great story in Associations Now this week about how the Country Music Association had created its own start-up accelerator to “bring music-focused start-ups to Nashville”.
If country music is anything like the meetings industry, they probably got tired of having to educate start-up entrepreneurs on the nuances and dynamics of their industry on an after-the-fact basis. It’s a great way to accelerate industry innovation. It’s a great way to support passionate entrepreneurs for an industry. It’s a great way to make an industry, its quest and its communities better for the future. It’s a WIN-WIN of the highest order of magnitude.
It seems the CMA has figured-out that by being an upfront collaborator and investor with the start-up movement they can better shape the future of their industry. Other industry leadership groups like American Heart Association and National Association of Realtors have pursued a similar strategy over the last year.
So should/could this type of approach be pursued the meetings and events industry space?
It always struck me that for an industry that is as committed to industry development through education as the meetings industry is how few home-grown, game-changing industry innovations can actually trace their inspiration and support back to the industry in which they operate and serve. I’ve spoken to numerous start-up entrepreneurs and without exception they identify their biggest challenge as trying to explain the meetings industry to potential investors and employees. It’s an insurmountable obstacle for many which results in the death of many a big idea.
Of course, education and innovation are different animals. Perhaps its time for meeting industry leaders, just as the CMA did, to figure out a way to invest in the industry’s future by being a catalyst to innovation with the same spirit it does for education. Yes, this likely means putting-up some investment capital. And no, it’s not going to deliver business transactions for anyone in the next quarter which will likely be a deal-breaker for some. But it just might make a BIG difference for the industry in the next three years and beyond.
What if meeting industry leaders, by combining investments from their respective foundations and also by attracting other financial partners as investors, were able to establish an “industry innovation fund” to support start-ups in the meetings and events space? Investments could be in the form of direct equity funding and/or infrastructure support such as through the establishment of a start-up accelerator or incubator. The fund could even create an event bringing together meeting industry start-up entrepreneurs, potential mentors and investors. The overall objective of this initiative is to attract innovators and investors to the meetings industry space, give their big ideas a chance to take shape through mentorship and investment and then deploy them into the industry ecosystem.
An investment in industry education will help the industry benefit now from what we know today. An investment in innovation will help the industry discover its future in order to ensure meetings and events remain powerful business and organizational platforms tomorrow.