The U.S. Small Business Administration has announced the creation of a new Community Navigator Pilot Program to place significant financial resources into organizations that wish to be hubs of entrepreneurship support and ecosystem-building efforts in their communities—particularly those organizations with deep roots in targeting underserved business communities. While it appears the SBA will be applying this approach to the existing SBA-funded national network such as SBDCs, SCORE and Women Business Centers, the announcement indicates a new funding opportunity will soon open for states, tribes, units of local governments and other nonprofit organizations.
This federal shift in investment and policy represents a tremendous opportunity for SourceLink affiliates who have been using this approach for 15+ years to accelerate and scale their good work, and 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.
In guiding organizations through the process of deploying Community Navigators (we often refer 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.
We’re thrilled the SBA goes on to recommend that effective network building must also adopt a data-driven approach, something we’ve been championing with communities via our SourceLink Pro entrepreneurship CRM and decision support system and Resource Navigator technologies. This approach also requires entrepreneurial ecosystems incorporate new methods and business economic impact measures.
What is the SBA Community Navigator Model?
The SBA Community Navigator framework envisions a lead nonprofit partner who can serve as a hub for the entrepreneurial community and the network building efforts. This organization would hire culturally knowledgeable staff, coordinate ongoing collaboration in their networks, proactively target and recruit hard-to-reach entrepreneurs, and set collective impact metrics and outcomes. Information is available from the SBA Information Notice (PDF).
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.
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 affiliate 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 are deploying local Network Navigators to meet entrepreneurs where they are. We’d be happy to make an introduction to any of our affiliate network leadership.
Want more information?
For those new to the field, we wrote a book on our methodology, which features global examples of people engaged in improving the environment for small businesses to succeed. We also recently announced our partnership with the International Economic Development Council to develop a new Entrepreneurship-led Economic Development Certification on this topic. The course is available to economic developers in the field who frequently find themselves perfectly positioned to spearhead efforts like this.
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. We will be sharing more information when the SBA application process officially opens and would be happy to partner with you on your application or answer any questions about building equitable ecosystems of support. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts or best practices.