White House Urban Entrepreneurship Forum

Wed, 2011-08-17 11:29

By Hadi Khan, MPA '12

Blog Post 1/3

“Who Creates a Cancer Foundation?”

John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation Hope asked this question to an audience of business people, social workers, government officials, students, and aspiring entrepreneurs, all gathered for the White House Urban Entrepreneurship Forum at Temple University in Philadelphia. After a few moments of silence and confused looks someone from the audience yelled out ‘crazy people do that!’

Mr. Bryant did give his answer to that, but let’s unveil that in the end. First, let’s see what this forum was about and what other extremely seasoned and influential people in the city and outside had to share about Urban Entrepreneurship in Philadelphia and the region. This Forum was about unleashing ideas, creating partnerships, understanding available resources, and inspiring leadership to foster growth, jobs, and urban development.

On August 8, 2011 I arrived at the Fox School of Business at Temple University early in the morning and was immediately welcomed by the extremely courteous organizers of the event. Moments later I was in a hall having breakfast with the who-is-who the government, corporations, and development organizations -the White House representatives and the Mayor on my right and CEOs on my left. Here was the first lesson I learnt, which was aptly summarized in the words of Michael Blake, Associate Director, Whitehouse office of Public Engagement, or more suitably the ‘Master of the Ceremony’.  The government is here simply to bring people together and foster the building of coalitions. Through these coalitions will emerge synergies and more opportunities that were undiscovered earlier. The government will make sure that resources are available at all levels and the rest is about coming together to use them effectively. 

The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, who, with his usual wit and smile, shared the history of Philadelphia as the first city of the USA, the ‘center of innovation’, and the ‘workshop of the world’. He shared that in the historical development of cities, we have seen entrepreneurs taking the lead in innovation, crafting creative ideas for using limited resources, and creating opportunities from scrap (quite literally – the naval shipyard is a classic example of a resource that was scrapped but today provides over 10,000 jobs in the city). The second lesson which he shared is that the ‘governments need to create opportunities, not jobs’. They need to continually invest, and then ‘get out of the way and let ideas come.’

This was followed by an Armchair Conversation with the Mayors of Greater Philadelphia region, Mayer Nutter, Mayor Redd and Delaware State Treasurer Chip Flowers. The third lesson is to understand the ‘ripple effects’ the cities bring on to each other. ‘Philadelphia is not on an island’, as Nutter jokingly remarked.  We have to work as a region and make sure that people in this region:

  1. have all necessary infrastructural and logistical support from the government;
  2. have easy access to capital;
  3. are able to set up small businesses quickly. A big plan is slow and makes the news, but small setups make those 20-25 jobs that add up to significant numbers quickly;
  4. are applying for the over $30B federal funds for small business loans provided through US Small Business Administration;
  5. have access to well established community and regional banks for capital.

To make this forum fun, educative, and engaging, the Mayors were put on the spot and asked to give a 1-minute pitch for their cities. This resulted in an interesting battle between the allies and an interesting feedback from Magnus Greaves, Co-founder of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs. To view this short session click here. Making this pitch is an essential skill that burgeoning entrepreneurs must know, and is vital their success in their fields.

From the discussions till now we can understand the importance of government investment in creating opportunities, people coming together, and regional synergies that lead to decisions that positively affect residents of the region.

These can surely nurture urban development and give wings for entrepreneurs to fly higher and faster. But is that sufficient to enable one to make a cancer foundation? Perhaps there is more to the story of an urban entrepreneur…

To read part two of this series, click here.