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Homegrown economies with an entrepreneurial mindset

Mark Taylor, Katy Stanton, Dell Gines, and Derek Ozkal
Mark Taylor, Katy Stanton, Dell Gines, and Derek Ozkal discuss the evolution of economic development during Kauffman's ESHIP Summit conference.

From building intentionality into strategic initiatives to responding to the impact of emerging technologies rapidly reshaping the workforce, experts discuss the ‘human-first’ approach cities need to evolve economic development.

For local economies to flourish, more cities are recognizing the need to support entrepreneurs in starting and growing businesses. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, ecosystem building does need to be done from the bottom up, with the needs of entrepreneurs at heart – and that can only be done by getting out and talking to entrepreneurs.

Three experts discussed ways to approach this work during the ESHIP Summit.

Be inclusive. Ask questions.

What does it mean to be intentionally inclusive and build the infrastructure needed to support equitable opportunities for people of all backgrounds? For one, cities can’t ignore the barriers that exist.

“You’ve got to face that square on, and deal with it,” said Mark Taylor, chief of staff, Office of the Mayor, Long Beach, California.

One barrier Taylor said his community has worked to dismantle is language. “[It’s] something as simple as how we deliver information. 42% of Long Beach’s population is Hispanic/Latino, and 13% is Asian – predominantly Cambodian, a refugee population. So, if we only deliver services in English, we’re missing a whole chunk of potential entrepreneurs.”

Dell Gines of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City compared crafting economic development strategies to how entrepreneurs craft business plans and develop customer journeys.

“Inclusion requires us to be reflective on how systems support and constrain various groups,” Gines said. “Let’s look at it from a business approach. If I build my customer avatar like we teach entrepreneurs, I’m trying to find what that person is experiencing at the given moment through their pathway. We make a lot of assumptions of what a Cambodian female [for example] would need to start a successful business. And there are going to be overlaps, because there are some things that are relatively universal.

“But for me to adequately serve anybody, especially a significant population, I should just spend some time and ask them, and sit down, and do focus groups, and do customer discovery.”

Not sure what a particular group of people experience or need? Just ask.

“I think that’s the most appropriate way now, as we evolve, to begin to design our economic development strategies with the user in mind,” Gines said.

Katy Stanton of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance said there are many community-based organizations and national resource providers already doing this kind of “human-first” approach – working to build with communities, rather than for them. Stanton stressed the importance of city and regional leadership taking advantage of those resources rather than reinventing the wheel over and over again.

“[Community-based organizations] are the ones that are connecting the community, that already have the community’s trust, and who can really bring them along and uplift their stories. It’s all about creating relationships and building trust and understanding what’s already going on in your community,” Stanton said.

An entrepreneurial mindset for a changing workforce

We need folks with really good ideas to think about starting their own business Taylor said. “It’s really shifting away from this old notion of employers coming in and providing jobs,” he said.

The reality is that the majority of net new jobs are created from young business – from startups. However, we’re in an entrepreneurial recession. In a given month, only three out of every 1,000 people start a business. And the startup rate is lower for the young and underserved.

“We need to teach a different set of skills,” Taylor said. “We need to teach entrepreneurial skills. We can’t rely on employers to do what they’ve traditionally done, or what they did for my parents’ generation.

“Even folks who are looking for a ‘traditional’ job might need more entrepreneurial resilience,” he said. There was agreement that entrepreneurial skillsets must be infused into entry-level positions across all industries through partnerships with existing organizations that offer training programs.

Stanton said the ways to stay competitive in a rapidly changing future workforce is to first take advantage of what entrepreneurial ecosystem building has to offer, like collaborating across sectors to create entry-level jobs with growth opportunities in undervalued communities.

“You need to work with industry, and workforce development, and the city, to make sure that those training programs are training the people who need jobs the most and getting them into those entry-level jobs with career ladders.”

Gines points to schools themselves, and how they can play an important role in preparing folks for a changing workforce before students start searching for careers.

“It’s important that schools not just teach entrepreneurship but be entrepreneurial themselves. You need to create a culture of entrepreneurship within that institution, so that it’s normalized for the kid. Then we don’t have to worry so much. We still have to put training programs around them, but we’re not trying to recreate in their minds something different after we’ve trained them [for] 13 years to be an employee.”