Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the New Economic Development Audience

Isaac Kremer/ March 1, 2024/ downtown, Economic, Field Notes, Writing/ 0 comments

Today the results from the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Rural Communities Pilot Program were released. Main Street America has positioned itself well at the center of these important discussions, continuing many years of excellent work with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Several important findings were shared.

  1. Acknowledge and address imbalances and gaps in your Main Street.
  2. Language translation is a first step, not a final step to inclusivity.
  3. Support all businesses and entrepreneurs, even if you think they’ll fail.
  4. Resources and Programs are only valuable when used and respected by your target audience.
  5. Genuine relationships come before services, offers, and resource outreach.
  6. True support means walking alongside, not leading and pulling toward a certain direction.
  7. Gatekeeping and power dynamics are roadblocks in ecosystem building.
  8. Have the best understanding of what success can be in your community.

These were results of nine workshops held in nine different states in 2023. Workshops were held in Birmingham, AL; Cloquet and Red Wing, MN; Ellensburg, WA; Grand Island, NE; Great Bend, KS; Jefferson City, MO; Lewiston, PA; Louisville, KY and Uptown Marion, IA.

In turn this builds on work of authors Brad Feld in Startup Communities and Gabe Klein in Start-up Cities. Feld closely observed the emergence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boulder, Colorado. Lessons he took from this were developed into what he called “The Boulder Thesis.”

  1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

Likewise, Klein identified opportunities for new-private partnership bringing a start-up ethos to work in local government. He highlighted exponential technological change as a driver of increased public entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and a more proactive approach to partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Main Street America added to the rising interest in entrepreneurial ecosystems in “The Importance of Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystems” (State of Main, Winter 2019). Dell Gines, Sr., provided a brief history of economic development predicting a “Fourth Wave” of entrepreneurship ecosystem development that built on industrial attraction development (first wave), entrepreneurial development that started in the 1980s (2nd wave), and cluster development since the 1990s (3rd wave). This Fourth Wave focuses on
“the context and elements in a local community that enable entrepreneurs to efficiently start and grow companies.” This activity is supported by collaboration among public sector policy makers, capital providers, and entrepreneurial support organizations.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was raging in 2020, Eric Canada through the Business Recruitment and Expansion Network (an informal and short-lived assemblage of economic developers that met weekly via Zoom) also predicted a new era of economic development. For Canada, he saw Main Street, Entrepreneurship, and Primary Sector activities combining into a new approach.

The New Economic Development Audience. Credit: Eric Canada, Blane, Canada, Ltd., April 30, 2020.

Now we are at a moment where Main Street America through a nationwide network of coordinating programs, and accredited and affiliate community partners are in a position to drive the next wave of economic development. We’re not asking for a seat at the table, but rather Main Street leaders are placing ourselves at the center of a table we helped build to discuss how local economies will grow.

For those who follow these things closely, it is encouraging to see how staff involved in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Pilot Project are now involved in strengthening the Main Street America Institute – the preeminent training for a new wave of leaders in Main Street America who are at the forefront of community change and transformation. Likewise, it is encouraging to see other Main Street America senior staff on the board of the International Economic Development Council. As Eric Canada predicted in 2020, it appears that the new Economic Development Audience has arrived with Main Street America leading the way.

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About Isaac Kremer

A nationally recognized downtown revitalization leader, downtowns Isaac managed achieved $350 million of investment, 1,300 jobs created, and were 2X Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist and a 1X GAMSA winner in 2023. His work has been featured in Newsday, NJBIZ, ROI-NJ, TapInto, and USA Today. Isaac is a Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) with additional certifications from the National Parks Service, Project for Public Spaces, and the National Development Council.

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