5 Ways Akron is Redefining Entrepreneurship
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
Akron, Ohio, like many legacy cities, experienced a rougher-than-average blow with the economic downturn. But with the help of a new generation of entrepreneurs, the city is also rebounding at a stronger rate than some of its neighbors. Here’s a look into what makes Akron’s entrepreneurship scene stand out and which local programs are supporting its growth.
1. You don’t have to carry a hockey stick.
For decades, the word “entrepreneur” has been associated with highly scalable startups; tech-oriented businesses that were deemed successful when their profit line mimicked the proverbial hockey stick. While Akron has plenty of exciting tech startups, we also celebrate the entrepreneurs whose financial projections have more in common with an escalator (that is, a slow, steady upward slope) than a piece of sporting equipment.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” This means that the owners of the clothing boutiques, coffee shops, rock climbing gyms, salons, comic book shops, yoga studios and all of our neighborhood businesses that opened their doors in the last few years can wear the mantle of entrepreneurship just as proudly as their app-developing neighbors.
2. We’re not all white males.
In a 2013 working paper by Ross Levine and Yona Rubinstein, the authors noted that “entrepreneurs” are a type. They found that entrepreneurs are “disproportionately white, male, and highly educated.” And while we are extremely proud of our local entrepreneurs that fit that description, our spectrum is broad and welcoming. One of our most exciting tech startups, Komae, was founded by two women, and one of the hottest tables in town, Nepali Kitchen, is owned and operated by a Bhutanese immigrant. Local support organizations like the Women’s Network, the International Institute of Akron, and the Urban League celebrate entrepreneurs’ differences while providing assistance to many different types of businesses.
3. Artists are entrepreneurs too.
In many places, artists – musicians, thespians, and visual artists alike – are considered a different breed. But we recognize that whether they’re selling their paintings or filling tables at the local jazz club, artists are running a business. Organizations like Crafty Mart provide artists and artisans a venue for selling their goods to the public in multi-venue craft fairs that see more than $100,00 in sales for makers each year.
Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, an advocacy and backbone organization for Summit County arts says, “Creative professionals are redefining what it means to be an artist. According to the Kauffman Foundation about 34% of US artists are self-employed and part of a burgeoning category of creative entrepreneurs who are generating economic activity, creating jobs, and emerging as a force in local and national economies.”
4. We believe in due diligence.
Steve Jobs’ philosophy, “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them” may work for one in a million. But for the other 999,999 of us, homework is key and can put you ahead of the competition. Prior to opening Sweet Mary’s Bakery, Mary Hospodarsky interviewed dozens of workers in the blocks surrounding her downtown Akron location. She was surprised to learn that quiche was the most-desired menu item; she had not planned to include it on her menu. But she listened to her future customers’ demands and today it remains one of her best-sellers.
Financial projections, customer discovery, and business plans rarely make it into the blockbuster movie, but they’re a smart way to approach a new endeavor. Organizations like the Small Business Development Center, and the University of Akron’s ICorps program and Small Entrepreneur and Economic Development (SEED) Legal Clinic are here to help.
5. We get by with a little help from our friends.
While other cities conform to the popular “six degrees of separation” theory, the Akron network is more like two degrees – and we’re not afraid to use it. Rather than viewing one another as competition, small business owners espouse the “rising tides lift all boats” idiom and are eager to give the next entrepreneur a hand up. So while Cristina and Richelle of Not Yo’ Daddy’s would never share their secret hot sauce recipe, they’re more than willing to divulge how they found the kitchen space they rent and which pop-up markets have given them the most bang for their buck. It’s the same attitude that shaped Launch League’s microcommunities for tech startups. Whether you’re into front end dev or design, you can meet up with like-minded folks to talk shop and swap tips.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.
In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.
One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing. Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.
ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots” for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions. This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.
Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.
It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.