A New Era for Small Businesses in Pittsburgh: A Quick Q&A with Hassan Bazzi

July 27, 2021 | By

Emily Bezak

Pittsburgh is transitioning from Forward Cities to a local accelerator it created in the E3 Alliance. In working to create and help launch this new organization over the past few months, Hassan Bazzi, director of community innovation for Forward Cities, sat down with us to discuss the implications for the region and his outlook on the Pittsburgh entrepreneur ecosystem for the future.

New Growth Potential in Pittsburgh with E3 Alliance and Relationships

What is the E3 Alliance?

The Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Alliance (E3 Alliance) of Greater Pittsburgh, is a new organization that serves as the coordinating body for Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, working to foster a culture of equity for every entrepreneur. The organization will lead and synchronize a diverse group of stakeholders in the development and implementation of strategies aligned with shared outcomes to ensure the long-term sustainability of this work in the Pittsburgh ecosystem. The E3 Alliance was launched earlier this Spring out of Riverside Center for Innovation (RCI) located in Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

Where is Forward Cities Going Now?

The Pittsburgh engagement is ending, but that doesn’t mean Forward Cities will close the book on the city. Instead, they’ll start a new chapter. After a successful engagement with the entrepreneurs and innovators in Pittsburgh, Forward Cities will continue to provide resources and stay connected in the region through the new E3 Alliance, led by executive director, Vernard Alexander.

The purpose of this transition is to create space locally to implement an infrastructure for collective action and impact that can be sustained for years to come. Where necessary, Forward Cities will continue to be involved in key projects, pilots, and designated outputs that were outlined in the 2019 Forward Cities grant, establishing sustainability plans.

Q&A with Hassan Bazzi: The Next Generation in Small Business Growth in Pittsburgh

Hassan Bazzi Headshot

Forward Cities' Director of Community Innovation Hassan Bazzi

Q: Forward thinking: What do you foresee in Pittsburgh's future in small business and up-and-coming innovation hub?

A: We’ve learned over the last year the importance of an e-commerce presence to a business’s survival. In addition, a business must remain agile and quickly pivot to withstand economic shocks such as the one we faced as a result of the pandemic.

There has been a lot of intention in Pittsburgh around inclusive entrepreneurship and supporting small business, particularly those run by Black entrepreneurs. Cross-sector stakeholders have been working together to align strategies and develop sustainability plans and models that focus on access to capital, strengthening the capacity of entrepreneur support organizations, the establishment of a guiding organization that services as a convener in the ecosystem, addressing regulatory and permitting barriers faced by entrepreneurs as they prepare to launch or grow their business, increasing access to procurement opportunities, commercial corridor strategy, and increasing the cultural competence of entrepreneur support organizations.

After the engagement ends, Pittsburgh is still part and parcel of the Forward Cities network with all of the benefits. With investment from RCI and the E3 Alliance, more of the city’s entrepreneur ecosystem will live in the region. This is an ultimate goal for many of our cities, and we know Pittsburgh will continue to do well in the future.

Q: How will Forward Cities be connected in Pittsburgh after the engagement officially ends?

A: A major benefit to a community engaged with Forward Cities is being connected with other communities in our network and sharing learnings across communities. In addition, since its inception, Forward Cities has held an annual national conference that attracts hundreds of crossector leaders from over 40 communities around the country. These crossector leaders include entrepreneurs, entrepreneur champions and supporters, ecosystem builders, community organizers, philanthropy, as well as local government and economic development leaders. These diverse stakeholders come together to reflect, share ideas and innovative practices from their communities. They learn from each other and get to hear about innovative practices from across the field of ecosystem building. In fact the The Forward Cities’ 2019 National Conference “Advancing Inclusive Entrepreneurship” was held from June 12 – 14th in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is now one of the communities within this national network at Forward Cities. Pittsburgh has access to future national conferences, as well as access to tools, resources, and learnings from across the network of communities. Forward Cities remains connected to all of the communities in which we’ve worked, even when the engagement officially sunsets. The relationships that develop with the local team and stakeholders continue even when the engagement ends.

Forward Cities will continue to support the E3 Alliance of Pittsburgh, its inaugural leader, Vernard Alexander, and the local stakeholders as they build out and implement a sustainability strategy over the coming months and years. In addition, Forward Cities worked with RCI and the E3 Network members over the past six months to launch shared digital platforms that will be used over the next year to foster collaboration, data sharing, and communication among entrepreneur support organizations. In the coming month, we’ll also be rolling out a platform that entrepreneurs can use to navigate organizations, resources, and services in the Pittsburgh ecosystem. The legacy co-created in Pittsburgh will live on.

Note About the Forward Cities Pittsburgh Page on This Website:

Forward Cities will maintain a Pittsburgh subpage on our website. This public subpage will house an overview of the Pittsburgh engagement, as well as the data and learnings that were collected over time, and can be accessed in perpetuity by the general public, entrepreneurs, and practitioners.
The Navigator initiative, piloted by Forward Cities in Pittsburgh is now a model for other communities within our network. And now through the SBA’s Community Navigator grant program, communities around the country are preparing to launch similar collaborative initiatives. Certainly, the Navigator initiative in Pittsburgh will serve as a model that other communities can learn from and one the region can scale.

Q: What is your favorite small business in Pittsburgh?

A: There are many, many unique and wonderful entrepreneurs and businesses in Pittsburgh. I don’t think it’s fair to single out one over the others.

There are four entrepreneurs with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working directly through my work in Pittsburgh. They exhibit the Pittsburgh spirit through and through and demonstrate the grit that defines it day in and day out. Each approaches their work with an entrepreneurial spirit and dedicates their work to supporting other Pittsburgh entrepreneurs and fostering collaboration in the Pittsburgh ecosystem.

These four Pittsburgh entrepreneurs are Juan Garrett, Executive Director of RCI; Vernard Alexander, founder of the Minority Network Exchange and Director of the E3 Alliance; Khamil Scantling, founder of Cocoapreneur; and, Tori Snyder founder of Self-Care Senorita. If you haven’t met them you should. And if you spend enough time in Pittsburgh and around entrepreneurs you’re bound to run into them.

Small Business Resources for Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs

Small businesses need to be scrappy. Throughout the pandemic, Hassan Bazzi and his team of navigators and community leaders in Pittsburgh have helped entrepreneurs stay open with innovative ideas, resources, and educational support.

Join the Forward Cities mailing list and receive small business insights and resources from our team straight to your inbox. Know it all before your competitor does, and meet some new friends in your community.