Juan Valtierra of East Moline walked into a Quad Cities Big Table event excited about his business idea and walked out inspired.
“I’m just a young person trying to make a difference,” said Valtierra, who wants to open a music and dance studio for youth. “I want to use my talents to give back to the community.”
Valtierra joined about 50 others for the Quad Cities Chamber and Q2030 Regional Action Plan event on April 26 at Western Illinois University — Quad Cities. The first of five public Big Table forums over two days focused on developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem, in which new and small business owners can network with other small and larger businesses.
“This community has always had mainstays for small business development,” said Julie Forsythe, Vice President of Business Services and Entrepreneurship for the Chamber. Special mentions were given to CoworkQC, Quad Cities SCORE, Small Business Development Center offices at WIU and Eastern Iowa Community College, Junior Achievement of the Heartland and Riverbend Angels.
“We’re here for a reason,” said Tom Trone with Quad Cities SCORE and Riverbend Angels. “We all know entrepreneurship is core to creating a thriving and vibrant community.”
Participants divided themselves into small groups for about 45 minutes of discussion before coming back together and sharing their takeaways. Ideas included funding new business ventures, job shadowing successful entrepreneurs, high school and college entrepreneurial clubs, teaching coding as a class in high school, increasing awareness of available resources and forgivable loans for new businesses.
Anyone developing a business should not be afraid of risk and failure, said Susan Zelnio, director of programs, workforce development for the Moline Foundation, who presented her small group’s ideas.
“We need to destigmatize that if you fail, that’s it,” she said. “We want people to fail. Plenty of very successful people failed at an earlier age.”
Pat Peacock of Davenport, who’s retired from the U.S. Army, said the Quad Cities entrepreneurial community would do well to bridge what still is considered an Iowa-Illinois divide.
“We need to fight the misconceptions that are out there,” Peacock said. “We have to be our biggest cheerleaders.”
Some businesses have found success when they partner with the local city council and other agencies, said Dennis Naranjo of Moline, a commercial lender for DuTrac Community Credit Union. He appreciated Friday’s event for helping small businesses.
“This event is one of the best that could be put together to promote businesses and connect people in the region,” Naranjo said.
Friday’s Big Table attracted some participants from outside the Quad Cities, including Audrey Kamm with the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We are inspired by what you guys are doing here,” she said.