Engaging in local community innovation: SourceLink continues partnership with the National League of Cities to build thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems

Communities across the country are working together to build thriving cities in the global, innovation-driven economy as part of the City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) program from the National League of Cities (NLC). Today, we’re excited to celebrate the third cohort of communities committed to advancing their communities through entrepreneurship.

SourceLinkSM proudly serves as an official technical assistance partner for cities committing to the CIE program. We worked closely with the 2021-2022 cohort – including representatives from Charleston, SC; Jamestown, NY; and Monmouth, OR – to identify and map entrepreneurial resources, programs and organizations that support small businesses. This process uncovers gaps in the support network and informs decisions on how to develop a more supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem.

To date, SourceLink has worked with seven cities to build their entrepreneurial infrastructure. Each project provided unique highlights and insights, including these from the 2021-2022 cohort.

Monmouth, OR

Monmouth’s goal was to create a seamless network of resources, make it easier for businesses to learn about resources and how to access them, and identify any gaps in services. They also hoped to strengthen relationships between partners through this process and make it easier for local businesses – especially those that are Spanish-speaking and minority-owned – to get to the right resource at the right time.

Based on geographic proximity, shared resources, and the desire to collaborate on economic development initiatives, the City of Monmouth partnered with the nearby City of Independence to develop their resource landscape. Tapping into this regional partnership allowed the cities to have collaborative conversations on what a successful ecosystem should look like in the Monmouth/Independence area and manage the project together.

As part of the initiative, the two cities facilitated a discussion with resource organizations to look at the strengths and gaps of the entrepreneurial support network. Strengths included the agriculture industry, high-quality accessible broadband, and proximity to Western Oregon University (an economic driver and provider of niche services) and larger markets including Salem, Eugene and Portland. Opportunities for ecosystem improvement included more training on basics of business and financial management, more assistance for small businesses that want to scale, and more awareness of and access to resources—many Monmouth/Independence entrepreneurs don’t know where to go for help and often don’t even know how to define what they need.

Through these discovery conversations and data analysis, the Monmouth Independence Business Resource Guide was developed in both English and Spanish. Monmouth’s community and economic development director, Suzanne Dufner, had this to say about the initiative, “This process gave me a fresh look at economic development. I’ve been in this industry for ten years, and I have a new understanding of what it takes to help our community and economy grow from within. It’s not just the usual strategies. It’s about developing relationships and broadening your perspective to build a strong, inclusive and accessible network.”

Jamestown, NY

The City of Jamestown Department of Development engaged with CIE and SourceLink to better understand the resources entrepreneurs need to be successful, to educate local business owners and provide them better access to resources, and to create a support network that will drive main street business growth in their region.

The resource mapping and creation of the Jamestown SourceFinderTM allowed the city to provide an easy-to-use navigational tool for entrepreneurs at any stage of development. Jamestown Mayor Edward Sundquist attended the project kick-off call in March to reinforce the value of the initiative and also spoke at the city’s recent launch event hosted City of Jamestown Department of Development and Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce.

“The opportunity through NLC to work with SourceLink and collaborate with multiple community organizations has allowed us to both take inventory of and better understand the resources that are vital and available to our entrepreneurs and small business operators,” said Sundquist. “The resource mapping conducted by SourceLink will allow Jamestown to advance its advocacy in being entrepreneur-friendly, providing those interested in starting or expanding their small business a meaningful navigational tool for every stage of their journeys.”

Jamestown is continuing to explore how to strengthen and expand their ecosystem and may leverage additional SourceLink technology to bring their network online as they grow.

Charleston, SC

The City of Charleston recognized the key role that connectivity of small businesses to crucial resources plays in community advancement and wanted to uncover gaps in their network, particularly in services for opportunity populations. This initiative followed the recommendations of the city’s 10-year comprehensive strategic plan, which highlights the need to pursue policies and programs to support independent, locally owned businesses. We worked closely with the Business Services Division which includes the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M&WBE) Office to inventory local resources and develop the CHS Small Biz Resource Guide, a visual map of the business support network in Charleston.

Interestingly, half of all the organizations that responded to the data-collection survey serve key government sectors including the U.S. Air Force/U.S. Space Force, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy. This is likely due to Charleston’s proximity to a military base. It was also discovered that more sources of funding could be made available for early-stage companies, as well as more organizations that specialize in serving youth, women and BIPOC entrepreneurs.

While Charleston has a wealth of resource organizations that offer a broad array of services for different types of entrepreneurs, many of them did not participate in this process. The Business Services Division plans to continue their outreach efforts and use what they’ve learned to bring in new partners and strengthen relationships across the network.

Join the Fall 2022 cohort

If your community is interested in supporting economic growth through entrepreneurship, take the first step by completing NLC’s Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) Network interest form. Once the process begins, each city makes a simple commitment—a written pledge that will serve as a visible symbol to align your city’s work with that of your local business ecosystem, your educators and other key influencers. Your commitment will fall into one of twelve categories.

We look forward to engaging with more communities as part of this program, and we encourage you to consider joining the network. Reach out to us at [email protected] and let us know how we can help.