Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Danville

Andrea Margida and Dr. Anthony Margida, CentreWorks

To build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, you have to develop a culture of trust and collaboration that allows people to interact successfully.

That’s the purpose behind CentreWorks, which was established by Centre College in 2020. The program seeks to serve as a catalyst for building community, establishing resilience and stimulating economic growth in Danville, Kentucky, and seven surrounding counties.

We spoke with Dr. Anthony Margida and Andrea Margida, who are CentreWorks’ executive directors and a married couple, about the program.

What brought you to CentreWorks?

Andrea: Anthony and I are ecosystem architects. We were brought on by Centre College to take a look at Danville ecosystem and suggest what should be put in place based on what is already here. What’s working? Where are the gaps? We call what we do the human-centered approach to innovation. It begins with loads of one-on-one interviews and talking to the people who live here to better understand it.

Anthony: Andrea and I have spent our careers in innovation and entrepreneurship, for both profits and nonprofits. We formed a business to create environments for other organizations, like communities, colleges and corporations, which includes building accelerators, incubators and environments for innovation.

How does creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem differ in a town like Danville?

Andrea: We’ve done projects across the country, as well as globally. It is a mistake to think, ‘Hey, this worked in San Francisco, let’s plug it in to our city.’ You can’t operate like that. You have to find out what a place is all about and what its people are like. Then you help that area become the best version of itself. When we were brought on board by Center College, we looked at it as an opportunity to pull together not just a college and a town, but also a college and a county, and six surrounding counties.

What did you learn from the people in the town?

Andrea: A lot of people don’t even consider themselves entrepreneurs here. So we have to engage with them earlier. We bring people through our programs, and they start to realize, Oh my gosh, I can do this. I can build something. We intentionally pull the college into the broader community, so we’re building relationships while people work side by side.

Anthony: We meet entrepreneurs very early in their journeys, even before the idea development. Our programs are designed to instill the entrepreneurial mindset and put it into experiential practice through programs that cover the journey from ideation to collaboration to launch.

How do you teach an entrepreneurial mindset?

Anthony: We help people learn the disposition of being an entrepreneur, which includes characteristics like empathy, gaining comfort with ambiguity, grit, perseverance and curiosity — all of those things. The second part of that is our innovation process.

What does that entail exactly?

Anthony: We teach a human-centered approach to innovation. It’s a form of design thinking that involves pulling in the human perspective to all aspects of the problem-solving process.

Andrea: Our entrepreneurs go out and have lots of conversations — we call them empathy interviews — to gain insights from the people they want to serve. From that, they identify a problem. They brainstorm solutions. They put together a conceptual prototype. They go back to the people they want to serve and gather more input and feedback. Then they optimize and evolve into a value proposition that’s ultimately going to be the platform for their new business, whether it’s a product or a service or a hybrid of that.

We also dial into some foundational learning based upon legal aspects, cashflow aspects, digital marketing, etc. So when they graduate, they’re prepared to take that next step and get about the business.

Anthony: We’ve seen what goes on in San Francisco and Boston and Cleveland and Cincinnati. We wanted to take on the Danville challenge. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to demonstrate our best practices. It’s exciting to see it take hold.

Andrea: You know even midsize major cities all started somewhere. You have to see what’s happening in your own backyard and embrace that.