On Turning Mayors into Entrepreneurial Ambassadors

Olivia Aligned Contributions, Blog, Business, Entrepreneurship

On Turning Mayors into Entrepreneurial Ambassadors

Photo Credit: Alison Gold

By Alison Gold, founder of Optimistic Anthropology

June 11, 2019

Last month, City Alive was invited to present at the Kauffman Foundation's annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Kansas City. The conference brings mayors, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship experts together to discuss ways to promote startup activity and encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship in their cities.

Alison Gold, the founder of Optimistic Anthropology, co-presented alongside City Alive. The all-day session focused on Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Ambassadors, and engaged mayors and senior representatives from cities ranging from 15,000 to 387,000 people located all across the country. Alison gave us some of the key takeaways from the session:

Q: As a starting point, why entrepreneurship?

A: From where I sit, I see entrepreneurship as a pathway for addressing economic disparities that persist in our country across racial and gender lines, and for helping individuals grow their income and wellbeing. I also see it as an opportunity to rethink and test new models of working. We continue to think of work with an industrial mindset that the more you put in, the more you get out. But, that's not true with a lot of work today. Entrepreneurs are often at the forefront of thinking about work differently.

I'm particularly concerned about how work has taken over people's lives, and even with a full time job, or more than one job, people don't have the financial resources, time and flexibility that enable them to better care for themselves, their family members and their communities. What I so value about City Alive's approach is that it considers these issues part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Q: Your session focused on Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Ambassadors. What are they?

A: To me, Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Ambassadors are cross-sector leaders by another, more issue-specific name. Ecosystem Ambassadors play a key role in facilitating a process for institutions and individuals to come together, to build trust with one another and to develop a shared vision for what they want the entrepreneurial ecosystem to look like. This is so crucial to learn into the solutions that address the problems and barriers entrepreneurs identify.  

We focused our session on helping Mayors from across the country understand how to do the hard work of reshaping an ecosystem that was built in a different era. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Ambassadors are the people doing deep listening to the problems being faced by entrepreneurs in the community and building relationships across sectors that support solutions. In cities across the country, Ambassadors are working to understand the system of institutions and individuals, policies, practices, funding flows and mindsets that are contributing to the current state of entrepreneurship.

Our interactive session with the mayors not only focused on the role of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Ambassador, but about the larger context and strategy of entrepreneurial ecosystem work. A big focus for us was identifying why it is necessary to support locally-grown businesses' success.  

Q: What was a highlight of the session?

For me the highlight was seeing how the participants were so fully engaged throughout the day. As Robin was sharing examples of the process and strategy in Albuquerque, we were seeing them take those concepts up in real time and try to think through how they might make them happen in their own contexts. They were asking really thoughtful questions and sharing with one another from their own experiences. To me, that's a sign of a great day of work — folks are energized and doing the work. And the proof was in the pudding; the Kauffman Foundation asked all the Mayors and reps if they would be willing to make commitments around next steps, and all the folks we worked with did.

Q: What are some of the best ways cities (and their Mayors) can better support entrepreneurs?

A: I'm a big believer that there is no recipe for what cities and their Mayors should do, but there is a process that I think City Alive has continued to model in its work. And that's starting with getting clear on who you consider to be entrepreneurs in your community, and what you are hoping to achieve by supporting them. Once a city is clear on that, it all starts with listening to the very people you are aiming to benefit — the entrepreneurs.

Q: Why Albuquerque?

A: It is clear to me that Albuquerque is truly at the forefront when it comes to building an equitable entrepreneurship ecosystem. What Albuquerque has done over the last six years is show how intention, commitment and persistence make it possible for this large scale work to be done and to be done successfully. It is informing the field nationally by talking explicitly about a racial equity lens and creating homegrown jobs as the goal.

The Mayors that we met with were hungry to figure out how they support entrepreneurs, because they understand the value of thriving businesses and job growth for their communities. They already know there's no quick or easy solutions. I think there are so many rich lessons from the work that's been going on, including how City Alive has evolved as the work has evolved and how it has continued on as the individual occupying the Mayor’s office has changed.  

Connect the Dots

Alison Gold’s connection with City Alive started when she was at Living Cities, an early investor in City Alive. There, her portfolio of work focused on supporting the change-makers working in communities to think strategically about the structures and behaviors of cross-sector collaboration. Then, Alison directed a national fellowship program on cross-sector leadership at the since-sunset Presidio Institute where Robin Brulé, our Chief Strategist, was a national fellow. Today, she works with organizations and cross-sector collaborations to build their knowledge, learning processes, and cultures to shape a more equitable and positive world through Optimistic Anthropology, which she founded.

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