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Spreading support, knowledge, and connection: Podcasting in a pandemic

Podcasters share their insights on entrepreneurial ecosystems

When entrepreneurial ecosystem builders podcast, the advice, resources, and conversations that used to happen in person between entrepreneurs, investors, and local government – still happen.

As more communities commit to entrepreneurial ecosystem building as an essential element of economic development, and ecosystem builders are recognized as professionals in their field, a number of podcasts dedicated to this discipline have emerged.

Podcasters – many ecosystem builders themselves – use the format to provide stories, knowledge, and resources to members of ecosystems who are building better economies in their communities.

These podcasts have taken on an even more vital role in the wake of COVID-19, as businesses scramble to adapt and entrepreneurs struggle to stay afloat. For this conversation, I invited hosts of various podcasts to discuss how they are using their platform to keep communities connected and to support entrepreneurial ecosystem builders as they navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship and the unique challenges of this year.

“As podcasters, we literally share our voice,” said Neetal Parekh, host of the Impact Podcast. “I think it’s really important that we continue to share our voice and elevate the voice of others. We’re in a unique place to do that.”

In the discussion, you’ll hear from these hosts:

Neetal Parekh, Impact Podcast by Innov8 Social

The Impact Podcast makes social entrepreneurship more accessible and actionable through conversations with thinkers and doers in the social impact space.

Chandler Malone, BeAtento

Chandler Malone, BeAtento

BeAtento provides educational information and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors.

Gabriella Ramirez-Ariano, Autentico Podcast

Gabriella Ramirez-Ariano, Autentico Podcast

The Autentico Podcast empowers and showcases bilingual Latinx professionals and small business owners by creating a platform in which to share our stories and lessons learned.

Ben Kittleson, GovLove Podcast

Ben Kittleson, GovLove Podcast

GovLove Podcast is a podcast about the people, policies, and profession of local government, which provides informative and unique stories about the work being done at the local level.

Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns Podcast

Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns Podcast

The Strong Towns Podcast explores how we can financially strengthen our cities, towns, and neighborhoods and, in the process, make them better places to live.

Jay Clouse, upside podcast

Jay Clouse, upside podcast

The upside podcast covers founders, funders, and community builders outside of Silicon Valley.

Eric Hornung, upside podcast

Eric Hornung, upside podcast

Yuval Yarden, The Keystone Podcast

Yuvall Yarden, The Keystone Podcast

The Keystone Podcast tells stories of startup communities, sharing resources, and providing solutions to ecosystem building challenges.

Charlton Cunningham, The Keystone Podcast

Charlton Cunningham, The Keystone Podcast

Andrew Berkowitz, The Global Startup Movement Podcast

The Global Startup Movement Podcast speaks to guests to discuss the most pertinent news, headlines, and events taking place in the global startup ecosystem.

Note: Two interviews were recorded for this story, one on May 26, 2020 and the other on July 24, 2020.

Gabriella Ramirez-Ariano: We were kind of like, “Oh my gosh, what do we do? Where do we start? How do we do it?” And, then, we were calming people down and just saying, “Hey, we don’t know what’s happening, let’s just take our time.” And now, I feel it’s more a focus on … Change continues to happen. So, let’s just figure out how to leverage it.

Katey Stoetzel: As more communities commit to entrepreneurial ecosystem building as an essential element of economic development and ecosystem builders are recognized as professionals in their field, a number of podcasts dedicated to this discipline have emerged. Podcasters, many ecosystem builders themselves, use the format to provide stories, knowledge, and resources to members of ecosystems who are building better economies in their communities. These podcasts have taken on an even more vital role in the wake of COVID-19, as businesses scrambled to adapt and entrepreneurs struggled to stay afloat. For this conversation, I invited hosts of various podcasts to discuss how they’re using their platform to support entrepreneurial ecosystem builders and their audience and in their communities.

Ramirez-Ariano: So, my name is Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano and my co-host and I, Junior Lara, host the Autentico Podcast.

Neetal Parekh: My name is Neetal Parekh. I am the host of the Impact Podcast by Innov8social.

Chandler Malone: My name is Chandler Malone. I’m based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and working with my team at Atento Capital, we launched the BeAtento Podcast.

Ben Kittleson: I’m Ben Kittleson, I’m from Engaging Local Government Leaders and our podcast is a government podcast, which is a podcast about local government.

Jay Clouse: I’m Jay Clouse. I am one half of the upside team. On upside, we study startups in communities outside of Silicon Valley.

Eric Hornung: I’m Eric Hornung. I’m the other half of upside.

Andrew Berkowitz: My name is Andrew. I am managing partner of a company called Zwile Media. So we have two flagship brands: one is The Global Startup Movement, which I host out of our studio here in D.C., and the other one is African Tech Roundup, which my business partner hosts out of our studio in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Yuval Yarden: I’m Yuval Yarden from The Keystone Podcast calling in from Manhattan.

Charlton Cunningham: Charlton Cunningham, the other half of The Keystone Podcast.

Chuck Marohn: I’m Chuck Marohn with Strong Towns.

Stoetzel: We started working from home back in March and now we’re still working from home. So that’s a big time period. Have the conversation’s been different from the beginning of COVID all the way back in March to now?

Ramirez-Ariano: I feel it’s more a focus on … Change continues to happen, so let’s just figure out how to leverage it. So, I don’t know if it’s just that we as co-hosts have more confidence and we want to make sure that we’re instilling in that, or we’re also sensing that from the outside community, right? That they want to have a balance between, “I don’t want it to go back to business as usual, but I’m tired of waiting and waiting for what if? What then?” You know what I’m saying? So, then, there’s an exchange of information about what people in each state are doing. I mean if you have the network to do that, I think that’s really been helpful because I work a lot with my friends in Detroit to understand, “Hey, what’s worked for some of your restaurant businesses because some of our restaurants are really struggling or what’s worked for the haircare or the barber shops?” So, that’s also been a lot of work, but very interesting too, to see that we are expanding that pool of wealth of knowledge.

Malone: Yeah, I would echo that sentiment almost a 100%. I feel like when we first started talking about things in March, April, a lot of the conversations were very explicitly COVID related. Whereas, now, I feel they’re a little bit less explicitly talking about, “Oh, how do we adapt to COVID? How do we adapt to disruptive times and changes just in our day-to-day life?” And it’s getting more down to basic principles of getting customers and preparing yourself for conversations with investors.

Parekh: Yeah, and I think on the side of being in the impact sector, when COVID hit people were just trying to adapt – exactly what you said Katey – from working in an office, to working remotely, and then finding some rhythms there and maybe even leaning into content creation. And then I think there was another inflectional change point when Black Lives Matter became in the news, because I think a lot of us, myself included, just felt we need to take a step back and learn and listen and use that time to educate. I don’t know if there’s even been a full recovery of sharing, because I think that there’s been so much a focus on listening and making sure that we are elevating voices that need to be spotlighted. So, I think even within this time of COVID, there’s been so many dynamic movements within that, so I think it’s interesting to have a podcast because we feel so connected by our voice, to our listeners and to our audience.

Stoetzel: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the way you approached discussions and topics for your new episodes or if you had pre-recorded episodes, how are you approaching new season of episodes within the context of COVID-19?

Malone: Once COVID hit, a lot of these in-person events – such as your startup grinds and some of your accelerators that might have lunch and learns and things of that nature – those things basically evaporated kind of instantly. As we’re looking to try to build and educate all the aspiring entrepreneurs, some of the aspiring angel investors, in the city and just in the larger Oklahoma ecosystem, we need to find ways to still get content out to people. So, the podcast did shift a little bit away from some success stories and a little bit more toward kind of educational pieces and ways to think about how to move forward. So, there has been a shift via COVID. Hopefully we’ve been able to adapt in a way that serves the listener base and gives them tools that they need to continue to grow and feel confident getting started.

Berkowitz: For me, and for the platform I’ve been building, the conversations in these countries needs to expand beyond just tech startups to broader kind of entrepreneurial spirit. It’s not just tech, there’s other types of businesses needed to be built as well. It’s just a very introspective period for us as a team.

Ramirez-Ariano: I would say for us, we feel like it has impacted it, but we were trying to address a lot of these gaps beforehand. And, so, what it really did was kind of light a fire under us to do it more efficiently, faster, with more content. People had questions and we’re not seeing where the resources were before, people are seeing the gaps in the need for those resources even more. So, especially when we talk about language and the digital divide, that becomes a monumental feat for some people that were already possibly struggling. In that case, I also think that the sharing of the stories has been a critical piece, because people can identify and see themselves’ and others’ successes, but also learn from their lessons learned. Right? So, we’re seeing people that think – I think it happens to all of us – that we’re, we’re struggling by ourselves. I’m having a hard time with my business.

I also own a restaurant, my husband and I do, so it’s very pointed that I really try to make sure that I’m not trying to figure stuff out – I like learning from other people. And so that’s been a key part of sharing the stories on our podcast when we try to do those in Spanish and English, so that people can truly identify with others’ success. And, then, we’re also very cognizant of the fact that we also can’t do it as a community in a silo. We’re always trying to bring in people from other communities, other resources that maybe people wouldn’t know about to make sure that they realize that we don’t have to be just by ourselves here. There are a lot of resources out there that can help us grow and they would really challenge even some of our thinking and maybe help our thinking were we open to it.

Marohn: For us at Strong Towns, everything kind of changed overnight. We’ve been talking for years about how fragile our cities are, and how a lot of the stuff that we have done to try to create growth and jobs and economic development has actually made our cities fragile, made them very vulnerable, and made them very dependent on that growth happening. And we could see from the time leading up to that, and then immediately thereafter, the huge shifts in the market, the unemployment crisis that has now hit us. All of these things fall back on local leaders and on cities. And there’s this sense of, on one hand, urgency and panic at the local level. There’s another sense of we’re actually very, very fragile and vulnerable and this could get a lot worse – and if it gets a lot worse both from the virus side but also from the economic side that it’s going to be local governments and local cities, neighborhoods, the places we live, that are going to be the most affected.

And so our format has kind of shifted a little bit to be less kind of warning of what is coming and talking about, here’s the shifts we see, and how do we help you get through this? How do we help you understand what’s going on? Put it in a local context. How do we help you not blow all your money right now and not be prepared for next year or the year after? How do we help you grasp at the most intimate level, what you can do to keep your city going and your neighborhood vital and the places you depend on actually working for you in a time of high anxiety?

Hornung: With the Cares Act that passed, a lot of what we saw on the founders’ side was just everyone freaking out about what PPP meant and that was my life for a couple of months. What has it been like from a municipality side? I know there was a provision in there for a coronavirus relief fund. I think it was $150 billion. Has any of that come through and does it matter?

Marohn: Well, I’ll speak to that first. I think the short answer is I’ve not seen any of that come through. I mean, it came through. It was more of a larger city provision anyway, and so it was focused on a smaller number of cities, and they have urgent problems. It just kind of got gobbled up in the whole thing.

It’s funny because we’ve seen a lot of cities throw money at these problems. My little hometown here just spent $90,000 giving $3,000 to 30 different random businesses just to help them out. And it’s like, “Why? You’re broke. You don’t have any money and next year your budget’s going to be creamed. You’re going to have to cut millions out of your budget. What are you doing?” So, there’s this kind of tension between filling the void between what is obviously a clumsy and as a not partisan statement, but what is a clumsy, uncoordinated federal approach that people are having to clean up the mess are at the local level. And they don’t have money. They don’t have resources. They don’t have expertise. They’re winging it, trying to figure this out in an environment that’s being really culturally contaminated by what is a very dysfunctional federal conversation about what they should be doing. So the money’s not the problem yet. I think the money will be the problem six months from now, 12 months from now is when cities are going to get financially creamed.

Kittleson: Yeah. Yeah. Just to echo what Chuck said, that there hasn’t been direct assistance to local governments. I mean, there’s some programs work, but they’re being done as pass-throughs to businesses and residents, but direct assistance has not been part of that in the federal aid packages. And I think there’s some hope that one of them will eventually happen, but again, it has become a bit of a partisan issue around aiding local governments.

Stoetzel: What are some themes that either seeing come of those conversations? How do you plan what your intros and COVID-19 updates are going to look like for each of your episodes?

Yarden: One of the reasons why we chose to not do a lot of episodes on this is because we felt a lot of things were already happening specifically for coronavirus, but we felt like we were filling in the gap of something that wasn’t happening, which was the storytelling and the resource collection. I think ecosystem builders are really focused on that right now. How can I make sure that whatever loans are available or whatever support is available for entrepreneurs right now is available to them and for them to actually be able to navigate it? We often talk about ecosystem builders being the navigators for the system and helping entrepreneurs find the resources they need. So this is no different time than any other, which is that there are resources available, and we want to make sure that they reach all the entrepreneurs that need them. And so making sure that we’re informed and that we’re passing them along in a way that’s organized.

Stoetzel: What sort of things are people asking to hear about, and what have some of those conversations heightened or highlighted, again, things that needed to be covered or talked about?

Malone: I think for us, one thing that we’ve talked about with some early founders is just getting first customers in the door, which takes you from wanting to pursue a business, to really having one. I think that customer acquisition piece at the very, very early stages – understanding how to talk to folks in those initial conversations to understand exactly what they need so that what you’re building really solves that need – has been one area that we’ve seen a lot. Another area that we’ve seen a lot is just understanding kind of how to approach investors and when it’s best to. Again, for our earliest stages of founders and folks who want to become founders and how do I go about building those networks, if I can’t necessarily see folks in person or meet someone who can give me a warm introduction?

Ramirez-Ariano: For us, I think it’s a combination of both people looking for inspiration from the stories of others, but then looking for ways and lessons learned on how others have kind of managed the process. So, working with, especially the early-stage entrepreneurs, trying to make sure that they’re able to figure out the digital issues in the beginning, right? Because we went from being able to do everything in person and sharing information or sharing and pitching and all of that, and so all of a sudden we’re online, and people don’t necessarily have access or didn’t know. I mean, I’ve been using Zoom for a long time, but not a lot of people have, and so it was like when the pandemic hit, everyone’s trying to figure out how to use Zoom, or what’s the platform that actually makes the most sense to them?

So, that, I think, was really encouraging because we had the two different groups, people that want to learn and people that want to share for the ideas to come together and really make progress. We’re also getting a lot of questions just about, “What’s the state of the economy going to be, how does that affect funding? How does that affect access to capital? What about loans, is the Federal Reserve in trouble?” So, that’s also allowed us to bring in other experts. We have had a lot of challenges with COVID, so I want to make sure I get that out, but there’s also been opportunities for some of our entrepreneurs to really look at their business model a different way, especially when a lot of the people that we have reached out to and have heard from recently are starting businesses because of employment concerns, not necessarily because they saw they have a new app or a new technology, but because they were concerned about their employment.

So, they wanted to do something as a side hustle, or maybe just start in a different direction. It’s just been really interesting to see how creative we are, how innovative, right? Necessity is the mother of invention. So, we’re all coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. So, like I said, it’s been a challenging time, but also an opportunity to really look at things a little bit differently and has given space for maybe people that were not as active, like the introverts that don’t like being in person to kind of take their business to another level that they hadn’t expected.

Stoetzel: If you had to pick one thing, what is one thing that’s really essential to work towards the rebuilding better part of reality?

Parekh: As podcasters, we literally share our voice, and so I think it’s really important that we continue to share our voice and elevate the voice of others. I think we’re in a unique place to do that, and I think that that’s the only way that we can evolve upwards is when we share stories, share our voice, and make that part of the conversation rather than on the outskirt.

Malone: I think my one piece that I would add is just trying to find ways to democratize access. The venture space has been very siloed for a really long time, basically since its inception. And, so, kind of in this piece of sharing voice and sharing stories, we want to democratize access to information. Hopefully, in the future, we can create a world where we’re not just democratizing access to information, but also to networks and to individuals. And, hopefully, that translates into more opportunities for everyone.