By Dean Whittaker

The concept for an entrepreneurial guild came to me while researching a response to a recent request for proposal. I was searching for a Blue Ocean Strategy in which the community would make their competition irrelevant by creating a new paradigm. But, what I came up with was a two-fold approach.

First, it was a focus on open source economic development to establish a framework within which to operate where collaboration becomes the mantra rather than competition. Someone once said, Collaboration is what happens when completion fails. Be that it may, collaboration within a regional context may be the best strategy to accomplish their goal. A good example of this approach is the SPARK in Ann Arbor, MI (

And second, while reading the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, in which he investigates the geographic sources of pockets of talent, I conceptualized the idea of the entrepreneurial guild (eGuild). The eGuild would function much like the guilds of Florence, Italy during the Renaissance of the 1400’s. In these guilds, apprentices worked with master craftsmen for a period of time (five years) to learn the craft ( The guilds of this period produced Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. A modern day example of a guild is the work of Thomas Malone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who champions a variant of the guild structure for modern “e-lancers”, professionals who do mostly telework for multiple employers.

According to the Kauffman Index of Enterpreneurial Activity, there were 530,000 new businesses created per month in 2008. The high failure rates for startups (44% within the first two years) are well known. But, what if, there was an entrepreneurial guild (eGuild) in which a would-be entrepreneur served an apprenticeship to learn those skills to help their business thrive? What if the eGuild was given an equity interest in these firms to keep them engaged in the mentoring of the startup?

As we look across the entrepreneurial landscape, we see that most new business startups, did, in fact start from someone working within another firm, learning the trade and then starting their own firm. Perhaps existing companies operate as unintentional guilds already. But, what would happen if they did it by design? Could we create a structure that would generate a high success rate and provide the employment and expanding tax base that communities seek?