Posted at 11:00 AM
Guest blog post by Craig Buerstatte, Deputy Director, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
The U.S. Economic Development Administration's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) works to grow America’s innovation capacity to drive job growth and competitiveness while promoting economic development. One powerful tool OIE uses to help accomplish this mission is a Federal advisory council of 25 leaders who advise the Secretary of Commerce on important issues impacting American innovation and entrepreneurship.
Recently, this council—the National Advisory Council on Innovation & Entrepreneurship (NACIE)—has been studying local entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives. One of its goals has been to identify policies or programs to connect and scale high-impact, place-based initiatives and then to find a way to share those with other communities looking to drive similar outcomes. The first stop: Nashville, TN, where NACIE held its 2016 spring meeting. There, the members were exposed to unique strategies that Nashville’s leaders are using to support that community’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Impressed with the value all parties gained from this exchange, NACIE planned a follow-on trip to Austin, TX, to further explore how place-based solutions can be shared at a regional or national level.
During their visit to Austin, Council members were especially interested in learning how Austin leveraged its signature culture—represented by slogans like “Keep Austin Weird” and the city’s status as the “Live Music Capital of the World”—to support a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Every city has its own unique physical, intellectual and cultural assets that create the conditions and opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive—but touring those assets in person brought the members new insights that will fuel their recommendations for national policy and for initiatives in their own communities.
The city’s ability to harness creative and artistic energy to promote entrepreneurship and innovation was highlighted when Council members met with leaders of Austin City Limits to discuss the influence of music on the city’s businesses and culture and on the city’s ability to attract a certain type of creative talent to the region.
Just as important as renowned Austin-based events are the lesser known, grassroots organizations like PeopleFund, a nonprofit organization that creates economic opportunity for underserved populations by providing access to capital, education and resources to build healthy small businesses. Amber Cooney, Director of Development & Communications, emphasized that “because of where we are located and how we lend, we are able to support entrepreneurs and small business owners that so many other lenders turn away." NACIE’s interest in PeopleFund is two-fold: not only does the organization directly enable entrepreneurial activity by facilitating greater access to capital, but it also serves as a great example of a community-focused program that has rapidly expanded across a region from 5 to 254 counties. Members were able to gain deeper insight into how such initiatives can expand across larger regions and to learn about the challenges faced while scaling operations beyond a local scope.
The Council also visited the Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas at Austin, met with leaders of the Austin Food Trailer Alliance and discussed the growing sharing economy with local city leaders.
NACIE’s tour of Austin allowed the Council to better understand how individual American cities are leveraging their unique attributes to build robust ecosystems of innovation and to explore ways to export this creative, entrepreneurial energy to other regions in the U.S. NACIE plans to travel to Chicago in September to continue this dialogue, looking for parallels and new opportunities that eventually can operate on a national scale.