Entrepreneurship Week at MACDC

November 19th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

“Entrepreneurship is the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world.”

That’s a bold and perhaps provocative statement, but that is what Babson College President Len Schlesinger said at the graduation event for the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar this week.  And after spending much of National Entrepreneurship Week talking with and about entrepreneurs, I think he might be on to something.

While I can’t say it was planned this way, I did spend much of National Entrepreneurship Week focusing on how we can better support local entrepreneurs.

On Monday, I spoke on a panel at the “Access to Credit” Seminar sponsored by Bank of America in partnership with the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.  The seminar talked about the challenges that minority-owned businesses were having obtaining credit from banks and how alternative lenders, including CDCs, CDFIs, and public agencies, could help fill the gap.

On Tuesday, I attended the second board meeting of the new Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation where we voted to appoint Chuck Grigsby as interim President. Chuck is no stranger to MACDC. He has worked closely with us during his tenures at the Community Development Finance Corporation, the City of Boston and the Life Initiative and most recently chaired the Founding Committee for the Mel King Institute for Community Building.  The MGCC will be an important source of financing and technical advice for small businesses in Massachusetts and I'm thrilled to be working with Chuck and the other board members to build the MGCC into a great organization.

On Wednesday, I moderated a panel at the Statewide Conference on Immigrant Entrepreneurship sponsored by the Immigrant Learning  Center, Inc. and Babson College.  The panel focused on the role of Immigrant entrepreneurs in revitalizing urban neighborhoods and we had wonderful presentations from Paul Wantanabe, from UMASS Boston and the Institute for Asian American Studies, Allison Moronta from JPNDC, Long Nguyen from Viet Aid and Saul Perlera, from Perlera Real Estate in East Boston. Paul provided an overview of his report on this subject that documented the enormously vital role these entrepreneurs play in our neighborhoods, while Allison and Long discussed the challenges they face.  Saul told us his inspiring story of moving to Boston as a 16-year-old, undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, obtaining legal status thanks to legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush, becoming a citizen, starting a Real Estate firm and hiring 14 people – and now surviving the real estate crash so he can continue to provide jobs and services to his community.

The Conference included many other inspiring and informative speakers and demonstrated the vital role that immigrants are playing in our economy. It made many of us angry that these contributions are not recognized more widely, but also more determined to change the conversation nationally and locally.  I’m looking forward to working more closely with the Immigrant Learning Center in the coming year to advance policies and programs to support immigrant entrepreneurship

On Thursday, I returned to Babson College – Ranked #1 in Entrepreneurship Education for the 14th year in a row in 2010 – for the final session of the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar.   The Seminar was hosted by Babson and led by a wonderful team of instructors, including Elizabeth Thornton and Donna Stoddard from Babson College and Jason Friedman from Friedman Associates.  The seminar provided 36 hours of classroom instruction plus individualized assistance in between class sessions.  At the seminar on Thursday, participants from the Community Business Network shared with the others how they used the first session’s class on outcome measurement to inspire them to completely rethink their approach. They showed the group their new intake form, theory of change, outcome goals and indicators. Several of the other CDCs were so impressed that we are now talking about implementing the system at CDCs across the state!  This provides, I think, yet another example of the new openness to sharing and collaboration that we see throughout the field.

We were also joined on Thursday by Babson College President Len Schlesinger and the state’s economic development Secretary, Greg Bialecki who came to congratulate the participants on completing the Seminar. Secretary Bialecki highlighted the Governor’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation and said that the work of the CDCs fits squarely in that agenda. He also announced that the Growth Capital Corporation has allocated $600,000 to provide FY 2011 grants to small business technical assistance program and that the GCC intends to build on this to do more in the future. President Schlesinger gave an inspiring talk in which he made his comment about entrepreneurship being the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world and pledged to continue working with us to advance the field throughout the state. 

Len Schlesinger and Babson College define entrepreneurship as "a way of thinking and acting that is opportunity obsessed, holistic in approach, and leadership balanced."   That’s a good way to describe the entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods. It’s also a good description of many Community Developers.  Perhaps there is more to Len Schlesinger’s comment than we realized!

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Innovation in Indianapolis

November 3rd, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

Last month I travelled to Indianapolis to attend a meeting of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development's  National Advisory Committee and to tour some of Indianapolis’ hardest hit neighborhoods. It was inspiring to see how local CDCs and CBOs are working together and with LISC and other partners to undertake long term and comprehensive community development initiatives.  Indianapolis has had a strong CDC sector for many years, thanks in part to support from LISC, the City, the Eli Lilly Foundation and other supporters. Over the past five years, the community development sector in the city has fully embraced Comprehensive Community Development as part of their Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI).  GINI seeks to replicate the highly successful Chicago model in which broad neighborhood coalitions come together to develop Quality of Life plans for their neighborhoods and then work jointly to implement them. It’s a model that Boston LISC is now replicating through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.  

One of the neighborhoods that we toured was the Near East Side neighborhood where 40% of the homes are vacant and/or foreclosed and many of the others in disrepair.  The neighborhood used to be home to one of the nation’s largest and most successful CDCs – the Eastside Community Investments (ECI) which collapsed in the 1990s (it went from over 80 employees to zero in just two years.)  Now a new coalition has emerged led by the John H. Boner Community Center and they have a strategy to attract $100 million of investment to rebuild the neighborhood. The coalition has also helped start a new CDC to fill the void left by ECI’s collapse. I thought it was interesting that the demise of one CDC led to the emergence of new players and even a new CDC that are now taking the lead in the neighborhood. The lesson for me is that local, accountable, placed based leadership and capacity was needed to fill the void left by the old CDC – external actors and regional organizations could not fill that void.

Yet, external and regional actors do have an essential role to play. In fact, one of the most exciting things happening in the Near East Side, in addition to the emergence of strong local leadership, is that the neighborhood has been adopted by the National Football League and the Super Bowl Host Committee as part of the 2012 Super Bowl.   This has generated millions of dollars and substantial political support for the neighborhood’s agenda. The Super Bowl Host Committee picked this neighborhood because it was well organized, cohesive and had a concrete strategy for sustained change. It is a good example of how well-organized neighborhoods with local capacity can seize unexpected opportunities and bring in regional and even national resources to support a local agenda (rather than impose an external one.)

The local LISC office and our counterparts at the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development  have fully embraced comprehensive community development as their driving theory of change. Massachusetts has much to learn from their experience.

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