Entrepreneurs as Community Leaders

Briana Warner
Posted 2016-09-06

We know from working on Maine’s islands that community leaders tend to wear many hats – they serve on non-profit boards, they volunteer at the school or eldercare facility, they serve on their select board and, more often than not, they own their own business. It is becoming clear to me that entrepreneurs have a special ability to tackle important community issues with an eye toward innovative solutions.

In fact, the dictionary definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” I’m not the first one to see a link between the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur and an effective community leader –there are many multidisciplinary studies on the subject. However, a recent visit to Deer Isle emphasized to me the important role that a business community can play in sustaining their community.

The conversation started simply enough. On the phone was a businessman from Deer Isle village who said he was interested in working with other entrepreneurs in the area to revitalize the town’s Main Street. He wanted to know more about the Island Institute’s Economic Development Program and how it might be useful to the revitalization efforts.

After hearing some of the challenges facing the town, we decided that it would be a good idea for Island Institute staff to visit and meet with the group of business people. Given that any revitalization effort takes municipal buy-in, I was thrilled that our Community Development Director, Karen Burns, was able to join as well to give her valuable perspective on leadership and municipal process.

A few weeks later, Karen and I found ourselves touring beautiful Deer Isle village. The view, though, was not half as inspiring as the dedicated group of business people we met next. At the Pilgrim’s Inn, we had lunch with about ten entrepreneurs who clearly care deeply about their town and are dedicated to seeing a sustainable future for a Main Street that has seen years of booms and busts.

The strength of their group was not only inspiring, but could be an incredibly effective tool in realizing sustained community efforts to improve Main Street.

I was struck at how many of the challenges discussed at the meeting were similar to those faced by other communities with whom we work. We drew on successful examples from elsewhere and brainstormed with the group about new ideas. More importantly, we highlighted to this committee of entrepreneurs that the strength of their group was not only inspiring, but could be an incredibly effective tool in realizing sustained community efforts to improve Main Street. Their cohesiveness of mission and desire to innovate showed all of the hallmarks of successful community leadership.

The work that the community is doing on Deer Isle is extremely important, and we look forward to working with them as they continue to pursue their goals. No matter how the group of business people move forward, I am excited to share with other communities the Deer Isle example of looking to entrepreneurs as community leaders and agents of social change.

Whether an entrepreneur is fishing, farming, running a bed and breakfast, lawn business, or contracting company, they are constantly seeking efficiencies and driving innovation for their work. Community leaders have to do the same in finding solutions to community challenges. If communities are looking to jumpstart new initiatives by recruiting new, effective leadership, they might be well served by looking to the men and women running businesses. 


The Deer Isle Village ad hoc committee earnestly invites new and constructive ideas and welcomes the participation of interested year round and summer families. Deer Isle village is a unique asset. The goal of those who assembled this summer is to bring life to this unique village community. For further information, interested parties should feel free to contact any of the following: