The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
Economic Development Starts in Kindergarten
Most new jobs are created by small businesses (66% according to the SBA). How do we get those businesses to launch in our urban neighborhoods? There are many hurdles to overcome in starting a business but the biggest is the leap of faith it requires.
A Leap of Faith
The one ingredient that every business needs is an owner that believes they can do it. Simple as that. Money helps. Education helps. Skills help. But without faith in one’s abilities, without the belief that one can be independent, a person will never make the leap to business ownership.
Experience Can Narrow That Leap
For many adults, starting a business is a mysterious and scary proposition, a leap into the unknown. The media touts the huge successes and spectacular failures. The everyday, mundane aspects are rarely portrayed in movies, TV, or print. But if someone has experience starting a business, especially with guidance and support, the mystery is removed. Repeat that experience multiple times and that leap becomes a small step.
Owning Your Life
According to an Aspen Institute study, “a sense of ownership in their lives was four times higher for alumni of youth-entrepreneurship programs.” Taking ownership of one’s life, taking responsibility for one’s actions, is critical to lifelong success. Youth entrepreneurial experiences provide an opportunity to acquire this perspective. Not everyone will become an entrepreneur. But the soft and hard skills learned through entrepreneurial experiences help prepare young people for a productive and independent adulthood.
Business is Fun!
What’s the best age for kids to have their first entrepreneurial experiences? Young Entrepreneur Institute has successfully engaged students as young as five! Running a lemonade stand with a friend is fun! There are many important skills learned from a simple lemonade stand but one key is the positive feeling associated with the experience. This positive experience has been shown to increase students’ engagement with other aspects of their education like math and writing.
A Lemonade Stand is Just Like a Big-Box Store
Have you ever visited the classic American lemonade stand, the one with a couple of young kids selling lemonade on their street? How can such a simple business compare to a big-box store? To launch their nano-business, the young people had to deal with pricing, location, product selection, marketing, customer service, and more. These are issues the typical big-box store manager faces as well, just with a few more digits in the amounts and a few more people impacted.
Financial Literacy is a Natural Outcome
Youth entrepreneurship also teaches a number of hard skills, most prominently financial literacy. Understanding concepts like revenue, profit, assets, credit, savings, and interest rates is a natural part of the entrepreneurial experience. This understanding pays dividends for the rest of these young people’s lives.
Art of the Pitch
Being able to succinctly and persuasively tell your story is another hard skill that is learned through entrepreneurial experience. Answering the simple question, “Tell me what you’re selling today?” provides a child with an opportunity to practice this skill.
More than Lemonade Stands
There are many great youth entrepreneurship programs that provide the curriculum, support materials, and experience necessary for student success.
- The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) focuses specifically on urban, disadvantaged youth.
- Junior Achievement has a wide range of programs to engage youth in entrepreneurial experiences.
- Selling Bee is an ideation and pitch curriculum and competition for kids as young as five years old.
- Wildfire Education has adapted Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad into a broadly applicable problem-based learning methodology for high schools.
But the lemonade stand is still a great basis for entrepreneurial learning and experience.
- Prepared4Life, with its Lemonade Day program, has created detailed curriculum for parents and teachers that builds on the classic lemonade stand, and is used by almost a quarter of a million kids every year.
It Takes a Village
Actually, it takes an ecosystem to make a difference in thousands of children’s lives. “Northeast Ohio has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, youth entrepreneurship ecosystems in the world,” noted Steve Mariotti, founder of NFTE. Events like Enspire, a conference for participants in the youth entrepreneurship ecosystems, have solidified the collaborative nature of the region’s ecosystem. And it takes funding. Fortunately, Northeast Ohio has a tremendous catalyst in the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Their support at all levels of entrepreneurship – youth, collegiate, and adult – has been central to the region’s success.
The Bottom Line
It’s never too early to expose kids to entrepreneurial experiences! If you’re interested in urban economic development, I encourage you to come to Northeast Ohio, check out www.youngentrepreneurinstitute.org and see for yourself.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.