The SourceLink team has kept a close eye out for updates since the U.S. Small Business Administration first released the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Community Navigator Pilot Program. The program aims to place significant financial resources into organizations that wish to be hubs or spokes of entrepreneurship support and ecosystem-building efforts in their communities—particularly those organizations with deep roots in targeting underserved communities. With the July 12 application deadline fast approaching, we wanted to address a few frequently asked questions about the program and funding opportunity.
What does the Community Navigator opportunity mean for my community or my organization?
This federal shift in investment and policy represents a tremendous opportunity for economic developers, community champions and grassroots ecosystem organizers who want to transform their local economies as their community recovers from the devastating economic impact of COVID-19. Organizations eligible for funding include SBDCs, SCORE and Women Business Centers as well as states, tribes, units of local governments and other nonprofit organizations.
In guiding organizations through the process of deploying Community Navigators (SourceLink often refers to them as Network Navigators), it’s been our experience this model can be successful in communities of all sizes—whether that’s impacting small towns like Klamath Falls or scaling to statewide initiatives in Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa.
What is the SBA Community Navigator Model?
The SBA Community Navigator framework includes a lead nonprofit partner who can serve as a hub for the entrepreneurial community and the network building efforts. This organization will engage culturally knowledgeable organizations or individuals (spokes), coordinate ongoing collaboration in their networks, proactively target and recruit under-connected entrepreneurs, and set collective impact metrics and outcomes.
Where can I find examples of communities with a Community Navigator model?
Our affiliated SourceLink business navigator network is a great place to start! Our network includes dozens of organizations taking this model and building impactful programs and resources on top of it. NetWork Kansas has E-Communities, Nexus i90 offers a resource partner enhancement program, Colmena66 in Puerto Rico is reaching Spanish-speaking owners, and many groups including KCSourceLink are deploying local Network Navigators to meet entrepreneurs where they are.
Going beyond the SBA Community Navigator model
To develop sustainable hub-and-spoke models of entrepreneurship-led economic development, lead agencies need to go further than identifying trusted ambassadors in their communities. It’s important to understand the difference between a Community Navigator (often an organization) and the on-the-ground Network Navigator (person). Being able to empower an entrepreneurship network requires a more robust understanding of players in the entrepreneurial community and staff who are trained in how to effectively build relationships between business people, support programs and entrepreneurship resources.
These important ecosystem-building efforts can become lost if your community doesn’t have a storytelling platform to facilitate those collaborations and attract all types of entrepreneurs to its resources. This is critical to long-term sustainability of these networks.
It’s vital to consider how a lead organization and Network Navigators go about “connecting the dots.” While the Community Navigator program is an important (and major) first step for funding this work, more needs to be done to build out best practices and Community Navigator networks of support.
Measuring Impact & Tracking Hub-and-Spoke Activities
We’re thrilled the SBA recognizes that effective network building must also adopt a data-driven approach, something we champion with communities via our SourceLink Pro entrepreneurship CRM and decision support system and Resource Navigator technologies. SourceLink Pro provides entrepreneurship-led economic developers and entrepreneur support organizations the ability to track their engagements, survey for referral satisfaction, measure economic impact, and more.
It’s important to include funding for tools to help you track and report at the hub and spoke level in your application. Solutions like SourceLink Pro have been custom built for this purpose, and SourceLink can help you determine which key performance indications you’ll need to measure. SourceLink Pro even meets the SBA’s EDMIS-II and Form 3516 reporting requirements. Interested in getting more information? The SourceLink team has been leading the way when it comes to guiding communities to develop comprehensive approaches to entrepreneurship-led economic development and the Community Navigator model as articulated by the SBA. If you’re interested in learning how SourceLink can help support your hub-and-spoke activities and reporting requirements check out this video or contact us at [email protected].