Exciting conversations are happening in the economic development world! Thanks to the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Center for City Solutions, supporters and visionaries can come together to explore groundbreaking ways of assessing citywide economic development in a webinar series.
Through these webinars, thought leaders and dynamic guest speakers share innovative approaches they use to promote economic development and entrepreneur-friendly resources to strengthen local economies. Unifying seasoned professionals with growing minds in the field is collaborative learning at its best.
“We are highlighting our partners and the work that cities are doing around the country, and most importantly, providing an opportunity for city leaders, economic developers and experts in the field to have discussions about what we’re seeing in cities and how we’re making economic development more entrepreneurship-focused” said Lauren Boswell, Program Manager with the City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) network in NLC’s Center for City Solutions.
The November webinar was dedicated to assessing the strengths of a community’s current entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as discussing the City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) program’s emphasis on ecosystem-building as a critical first step in development strategy.
Dara Macan, National Director Partnerships and Engagement with SourceLink spoke alongside Angelina Abella, Economic Development Analyst for the City of Stockton’s Economic Development Department, about key themes of asset mapping, ways to make resources visible, and methods to identify gaps in an ecosystem. Here are some highlights from the discussion.
Insight #1: Start with Assessing the Resource Landscape
At SourceLink, we recommend that a community begin with understanding its resource landscape. Oftentimes, communities tell us there are a number of organizations working with entrepreneurs but that they are not familiar with each other. When that happens, it affects a community’s ability to effectively help entrepreneurs connect with the services needed to succeed. Here are some tips to remedy that:
- Identify: Start by understanding the resources you have and recognize that the deeper you familiarize yourself, the more trust you’ll be given. Getting entrepreneurs connected to the resources in your network will bring monumental value to all parties.
- Connect: Once you’ve gone through the step of identifying and making resources visible, consider how to connect the resources to your entrepreneurs. One way to do this is to create a clearinghouse or hub where entrepreneurs can find answers to common questions on how to start and grow their businesses.
- Centralize: A common pain point we hear from entrepreneurs is that they would love a central place where they can see all programming and events happening in a community. We recommend providing a shared calendar to help entrepreneurs navigate all the opportunities to learn and connect.
- Measure: It’s important to measure impact. By looking at the data and listening to how the community is engaging, you can begin to make informed decisions on how to close any gaps.
Real-Life Example: Passion in Easthampton, Massachusetts
Mayor Nicole LaChappelle is a passionate city leader with a vision to help her city’s small businesses succeed. In Easthampton, she has created a foundation of excellence. LaChappelle had a suspicion there were resources she was not aware of and asked SourceLink to help identify them. We helped identify and then organize the resource information in a visually appealing SourceFinderTM poster.
However, Mayor LaChappelle didn’t stop there. She continued to look for ways to provide assistance and identified individuals willing to provide coaching for her small businesses. She also saw the value and understood the benefits of looking at regional resources and collaborations, which is particularly important if you are in a smaller community with limited resources. Because of this critical work and her vision, LaChappelle was successful in securing follow-on grants to support additional city initiatives.
“This is such an inspiring example of a passionate visionary committed to the long-term success of her community.” Macan said.
Insight #2: Support Underrepresented Entrepreneurs
Underrepresented entrepreneurs were hit hard by the pandemic. Hispanic and Latino businesses were at least 50% less likely to receive government relief under the Payment Protection Program compared to White-owned businesses. We’re seeing a heightened awareness concerning the need to be intentional about being inclusive with practices and programs that bring those entrepreneurs to the table and can help get them connected with mentors, business coaches, and other technical assistance needed for them to succeed.
Real-Life Example: Collaborative Work from Two Small Communities in Oregon
With the assistance of teams in Monmouth and Independence, SourceLink delved deep to understand what entrepreneurial resources they had to better serve their two communities. Cognizant of the fact that they had a presence of Spanish-speaking individuals that they wanted to support, they asked for SourceLink’s assistance in making the resource information available in both English and Spanish.
This implementation of bilingual resources was a huge success and a wonderful example of limited resources in a smaller community working collaboratively. Being willing to listen to entrepreneurs and adapt to meet their needs brings value to any community, regardless of size.
Insight #3: How to Fund the Work
Post-pandemic, foundations have a newfound appreciation for their potential to create community health and wealth by investing in resources rooted in entrepreneurship-led economic development. Through organizations like National League of Cities and the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), programs are being offered to empower communities to unlock their transformative power.
Real-Life Example: Regional Partnership in Rochester, New York
Nexus i90 launched in Rochester in 2020 right before the pandemic served as a catalyst to unite the region and foster economic development through entrepreneurship. The alliance represented by key resource partners is an example of how people can come together in uncertain times.
“I attribute the success of the Nexus i90 initiative to the mayor’s vision, the collaboration among the key stakeholders, and intentional engagement with entrepreneurs,” Macan said. “This initiative continues to evolve, which is very exciting. They’re focused on supporting the needs of the entrepreneur but also thinking about how they can build needed capacity within the resource organizations themselves.”
Insight #4: Ask the People
Entrepreneurs are a special type of people. Their passion, drive, and vision make them a source of inspiration for many, and these same qualities allow them to create positive change in their communities. Listening to entrepreneurs can do more than just provide inspiration; it can help equip cities with the knowledge of the resources they need to help them succeed. By tuning into their advice, you can better understand which resources are necessary and where skillsets fit in.
Real-Life Example: Stockton, California’s Entrepreneur Assessment
Abella’s assessment of Stockton’s entrepreneurship ecosystem was inspired by a workshop hosted by Macan and Dr. Lomax Campbell on entrepreneurship ecosystems. Stockton is about 50 miles south of Sacramento and is the 11th largest city in California. The city has over 8,000 businesses, 60% of them microenterprises with five employees or less. In 2020, it was named the most racially diverse city in America. With a population of over 300,000 to tend to, Stockon’s small economic development team of three employees needed to prioritize to achieve their goal of creating a stronger and more cohesive entrepreneurship system.
“We began the process of assessing our entrepreneurship ecosystem by asking ourselves: why are we doing this?” Abella said.
The first step was to develop a strategy. Abella started by evaluating the city’s existing annual notice of available funding opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners, then looked at the overall culture and how the city could best support them, citing the Kaufman Foundation’s ecosystem playbook as a guideline.
“One of the first steps in evaluating the ecosystem is to look at the resources that are currently out there,” Abella said. “What’s being provided? What are they doing? Why did they come here? What was the need that they saw? The second was to try to understand the entrepreneurs’ experience. Did they get what they needed? Do they know that there are other resources out there? What does the ecosystem look like to them? The last part was to look at our role and what we currently do and what we can do.”
Interviews with the entrepreneur service organizations were conducted to better understand the existing resources. Surveys were sent to the participating entrepreneurs to analyze their overall experience. The research revealed that entrepreneurs in the community were looking for more support and stronger networking opportunities. There was a positive response to the diversity of resources currently available, yet people wanted to feel more connected with one another on their business journey. They understood that togetherness brings strength.
With this knowledge came a great opportunity for Stockton — an opening to implement something truly special where budding businesses could thrive in a supportive environment.
“We are still in the beginning phases, but it does take a lot of time. For a starting point, I would definitely suggest leveraging your existing partnerships or programs where you regularly work together implementing short-term goals,” Abella said.
Ready for More?
Staying connected to the world of entrepreneurship is easier than ever with the current wealth of online resources available. Through NLC’s dynamic webinars led by city decision-makers, you can access ideas that will propel economic development in your own community. Together, our unified voices have the power to bring about lasting change, manifesting a brighter future for us all.
SourceLink is ready to help you support the entrepreneurs in your community. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more about building an entrepreneurial ecosystem to serve those who take risks, create jobs, and positively impact their communities.