Which factors contribute most to business resiliency? To the resilience of innovation ecosystems and economies? It may surprise you to learn that the mindsets of people within the business are as predictive as use of technology or access to capital.

That’s the message of Theo Edmonds, JD, MHA, MFA, and Cameron Lister, MPH, co-founders of UPOP, a research firm that uses a data-based approach to look at “specific culture signals that reliably predict performance outcomes, employee wellbeing, and growth.” UPOP helps companies see cultural factors that point to resilience in their future.

Edmonds and Lister started UPOP as a research project within a National Science Foundation-sponsored research center in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2021, they moved operations to Denver and played a leading role in structuring Energize Colorado’s Small Business Resilience Index (SBRI), a tool we designed to help businesses and policy makers better understand Colorado’s current small business landscape.

SBRI Spotlights the Whole Human 

The SBRI includes data from surveys sent to approximately 14,000 small business owners from Energize Colorado’s database. Incorporating Edmonds’ and Lister’s holistic approach to business health, the SBRI analyzes metrics of social capital with those of operational capital. More typical business metrics (operations and technology) are measured alongside those of hope, trust, and belonging—the “whole human.”

What do hope, trust, and belonging mean in business? Hope measures how businesses set goals for the future and find ways around barriers to success. Trust includes receiving guidance from the state and trusting state leadership. Belonging measures how owners feel the business and they belong in the broader community, crucial to shared success.

“What has surprised people most is that hope, trust, and belonging are so strongly predictive of success as opposed to operational metrics, like cash on hand, sales, profit, and so on,” says Lister.

The Challenge—and the Opportunity

The SBRI reveals opportunities to improve factors that contribute to resilience among Colorado’s small businesses. For example, during the last two years, a lack of timely and consistent information from all levels of government led many businesses to distrust the wide range of programs made available to them. That distrust further reduced their access to capital, technical assistance, and other resources that could have directly supported them and contributed to the state’s small business economic recovery. Trust was even further eroded among BIPOC and Veteran communities. 

Many small businesses also lacked a strong future orientation (hope). Those with higher levels of optimism and adaptability fared far better in economic recovery. 

“We’re used to thinking about business in linear processes,” says Edmonds. “Looking at people and businesses—at innovation ecosystems—in that way is no longer serving most of us by any data measure. Research has clearly shown that hope, belonging, and trust are predictive of how willing or not willing people are to engage, to create social capital, to utilize resources offered to them, all of which contributes to business resilience.”

The Future: Culturally Responsive Economies

The SBRI provides an efficient way to identify the earliest signals of where the economic and business market may be going, and how to unlock the dormant capacity of diverse entrepreneurs to build those markets. “What we’ve done over the last several years is essentially find a Rosetta stone for understanding different types of groups that allows us to understand where people might fall within resilience and innovation,” says Edmonds.

When state economic leaders address cultural factors, explains Lister, “not only will you solve economic issues and problems, but at the same time, you’ll solve human issues and problems, which will provide more resiliency in the face of challenges in the future.”

“Let’s get state and local leaders to understand the role hope, trust, and belonging have on economic development” says Lister. “Let’s take the measures to start figuring out culturally responsive approaches to solving system  problems that impact our economy.” 

Read more about Theo Edmonds and Cameron Lister, the SBRI, and UPOP.

Historically, capital hasn’t been easy to come by in the Midwest. Cultivating the startup ecosystem in Cincinnati required a new strategy to attract the capital needed to catalyze growth for founders eager to disrupt big markets with big ideas. Cintrifuse’s fund-of-funds strategy (modeled after the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund in Ann Arbor, MI) was a big bet. The strategy was beautifully executed with the incredible talent and dedication of people like Tim Schigel. Tim and I have remained close friends and colleagues ever since. 

After leading the investment committee for the Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund, Tim went on to found Refinery Ventures, a Midwest firm that invests in early-stage companies and offers mentorship to founders between post-seed and Series A funding. Last year Refinery Ventures launched a new podcast series, Fast Frontier Podcast, which explores “how innovation frontiers are emerging in surprising places.” It was fun sharing my story with Tim. We explored chapters in my entrepreneurial journey and personal success strategies, particularly the importance of taking risks, maintaining a beginner’s mind, and building relationships. Along with insatiable curiosity, fast learning, the right support from others, and willingness to try something new, my drive to forge new relationships has been a theme throughout my professional life.

Make Potential Your North Star

For me, success started with something my mother told me: “You’re in charge of your own potential, so make that potential your North Star.” In fact, entrepreneurship wasn’t my focus when I started out. I was highly inquisitive, filled with a thousand ideas, and loved to make genuine connections with lots of people. I still do! I was also crystal clear about one thing—my independence. As I told Tim, “My North Star, even as a very young woman graduating from university, was to be independent. I did not want to be dependent on family or friends for wherever I was headed. I wanted to pave my own way [and] be self-directed in the pursuit of my professional goals.”

A tough sense of independence has served me well. I advise my mentees with that insight in mind. Through the many pivots in my career, I’ve continually succeeded by answering key questions: What is my potential? How can I learn from others and build relationships toward realizing that potential? Answering those, I’ve been clear in mapping my professional path. 

Listen to the full episode.

Each time I’m interviewed about my work, the back and forth of the interview reveals new insights. As I lens my answers through memories and experiences, insights rush forward from learnings. And, as in this new podcast, I recall leaders who have significantly influenced my professional choices and guided me through many chapters of my entrepreneurial journey.  It was fun to record this interview with Gregg Garrett of Corporate Growth Strategy (CGS) Advisors for the You, Me, and Your Top Three podcast, which focuses on “exploring leadership in the connecting world.” 

In the episode, I share what I’ve learned from my most influential mentors, including Randall Murphy, a business owner who took a chance on me when I was young; Brad Feld, Managing Director of Foundry Group and co-founder of Techstars; and Bob McDonald, former CEO of P&G.

Highlights of our conversation include:

  • Why a “student of the game” mindset is essential in the entrepreneurial space.
  • How a teaching mindset helped me navigate the tech industry.
  • Risk and VC investments—and the importance of getting comfortable with risk. 
  • Why social impact matters in for-profit business.
  • How to leverage key experiences into new opportunities.
  • Why embracing fear is necessary to learning and success.

Listen to the episode.