Forward Cities’ work in Pittsburgh exemplifies the way we collaborate with communities to foster stronger Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (E3).
In January 2019, we launched a two-year pilot in collaboration with local funders and entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) designed to comprehensively identify and remove barriers to starting and growing businesses among the city’s under-connected entrepreneurs.
The emerging blueprint we are creating in Pittsburgh informs our work to build and sustain more equitable and connected ecosystems through data-informed, place-based, and community-led processes.
Through the leadership of former Local Director, Wasi Mohamed, Forward Cities listened to entrepreneurs, business and community leaders, and representatives from local government, who jointly identified specific barriers to entrepreneurial success in Pittsburgh. This collaboration resulted in valuable insights about convening stakeholders from across communities and sectors, and yielded four key barriers:
- Lack of awareness of existing entrepreneurial supports/resources
- Lack of cultural competence from existing ESOs
- Lack of alignment among ESOs
- The stereotype of a ‘typical entrepreneur’ excludes higher-growth microbusinesses, especially those led by racial minorities
A community-informed process then resulted in the development of four Minimum Viable Solutions (MVSs) to address the identified barriers. Each MVS creates high impact services aimed at ground-truthing a collective action approach to creating more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems.
The MVSs in Pittsburgh included:
- An inaugural E3 Network of entrepreneurial support organizations who share a commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship and have agreed to actively collaborate with one another Alignment and Cultural Competence
- A novel Community Navigators program aimed at providing high-touch outreach to under-connected entrepreneurs in the target neighborhoods and connecting them to the E3 network Awareness and Cultural Competence
- A custom built Ecosystem Resource Platform with national partner SourceLink to help connect the ESOs with one another and entrepreneurs to the E3 network Alignment and Awareness
- Inclusive Entrepreneurship Campaign including dynamic profiles of ‘Typical Entrepreneurs’ to help amplify stories of inclusive entrepreneurship in the city and augment Pittsburgh’s national narrative
Through strategic outreach and storytelling initiatives, each MVS provided essential functions for ESOs and entrepreneurs alike, ensuring resources are accessible and well coordinated—and ultimately aligned—to a common vision and shared set of outcomes.
As we continue to build on this work and evaluate its short and medium-term impact the goal is to help create a sustainable ecosystem approach to equitable entrepreneurship that leads to long-term economic and community impact in Pittsburgh—and serves as a model for other cities nationally.
The Pittsburgh work was graciously supported by the RK Mellon Foundation and the Hillman Family Foundations.