By Lisa Bingham
Over the three days of the recent BALLE conference, I was exposed to many inspiring people and a lot of new ideas. One of my favorite ideas comes from June Holley, former president and CEO of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) and now a Network Weaver. Ms. Holley was one of the keynote speakers on Thursday evening, and told a wonderfully inspiring story about the kitchen incubator she helped get started. As interesting as it was to hear about the success stories that spun out of that incubator, two ideas that really caught my attention were of being rhizomatic and a network weaver.
For those of you who aren’t gardeners or who don’t remember your middle school biology class, a rhizome is a type of root that sends out shoots and roots from a central nub. Think of ginger – it starts out small with a stocky core and then develops buds and branches. In relation to microbusinesses and entrepreneurship, it comes down to the same thing. Someone or some group starts with a core business idea, such as the kitchen incubator that Ms. Holley spoke about. This endeavor then branches out to include other enterprises that may be peripheral to the core idea but help to support the core idea. An example of this is a business that distributes the products made in the kitchen, or a promotional services that assists with branding and marketing. This is what is meant by being rhizomatic. Add the networks each individual brings, and these business can be expanded even further.
This is tied in to the concept of network weavers. These are people who can bring together key elements that make business networks thrive. They are people who can identify key players and bring them together. We all know these people – the people who seem to know everyone and can put you in touch with just the right person you need to further your great new idea. They are the people who develop that core idea into a rhizomatic system, bringing in the people and business to develop the branches from the root. For more information on network weavers, check out networkweaving or this brief video by June Holley.
To be fair, rhizomatic systems have been used previously in other contexts, as I found during a recent Google search. This was my first exposure to the concept, however, and I find the concept quite captivating. Entwining this idea with that of network weavers provides for a dynamic environment for creation, innovation, and making things happen. June Holley’s kitchen incubator story provided a good example of how this concept can work and be very successful.
What I missed from Judy Holley’s presentation were the challenges that had to be overcome for these systems to be successful. What made the kitchen incubator flourish when so many other business attempts fail? Was it because of the rhizomatic nature of the program? It can’t be as simple as having good people skills to develop strong networks or having a killer business idea. Was it because they kept their focus on local development, a neighbors helping neighbors approach? Regardless of the answers, I think that any endeavor that brings people together to solve problems and build community will add something beneficial to the lives of those involved.
Lisa Bingham recently graduated from the University of Colorado with an MBA and an MS Environmental Studies, focusing on sustainable real estate and environmental sociology. She is pursuing a career in sustainable community development. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.