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“Access to venture capital.”

This is the number one answer we get from small business owners and entrepreneurs when asked about their business needs. But guess what? I’m here to tell you that’s not actually the case.

What many entrepreneurs and start-up owners don’t realize is the value of social capital.

Defined by Edward McKeever, Alistair Anderson and Sarah Jack, experts in the field of entrepreneurial research, as “resources embedded in networks and accessed through social connections,” social capital is attained through relationship building, community engagement and shared experiences. And, lucky for Missoula’s entrepreneurs, there’s an opportunity to do just that at the second annual Last Best Conference.

Last Best Conference, or LBCon, as those in the know like to call it, is a unique event designed to bring entrepreneurs, creators, innovators and thinkers together to build community and inspire the pursuit of ideas.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 2-3, 16 speakers from across the state and country will share their stories, lead breakout sessions and connect with conference attendees to spark innovation and community.

Aside from the mainstage speaking engagements, LBCon encourages participants to engage with each other through breakout sessions, academies, film, art and music. So, why LBCon, and why Missoula?

If you’ve been paying attention to local news, you’ve probably heard that Missoula is a hotbed for entrepreneurial and start-up activity. In fact, Missoula has the ninth highest business startup rate in the nation, according to a study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

In response to those findings, and in order to cultivate and expand the strong entrepreneurial activity alive and thriving in Missoula, LBCon organizers came together to provide a space for community building. And therein lies the importance of community events: creating the connections necessary to make ideas happen.

Why are events like Last Best Conference important? The short answer: community.

Entrepreneurship is only possible through relationship building, and the social capital necessary to build community and hype around a brand is often the most valuable asset a start-up can possess.

Furthermore, ideas aren’t born in a vacuum. Community events create the space and context for innovative brainstorming and collaboration. LBCon’s key values are creativity, courage and community. I’m excited to see what comes out of this unique fusion of entrepreneurial spirit, business-savvy leadership and fun.

LBCon’s key values are creativity, courage and community. I’m excited to see what comes out of this unique fusion of entrepreneurial spirit, fun and business-savvy leadership.

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James Grunke is president and chief executive officer of the Missoula Economic Partnership. He writes a monthly column for the Missoulian’s Sunday Western Montana InBusiness section.

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