COVID-19 Economic Response and Recovery
Provide Access to Funds and Resources for Tourism Businesses to Adapt
Provide access to finance and technical assistance to help small, tourism and hospitality businesses pivot, adapt, and capitalize on new demands and opportunities in a postpandemic world.
Keeping local, small businesses is critical for the recovery of your tourism economy. By helping them develop new online communications and sales channels, create new lines of business, or repurpose and adapt their space, you are helping to create longterm revenue solutions.
In 2020, U.S. travel spend declined by nearly $500 million and, while the industry improved between April and September, progress stalled in the final quarter of the year due to the continued absence of business travel and another surge in COVID-19 cases.
The travel economies of every city and state were affected. Seventy percent of U.S. metropolitan regions have at least 10% of their workforce in leisure and hospitality, and during 2020, cities in more than 18 states experienced 40+% downturn in travel spending. The impact was felt most by small businesses (with fewer than 500 employees), which make up 99.5% of the tourism sector and 60.6% of employment within the sector. Many of them face a time of extreme liquidity strain and most of them entered the pandemic with very limited cash flow.
Women and minorities have also been hard hit, with women- and minority-owned businesses comprising 63.5% of U.S. accommodation and food services businesses and 46.5% of arts and entertainment businesses.
Given that COVID-19 will probably be around for a long time, many tourism businesses will need to adapt and/or reinvent themselves for “the new normal.”
Bellville Downtown District Marketplace
Belleville is a town located between Toronto and Ottawa in Canada. During Canada’s strict lockdown in 2020, the Downtown Belleville Improvement Area (a business improvement district) decided to embark on a project to create an online marketplace called the Downtown District Marketplace.
In just four weeks, the BID launched a website which allowed nearly two-dozen businesses to receive orders for curbside pickup. Today, the website hosts over a thousand products from local businesses, including restaurants, artisan markets, art associations, and galleries. It has attracted more than 50,000 visitors and over 1,000 orders. In fact, the marketplace has been such a success that the BID is no longer supporting it with grant funding.
The BID is currently developing the site to add shipping. Currently, customers can pick up curbside, or merchants manage deliveries themselves.
How the marketplace works
The BID created the marketplace on the Shopify platform. The platform charges the BID $299/month, plus $10/month for a multi vendor marketplace app, which means the BID does not become the merchant.
The BID was fortunate to have two young staff members with the technical skills needed to design a website. They created pages for each local business, which only they could access and edit.
Shopify collects the money from the sales, and the BID pays its merchants every 2 weeks. Each local business is responsible for paying credit card and transaction fees. The BID doesn’t take any commission. The local businesses greatest concern about the marketplace was payment terms. Early on in the project, the BID spent many hours sorting out payments to the local businesses, but it has since managed to automate this process.
Launching the marketplace
The BID launched the marketplace with a teaser campaign, which included VIP access to the first 250 people that signed up for its newsletter. In this way, it was able to gather feedback on issues that early users faced and make adjustments before opening to the general public.
Its subsequent marketing tactics have included social media (paid and organic), digital advertisements, local radio, and press releases sent to local and national media outlets. Local partners have also provided content and written features for the Marketplace.
The BID did not receive support from the city to launch the Marketplace. It did, however, receive funding from a regional marketing board to run a contest on the website — users who spent $50 could win Marketplace gift cards to use on their
How To Adopt This Approach:
The project’s success was based on strong relationships with local businesses
1. Assemble and train a group of 5–10 local business owners, who will become
your ambassadors to get other merchants on board
2. Regularly engage business owners and provide sufficient training about the sales platform, recognizing that different business owners have different levels of digital literacy. This will mean creating step-by-step guides, complete with screenshots on how to add products and make payments
3. Help merchants to become confident selling online. Just as a shop needs an attractive window display, a website needs beautiful photos. Merchants will also have to do their own marketing to drive traffic from their website to the Marketplace, for example, by posting and buying advertisements on social media.
- Do spend time building the trust and confidence of your member businesses.
- Do regularly engage with your business owners and provide support based on their differing levels of digital literacy.
- Do set aside considerable time at the beginning to sort out payments from Shopify to vendors.
- Don’t assume any knowledge. Create stepby- step guides, and share information on how businesses can take good photographs, buy ads, and market their businesses on social media.
COVID-19 Economic Response and Recovery
Provide Technical Assistance to Small Businesses
Create strategies and partnerships that will make your destination more sustainable and inclusive. And tell that story to visitors
Since COVID-19, travelers, particularly younger travelers, have a heightened awareness of environmental sustainability and social and racial equity. As a result, they are more likely to look for evidence that destinations are taking steps to address these issues.
Numerous reports and studies have found that the pandemic has reinforced, even accelerated, people’s views on sustainability, with more consumers focused on helping to create a better, healthier world.
For example, 60% of travelers say that their future booking decisions would be influenced by sustainable initiatives at the property, even if it meant spending a modest premium.
Travelers’ behavior, loyalty, and values are also being redefined by the economic downturn, restrictions in day-to-day living caused by COVID-19, and flashpoint events highlighting systemic racism within our communities.
It is widely expected that the pandemic will accelerate the trend of travelers seeking “travel with a purpose,” with 67% of recently polled travelers saying they want their bookings to make a positive difference for communities affected by the pandemic.
Travelers are also now placing greater importance on pre-trip planning.
Destinations can respond to these trends by developing a shared understanding of what it means to be a sustainable destination.
For example, Sedona, AZ engaged the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to conduct a sustainability assessment of its tourism economy.
The goal was to enable the destination to design and target policies, programs, and campaigns which demonstrate sustainable destination management, maximize economic benefits to the host community, and minimize negative impacts on the environment.
Programs could include:
- Sector-wide sustainable guidelines.
- Technical assistance to small businesses to help them adopt more sustainable practices (e.g., relating to energy and water use, single use plastics and recycling, food procurement, laundry operations, and reporting).
- Destination management tools to “nudge” visitors around the city, to manage crowds, and/or to help tourists engage local communities.
- Investments in green infrastructure.
- Communicating the destination’s commitments to travelers.
City of Boston
In 2020, the City of Boston drew down $2.5M of CARES Act Federal relief funding to launch a marketing campaign to market the city to Black and Brown residents and visitors.
The campaign’s goals were to “build Boston’s brand as a travel destination, increase awareness and active promotion, and drive visits to Boston from diverse local and regional visitors.“ It was part of the city’s strategy to build back a stronger and more equitable economy.
In particular, the campaign sought to “examine the ways in which Boston communicates about the offerings of the city, and highlight attractions and events that speak to the experiences of people of color.”
The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau selected two award-winning agencies with deep roots in the city. One was Boston’s oldest, minorityowned and operated marketing communications agency. The other was a Boston-based, minority owned, award-winning creative branding, design,
and advertising agency.
They soon discovered that the city had allowed others to create a narrative of Boston as an all white, masculine, sports- and alcohol- dominated city. Visitors and some residents had low awareness of the city’s vibrant Black neighborhoods, and the contributions of Black and Brown residents to the city.
The campaign featured different Boston neighborhoods with neighborhood maps and guides and short-form videos, as well as social media influencers from some of the city’s oldest Black neighborhoods. It also celebrated Black and Brownowned businesses in local and national media, in order to drive local spend.
Like many campaigns during the pandemic, its primary audience was local residents. However, as travel becomes safer, the city plans to continue its efforts to encourage a wider audience to change their perceptions and, ultimately, actions.
Microfinancing is an important tool to assist small businesses with a documented history of success. When businesses are first starting out, they often are unable to get access to capital. And yet, the costs to start a microbusiness can be quite low with some estimates at a few thousand dollars. In some cases, a larger loan may be detrimental if a recipient is not ready to expand the business quickly and will not have the necessary earnings. Through the Small Business Administration, small businesses have received almost $900M in a mix of grants and loans, and have gone on to create almost 250,000 jobs (as of 2017).
These small grants and loans can be critical to enabling businesses to start successfully and can provide an important lifeline to businesses looking to continue operations. New businesses are integral to the success of communities, accounting for high proportions of net new job creation. This funding can be particularly important for Black Americans who start businesses at a slower rate than other groups due to many barriers, chief among them access to funding. This inequality will only get worse with COVID-19.
Cities should work with local philanthropic partners and community leaders to launch a microgrant program that offers small grants (e.g., $1,000-$3,000) to individuals looking to start businesses. This can be done successfully with minimal city investment; instead, city officials should use their bully pulpit powers to convene local leaders and galvanize support.
Cities should consider leveraging CARES Act funding to jumpstart this action if they have not already allocated funds by the end of 2020. As the economy starts to recover, many people will think about starting a business, as happened after other recessions. Additionally, this action will be more effective if combined with developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Minneapolis, MN: Microgrants
Microgrants was launched in Minneapolis by a private philanthropist over 15 years ago as part of an effort to help individuals achieve financial stability. Microgrants awards grants of around $1,000 to jumpstart businesses and cover expenses that would not typically be allowed for traditional loans.
The program, which focuses on Minnesota, awarded $1,200 grants in 2019 to 250 entrepreneurs and small businesses that needed supplies to start or conduct business. An example of a supported business was an entrepreneurial photographer, who booked up within weeks of getting funding to purchase camera equipment. The program partners with local community organizations to develop business plans for entrepreneurs who receive funding and establish clear goals and metrics related to the funding.
One of the main challenges the program has encountered is how to locate and vet applicants. To accomplish this, the team empowered 52 partner agencies that have close ties to the community. These organizations share proposals from residents and help manage the workload, making it easier to facilitate grants for those who can benefit the most.
This model may be suitable for cities that want to launch a microgrants program. With a small initial investment and staff, a team could similarly leverage community organizations.
How To Adapt this Approach:
- Identify local non-profits and philanthropic organizations which could fund and administer the program. The city can help facilitate the creation and initial projects while serving as an integral partner throughout.
- This can be a small pot of money as a pilot program (e.g., $50K, $1K per grant, to offer to 50 individuals)
If possible, partner with a non-profit which already has expertise.
- Cities should also consider high net worth individuals and successful entrepreneurs within their communities, who may be willing to sponsor this effort.
- This can be a small pot of money as a pilot program (e.g., $50K, $1K per grant, to offer to 50 individuals)
- Determine which industries are underrepresented in your community and are positioned to grow during the recovery. Direct microgrants to new businesses in these sectors. Kauffman’s “My Sidewalk” program can help with identifying existing resources and which industries have opportunities for growth, as well as speaking with stakeholders in the community to understand gaps
- Secure funding from a philanthropic or corporate partner. Develop and launch the microgrant program.
- Create a marketing and outreach campaign to relevant entrepreneurship support groups. Ensure that explicit outreach is done to groups working with disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
- Track progress from the first cohort and provide technical assistance and support to those individuals (See template in resources section)
- Provides support for entrepreneurs looking to start businesses
- Supports local entrepreneurial ecosystem growth by establishing cohorts and facilitating access to technical assistance
- Low-cost action
- Can be poorly targeted and, without structured business planning and support, many supported businesses will not succeed
Implementation time: Slow
Cost: Low This can be launched at a very low cost, since it requires a small allocation (e.g., around $50K-$100K) and can leverage partner organizations to handle vetting.
COVID-19 Economic Response and Recovery
Inclusive Ecosystem: Build Relationships and Partnerships to Increase Impact
Cites should build stronger connections between immigrant and refugee-serving organizations and mainstream business support services, to help address barriers without requiring the creation of new programming. As connections are strengthened, gaps in service delivery will become more apparent and new programs can be designed to fill specific needs.
A. Create an ecosystem map for community partners. Map the entrepreneurship ecosystem by first surveying existing mainstream business services and community-based organizations to identify the current landscape of services provided. Asset mapping should include programs, mentorship opportunities and events, facilities and space, legal and other business support services, financial services and funding opportunities, and immigrant and refugee-serving organizations and other community-based organizations.
- Grand Forks, ND: In August 2019, the City of Grand Forks partnered with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation to develop and share an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Map, which was designed to help community-based organizations and interested residents locate startup support resources and guidance across the community.
- St. Louis, MO: The St. Louis Mosaic Project, a regional initiative housed within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the World Trade Center St. Louis, developed a Neighborhood Business Ecosystem “to orient foreign-born immigrants toward funding, competitions, business plans and space in St. Louis for success of their businesses.”
B. Build a referral network between city agencies and community partners. Community-based organizations that directly serve immigrants and refugees have direct knowledge of the needs and skillsets that newcomers bring. Building relationships and eventually formal referral processes between these organizations and local government can help identify potential entrepreneurship program participants, but can also serve other local priorities. For example, a partnership between the City of Tulsa and the YWCA Tulsa — which has more than 35 years of experience serving immigrants and refugees — has helped the City identify bilingual contact tracers as part of its overall COVID-19 response.
C. Launch a multi-sector regional initiative focused on attracting and retaining foreign-born talent. Such efforts — which typically go beyond immigrant entrepreneurship to include workforce development and other economic development strategies — bring together a broad set of partners to foster a more welcoming and inclusive environment through marketing and communications, partnerships, and systems-change. See case study: St. Louis Mosaic Project.
St. Louis Mosaic Project, St. Louis, MO
- The St. Louis Mosaic Project is a regional initiative, housed within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the World Trade Center St. Louis.
- The effort was catalyzed by a research study which found that St. Louis could gain a competitive advantage by attracting and supporting foreign-born talent, including immigrant entrepreneurs. The project aims to make St. Louis the fastest-growing major metropolitan region for the foreign-born by 2025.
- Mosaic is run by 2.5 FTE and focuses heavily on marketing the region’s economic, civic, and cultural assets to newcomers, connecting entrepreneurs with existing small business support services, and highlighting success stories to promote diversity and inclusion.
n the 3 years following the launch of Mosaic, between 2014-2017, the St.
- Louis metro area added 2,050 new residents. Without foreign-born individuals moving to and staying in the region, it would have instead lost more than 14,000 residents.
The St. Louis Mosaic Project launched in 2012 after a local research study found that the region’s growth could be jump-started by attracting and retaining new foreign-born residents. Mosaic is a regional initiative managed by a staff of 2.5 FTE, housed within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and World Trade Center St. Louis, and led by a 32-member steering committee.
Mosaic’s overarching goal is “25 by 25”: to add 25,000 new foreign-born residents to the region and become the fastest-growing major metro area for immigrants by 2025. As part of a multi-pronged approach, one of Mosaic’s primary goals is to connect immigrant entrepreneurs to local resources that will help start and grow their small businesses.
Mosaic has grown rapidly, launching new programs and engaging hundreds of partners across the region. The Mosaic Ambassador program — designed to help the region become more globally welcoming — boasts more than 850 Ambassadors, 65 Ambassador Schools, and 34 Ambassador Companies. Through Mosaic’s Global Talent Hiring Program, the staff works with international career advisors at the region’s 17 university partners to assist some of the 9,000 area international students to network and prepare to interview with local companies.
In addition, Mosaic offers a Meet-Up group designed to make social connections for trailing spouses of international executives. The group currently has nearly 500 women representing 76 different countries. A Professional Connector Program facilitates introductions between work-authorized foreign-born professionals and well-known “connectors” for career networking referrals. These professional and social connections have been proven to help newcomers achieve a true sense of belonging to their adopted hometown.
- St. Louis Mosaic has five Strategic Areas: Business Talent & Retention, University Engagement, Government Affairs, Communication & Attraction, and Quality of Life. Within Business Talent & Retention, Mosaic partners with the Regional Business Council, and more than 200 community partners throughout the region to promote immigrant entrepreneurship.
- Since its inception, Mosaic has launched numerous initiatives to better support immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in the region, including: an Immigrant Entrepreneurship Advisory Board that advises Mosaic’s strategy and hosts events and receptions for potential entrepreneurs; an Immigrant Entrepreneur Award; Organized Panels featuring successful immigrant entrepreneurs, as well as experts in marketing, financing, entrepreneurial and technical support; support and publicity about technical training (restaurants); and participation in planning an annual conference specifically focused on immigrant and minority women.
- To promote an environment of inclusion and highlight the success of immigrant entrepreneurs, Mosaic sets a goal of placing at least 100 media stories each year that illuminate how local companies, community organizations and individuals are welcoming to foreign-born. The stories also highlight successful foreign-born entrepreneurs, advocates and community leaders.
Adapt this Approach:
- Commission or compile economic research to make the case to business and economic development partners, and establish a steering committee that includes local civic, faith, business, university, and community organization leaders to develop and implement regional recommendations.
- Dedicate a small core team, housed within a local economic development entity to develop strategic partnerships and connections among existing institutions and programs.
- Champion immigrant entrepreneur success stories through an inclusive communications, marketing and media campaign.
- Proactively advise local governments on ways to provide language access to economic development resources and recommend foreign-born candidates for Boards and Commissions established for business growth
Launch, or shine a spotlight on, programs that promote and connect MWBEs to new business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) opportunities, including national supply chains.
In this way, you will showcase local talent, raise awareness and local pride, and support local small business growth and jobs.
ORIGINS – Pittsburgh, PA
In 2016, a CDFI, Bridgeway Capital, launched the Creative Business Accelerator to help regional creatives — craftspeople, makers, designers, and artists — participate in equitable economic development.
It connects emerging and established creative businesses to affordable and flexible spaces at 7800 Susquehanna, Bridgeway’s 150,000 square foot multi-tenant maker/manufacturing hub, as well as other locations across the region.
In 2019, the Creative Business Accelerator launched a business support program called ORIGINS, which celebrates and elevates local Black creatives. Further, it provides additional layers of flexible capital and technical assistance.
The ORIGINS program offers peer-to-peer learning cohorts, yearlong residencies, specialized coaching, opportunities to connect to new customers, and annual exhibitions. The ORIGINS website showcases Black entrepreneurs starting and expanding creative businesses. In March 2020, the program hosted an inaugural exhibition at Concept Art Gallery, a prominent local venue. Many of the highlighted products were then sold at the PG&H store, a downtown retail space cosponsored by the Creative Business Accelerator and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
The ORIGINS program offers an annual residency for three local Black creative entrepreneurs. One of the residency spaces is a 750 square foot unit at Case Study: ORIGINS – Pittsburgh, PA Bridgeway’s 7800 Susquehanna Street building. It serves emerging Black makers and manufacturers looking for their first business space.
How to Adapt This Approach:
- Consider opportunities to shine a spotlight on local minority, immigrant, or other LMI small business groups
- Identify and reach out to local and national organizations that have aligned missions (such as the Urban Manufacturing Alliance or an ethnic chamber)
- While it might not be possible to replicate all the building blocks of the ORIGINS program, consider what is possible
- Use existing tactical guides, such as UMA’s Toolkit: How to Develop a Locally-Made Brand Platform.
- Provide access to dynamic City venues for exhibitions and popups, as well as City social media accounts
- Reach out to, and partner with, e-commerce platforms (such as Etsy and Amazon), and regional and national buyers that are courting makers and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement (such as Walmart and Levis)
- Also, reach out to potential sponsors and ambassadors/local celebrities
COVID-19 Economic Response and Recovery
Help Your Industry to be at the Front of “The New Normal”
Convene thought leaders, analysts, entrepreneurs, and tech startups to focus on technology development and adoption that could reshape travel and tourism.
The pandemic is turning the travel industry upside down and has changed the way people think about travel. “The next incarnation of tourism is on its way.”
Thanks to the internet, the ways that people travel have changed drastically in a short span of time. Technology has made traveling safer and less time consuming, changed the way we book a flight or room, the way we are informed of events, or seek advice to sightsee a city. It has allowed us to have more personalized experiences, helped us to surpass language barriers, and even changed our packing routines. It is also impacting how destinations and those in the tourism industry market their products and services.
For example, data analytics, cloud computing and devices which are connected to the Internet-of-Things allow personalization for a better customer experience. Smart conversational interfaces have become more useful in providing feedback and answering customer questions. Free mobile connectivity not only allows travelers to share their experiences with others through social media easily, it also allows a destination to collect data about their travelers during different steps of the visit— which can help them sell the right product to the right visitor at the right time.
Singapore Tourism Accelerator
Some cities are not only focusing on the immediate effects of the pandemic on the travel industry, they are also taking a longer-term perspective. For example, the Singapore Tourism Board has partnered with Ravel Innovation to create the Singapore Tourism Accelerator. It targets startups that are developing solutions to future-proof the travel and tourism industry and help tourism companies thrive amidst the challenges brought about by COVID-19. During the 4 month program, the selected startups develop pilot solutions to challenges which have been defined by local travel and hospitality businesses.
For example, convention and events businesses in Singapore are seeking a solution for the following challenge:
Current visitor, exhibitor, speaker and competition data collection/analysis is insufficient for customer insights and limits the ability to design personalized, hybrid experiences for the MICE sector. The company will design an online-to-offline (O2O) visitor management solution that can capture exhibitors and visitors’ data (e.g., interactions, transactions), analyze and profile visitors to help design better experiences and business matchmaking.
The chosen startup will gain unparalleled access to the leading industry players, and can also get assistance with temporary relocation to Singapore.
How To Adopt This Approach:
Identify an experienced tech accelerator partner and decide the size and cadence
of your cohorts (the Singapore Tourism Accelerator runs two rounds a year, each
with up to 12 companies).
Create an application process with clear selection criteria for admission to the accelerator. Promote the program extensively, through government colleagues, tech membership groups, incubators, universities, social media, conferences, and in person.
Design an accelerator program. The Singapore Tourism Accelerator consists of two phases:,a 2-week “acceleration” bootcamp, and a 3-month “pilot” phase. The bootcamp comprises modules, workshops, mentoring sessions, and events to help program participants define value propositions and use-cases, in collaborations with matched industry partners. During the pilot phase, participants work with industry partners to build prototypes and assess the feasibility of scaling up their solutions. The prototypes are funded by industry partner grants.
Finally, plan a demo day for participants to showcase their solutions to a wide set of industry partners and investors.
- Do recognize that many governments and DMOs are siloed, risk-averse, and bureaucratic organizations, and will find it very hard to digitally transform. Therefore, partner with brands and technology vendors which are better placed to develop solutions.
- Do seek innovative business and revenue models, where each party contributes something and each party benefits. Governments and DMOs should not underestimate the value of their authority, bully pulpit, data, audience reach and engagement, relationships, and ability
to “get things done” in the city.
- Don’t try to turn a DMO into a tech development company, as this is not your core strength.
- Don’t undervalue your assets and don’t simply hand over your data. Try to price what it would cost the vendor/partner to purchase these assets or achieve the same benefits on the open market.
Work with nonprofit, academic, philanthropic and business partners to create and grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem tailored for underserved small businesses.
The success of entrepreneurs depends on having a strong community that they can draw on to help them start and grow their business. By creating inclusive ecosystems cities can accelerate the startup and growth of MWBEs.
Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) – Atlanta, GA
In Atlanta, Black entrepreneurs and small business owners are often cut off from the resources they need to succeed. This challenge has been exacerbated by COVID-19 which has disproportionately impacted the Black community and made the growth of black businesses more important than ever.
Founded in 2019, RCIE was created through a donation from the Russell Family Foundation to grow access to entrepreneurship throughout the Black community and empower Black entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into enterprises, in a place made just for them.
Housed in a 50,000+ square foot building that offers access to affordable coworking, convening, and meeting innovation space. The center is located in the heart of an Opportunity Zone in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood, close to the Atlanta University Center and historic HBCU communities.
Prior to its launch, RCIE engaged 1,500 Black entrepreneurs in Atlanta to better understand their needs. Overwhelmingly, the number one answer was “community.”
To address this, RCIE developed a theory of change and a program model to help Black entrepreneurs traverse the special barriers they face to build thriving businesses. RCIE provides community, resources, mentors, technical assistance, enriched learning, and access to deep networks that extend beyond the center.
- Community: Affordable hot desks, dedicated desks, and office space. The community also allows members to have peer accountability teams and conference/meeting space. Members also have access to high-speed internet, copy/ print shop, and a company mailbox
- Technical Assistance: Access to a state-of-the-art A/V technology and podcast studio, a pipeline to diverse tech talent through local universities and partnerships, and technical assistance provided by the GSU/UGA Small Business Development Center.
- Access to Capital: Help accessing capital, one of the biggest barriers to Black entrepreneurship. The building has created a “Capital Corridor” space that is dedicated specifically for access to capital, and investment readiness programming.
- Accountability & Mentorship: One-to-one coaching, individualized support and guidance, peer-to-peer learning, and a business mentor network. Members are connected with Black teachers and mentors who have experienced the entrepreneur journey firsthand.
- BIG I.D.E.A.S Platform: Is a co-design model called BIG I.D.E.A.S. that equips entrepreneurs to move along path that includes the following stages — from curiosity to concept (Inspire); from concept to company (Develop); from company to business (Execution), from business to ownership & growth (Accelerate); and from ownership & growth to wealth (Scale)
How to Adapt This Approach:
- Identify a lead for the initiative
- In most cases, a non-City organization (nonprofit, chamber, philanthropy, academic, etc.) is best positioned to house initiative
- The individual leading the initiative should have extensive private sector experience, have credibility within the community of entrepreneurs where the initiative is focused, and preferably be an entrepreneur as well
- Cities should leverage their convening power to galvanize partners, support fundraising, and focus on City controlled areas where it can accelerate or remove barriers to entrepreneurship
- The lead organization should engage and assess the current ecosystem
- Reach out to local business leaders and entrepreneurs to identify gaps in existing programming and opportunities
- Outreach to communities of color and low-income individuals to understand the needs of all communities
- Connect with startup and small business groups, local nonprofits, educational institutions, philanthropic partners, and business leaders to ensure participation. Part of the program’s benefit should be to offer networking and mentoring opportunities with established leaders
- Use data (e.g., from Kauffman foundation’s My Sidewalk) to demonstrate where potential gaps and opportunities for entrepreneurship exist in the community
- The lead organization should build a coalition of partners to support the initiative, which could include education institutions, VCs, successful founders, corporate partners, and service providers (e.g., lawyers, bankers, accountants, real estate technical assistance providers). Ensure partners are representative of the community the initiative intends to focus on
- Work with the coalition of partners to develop a proposed initiative to build out the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city. The initiative could include:
- A physical center like RCIE, which focuses on providing all the support needed for a specific community of entrepreneurs
- An initiative to join up a network of existing coworking spaces, accelerators, entrepreneurship programs, events, etc. and connect it to MWBE or LMI entrepreneurs
- The designation of an entrepreneurial ambassador who serves as a single point of contact to navigate and connect entrepreneurs to the ecosystemThe proposal will vary depending on the project but should include: the goal, the need/ opportunity, the coalition of partners, the program design, location, staffing, budget, metrics, and timeline/next steps
- Use the proposal to raise funds for the initiative. Pitch foundations, banks, and corporations on contributing financially, providing in-kind support, or advising the program. Start with the coalition partners who have helped develop the initiative
- Launch and implement initiative
- Track and publish KPIs on a regular basis. Include aggregated demographic and neighborhood data on entrepreneurs being served, services provided, outcomes, etc. (See KPIs section)
The availability of funds is not enough to ensure the success of local businesses. In fact, funds without support and technical assistance can create problems for businesses. But technical assistance programs are not enough; the success of entrepreneurs depends on having a strong community of mentors that they can rely on to help them along the process of starting and scaling a business — whether it be answering questions about business planning and strategy advice, partners, the local market, funding /grants, or even getting advice on who to go to.
This ecosystem must be diverse and available to all in the community. An estimated 81 percent of funding for businesses comes through personal net worth, family wealth, or connections to networks. The lack of business role models is particularly acute for Black and brown business owners, impeding their ability to start businesses. Ensuring that these individuals have an entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical to ensuring equity in a city.
Cities should launch programs, leveraging business and community partners, to foster an entrepreneurial environment. These actions should focus around connecting entrepreneurs and facilitating access to government and support services, such as mentoring. They usually should not be led by the city, but the city has a key role to play encouraging, galvanizing, connecting, and facilitating. These actions are also incredibly important, are foundational to ensure the success of other programs in this toolkit, and are low-cost.
Independence, OR: Entrepreneurship Initiatives
Independence, Oregon (population ~10,000) was a thriving agricultural City that was facing an uncertain and concerning economic future in the 1990s due to the changing employment landscape. City officials decided to take decisive action to reverse this decline and prepare the economy for the 21st century by centering entrepreneurship. Several initiatives were launched as part of their 2020 Vision plan to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One of the catalysts for building the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the city was attracting Indy Commons, a coworking space that offers members the ability to network and collaborate. Created by a private entrepreneur who partners with the City to host different events, ranging from practical skills (e.g., how to create a “Google My Business” account) to information sessions from government officials. Membership is offered at several levels – with rates starting as low as $75 a month – to enable local entrepreneurs with little capital to take advantage of the space. It has been so popular that it recently moved to a larger space to handle additional capacity. One of the primary benefits of the space is the high-speed broadband made possible by city investments.
Related to Indy Commons is IndyIdeaHub, a speaker series established to facilitate connections between local entrepreneurs, city officials, and business leaders. The non-profit will also be providing one-on-one technical assistance to local business owners. Leveraging Kauffman Foundation’s 1 million cups as a model program, the team hosts regular events centered around entrepreneurship and sharing best practices. Events are normally hosted at Indy Commons and complimentary coffee and pastries are provided by local businesses. The organization hosts events with different themes such as starting a business, accessing capital, and crowdfunding. They also host regular “Fail Fests” and bring in successful entrepreneurs to discuss previously failed enterprises and show how to take appropriate risks.
Given the community’s strong agricultural roots, the City has been examining opportunities to incorporate food-related entrepreneurship into the program. The local school district is working to establish an Agricultural Technology Education Center on a 10-acre property in the county. Students will be able to learn about critical agriculture skills and cutting edge technology. The City is also partnering with Oregon State University to offer programming to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners.
Its work has received acclaim and the town is serving as a model to other cities thinking about how to promote entrepreneurship. City officials proactively meet with prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners to identify barriers and make it easier to do business. The City has even attracted a new hotel. Despite Independence’s successes, it is continuing to focus on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The City has started planning its 2040 Visions to further entrepreneurship and innovation. IndyCommons is also considering building a podcast and video room to meet entrepreneurial needs in today’s post-COVID world.
The Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) is a new center in Atlanta, created to empower Black entrepreneurs and small business owners. Funded by a grant through the Russell family, the RCIE will have several key elements: incubator, accelerator, and innovation lab. It will serve as a convener to highlight resources, networks, mentors, technical assistance, and education opportunities for Black Atlantans. RCIE will have a physical coworking and convening space.
Note: RCIE was funded through a private philanthropic partner. Cities should explore whether this is a possibility; otherwise, they should consider donating space in City buildings for convenings or identifying local partners (e.g., coffee shops) that can host events.
- Engage and Assess Your Current Ecosystem
- Reach out to local business leaders and entrepreneurs to identify gaps in existing programming and opportunities
- Be sure to reach out to communities of color and low-income individuals to understand the needs of all communities
- Connect with startup and small business groups, local non-profits, educational institutions, philanthropic partners, and business leaders to ensure participation. Part of the program’s benefit should be to offer networking and mentoring opportunities with established leaders.
- Use data (e.g., from Kauffman foundation’s My Sidewalk) to demonstrate where potential gaps and opportunities for entrepreneurship exist in the community.
- Entrepreneurship convenings
- Consider philanthropic models (e.g., 1 Million Cups) as a model for this.
- Identify space(s) that can be used for gatherings.
- Spaces should be easily accessible and conducive to small group gatherings (e.g., coffee shops)
- Plan first convening with at least 2 entrepreneurs presenting their businesses and gathering input
- Establish a recurring schedule for convenings, with a set time and place
- Establish clear success metrics and modify the program as necessary
- The convener does not need to be the city officials — rather it can be successful entrepreneurs in the community. The city’s role may be helping identify the right leader in the community and spreading awareness.
- Regulation Reform
- Meet with local business leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss existing government regulations and burdensome processes
- Direct the city attorney’s office to conduct a review of regulations with a particular focus on identified roadblocks.
- Require “positive justification” (e.g., clean sheet regulations) for regulations that remain for businesses
- Modify/eliminate unnecessary regulations. Work with city council and relevant stakeholders to make changes as necessary.
- Establishes a network that businesses can leverage to get advice and support
- Enables entrepreneurs to see success stories and understand best practices
- Low cost to implement
- Can be lofty, not actionable if the group does not provide tangible benefits
- Runs the risk of only helping certain segments of the population if it does not include a diverse group of businesses
Impact: Medium (low in isolation but enables many other actions)
Implementation time: Slow
Cost: Low. These programs can be very low cost and likely only require a coordinator role. Entrepreneurial partners and community leaders should help lead these efforts.