New Haven Sparks New Beginnings

September 23, 2020 | By

Symone Fogg

"We are building something that I (and I venture to speak for others as well) have never seen. My heart opened more fully upon hearing that and I lean into learning more and more about how that will be put in practice." 

Karen DuBois-Walton, New Haven resident and SPARK attendee

Forward Cities has the pleasure of partnering with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to foster a more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in New Haven, Connecticut. The Foundation has made it a goal in their 2020 Strategic Plan to “create opportunity through an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Greater New Haven. This effort, guided by Forward Cities, will begin with a strategic action plan outlining the road to equity in New Haven and customized to the city’s nuances and culture. This plan hopes to lend itself to increased connection and access to the support ecosystem for marginalized communities of entrepreneurs; and for existing entrepreneurs, increased resiliency in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. To ignite the community’s contribution to the strategic plan, Forward Cities held a SPARK event on August 19.


What is a SPARK event?

Spark is a kick-off gathering community leaders, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial support organizations to discuss the current state of their entrepreneurial ecosystem. Using Forward Cities’ proprietary Equity for Every Entrepreneur (E3) Scorecard, participants self-assess the health and interconnectedness of their local ecosystem. The Scorecard poses thought-provoking questions for the community, such as: are there policies and supports that insure infrastructure and funding for equitable businesses and ecosystem sustainability? Do K-12 entrepreneurship curriculum/focus/dedicated experiential programs exist? 

In New Haven, the SPARK event was facilitated by well-known community leaders like Caroline Smith & Margaret Lee of Collab New Haven, board members and staff of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven like Arthur Thomas the Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives and Inclusive Economic Opportunity, and our own support team from Forward Cities. Participants included members from the Black Business Alliance, the City of New Haven, Elm City Communities, and the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund. 

Upon reviewing the scorecard, participants shared their feedback in eight breakout groups, each given a respective Scorecard topic like Capital & Funding or Talent Pipeline & Mentors. Each group discussed their experiences, thoughts and analysis of New Haven’s E3 Score -  elements of the E3 Scorecard measured and tallied to create a total score of the ecosystem’s equity. Participants shared their stories, ideas and experiences to sharpen the picture of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur in New Haven today. 



When asked what area of focus would be most helpful to increase equity in access to entrepreneurship a majority of participants voted for Capital & Funding. Dependent upon the networks between entrepreneurs and their supporters, Capital & Funding should be for the growth of the local entrepreneurs and businesses in all sectors and at all stages. Signs of healthy capital & funding networks include: equitable capital stack accessible for all stages and series of funding, including recovery; diverse executive and board leadership among funding organizations and entities; and credit enhancement programs. 

When asked what success in New Haven looks like, contributions were focused on cross-sector collaboration, equity and opportunities: 

“A New Haven in which local businesses are supported by access to capital at all stages, mentorship, education at all stages, focus on not bringing in outside businesses only but supporting grassroots efforts”

“Success would be when across the community - business and social sector, public and private, major local anchor institutions, neighborhood leadership, political leadership - all embrace and prioritize inclusive entrepreneurial development”

“Local entrepreneurs are prepared, thrive, celebrated and supported and are representative of the community”

Many thanks to SPARK event attendee Dr. Karen DuBois-Walton for sharing her reflections following the event:

"I found it powerful to be in a space convened specifically to address the ecosystem in New Haven for entrepreneurs in a way that intentionally spoke from an equity frame and named white supremacy as both foundational to our current economy and that the dismantling of such is required to achieve inclusive growth and to build an ecosystem in which marginalized entrepreneurs can thrive. I found myself continually curious about what this will look like in practice. We are building something that I (and I venture to speak for others as well) have never seen. I am also curious to know more about what has taken shape in other places. Secondly, I have not been in many spaces that speak to inclusive growth that also espouse the value of “community over profit”. My heart opened more fully upon hearing that and I lean into learning more and more about how that will be put in practice." 

We’re grateful to the community leaders who generously contributed their time, energy, and expertise to what was a pivotal moment for the New Haven community at the SPARK event. This convening was the beginning of reimagining racial justice through equitable entrepreneurship in New Haven, and we can’t wait for what’s next.


Next Steps

Forward Cities is just beginning the two-year engagement with New Haven, and we’re more than excited to bring about positive change for all entrepreneurs. After the SPARK event, we begin recruitment for the E3 Council and send surveys to entrepreneurial support organizations to hear their experiences. To review our past work in cities like New Haven, view Community Entrepreneurship Accelerators on our website. If you’re interested in viewing the SPARK event, please watch the recording here

If you’d like to measure your community by the E3 Scorecard, visit our Assess Your Ecosystem page.