Cities have always competed as places of human expression, cultural exchange, and commerce. An important way that future cities will compete is as inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems. This is true for two reasons. First, in our global knowledge economy, regions compete through innovation. Second, innovation requires diversity and intensity of interaction.
Despite the mythology around innovation—think of the solitary white-haired inventor toiling away in his lab until he reaches a “eureka!” moment—research shows that innovation generally happens in increments rather than all at once, and is birthed by teams and not individuals. And innovation is accelerated in settings where interactions between diverse groups can happen frequently and at times unexpectedly.
Flow-charting the innovation process into a clean one-way line from box to box is laughable. In the real world, those lines would be spaghetti, and many of those boxes would represent players you’d never think of. Did you know that the Black-Scholes model, a foundational equation in modern finance, has its origins in physics? Or that Flaming Hot Cheetos, one of Frito Lay’s most successful consumer products ever, was initially proposed by a janitor?
While innovation can emerge from anywhere in the world, cities represent an important location because of the possibility cities offer to gather people at scale, colliding together new insights and disparate perspectives to inch our way to breakthrough. That is, after all, the fundamental value proposition of cities, that concentrations of people create a virtuous cycle of discourse birthing new ideas, compelling more people and money to flow in, leading to still more engagement and energy and innovation.
But unlocking that value proposition takes hard and intentional work. For innovation cannot happen when entire groups are systematically excluded from making contributions and reaping the benefits. Unfortunately, there remains far too much disparity in access, resources, and opportunity in cities across the country, the legacy of historical injustices whose systemic influences carry into the present.
Therefore, the cities of the future that thrive will do so by creating inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems that address structural barriers and create access points for diverse participation. Which begs the question that we will be exploring further this year: how do you make that happen? Which in turn raises a number of to-do’s we are eager to take up:
- Substantiating the definitive case for focusing on and investing in inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems, in order to move stakeholders from good intentions and lofty words to real change.
- A battle-tested playbook and assessment tool that individual participants, like municipal governments and research centers and advocacy groups, can use to make cities more inclusive.
- Guidance on and taxonomies of the coalitions that need to be formed to support all businesses, and of the mechanisms that need to be established to facilitate the engagement needed for breakthrough.
- Measurable indicators that allow cities to benchmark how they fare nationally and identify where they’re making progress and where they need to shore things up.
- Identifying and diving deeper into key industries that may drive the future competitiveness of cities but that are struggling mightily to be more representative, like tech and real estate and health care.
We are excited to dive into this critical topic, and eager to have broad engagement along the way. Stay in touch!
Frank Robinson is a veteran of economic development and sustainable development industries, having worked with corporate, government, and nonprofit clients. With Econsult Solutions, Frank manages teams on Equity and Inclusion projects, as well as Government Policy, and Economic Development.
As President and Principal of Econsult Solutions, Lee Huang leads the firm’s Equity and Inclusion and Universities and Hospitals practice areas, as well as guiding the firm’s business development and new initiatives.