Urban Innovator of the Week: Tayyib Smith

By Nicole Rupersburg

Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer and editor who covers business development & entrepreneurship, arts & culture, and food & travel for national audiences. She is the project editor and lead writer of Urban Innovation Exchange and Creative Exchange.

This profile was originally published by Urban Innovation Exchange in partnership with Meeting of the Minds and Kresge Foundation. For more stories of people changing cities, visit UIXCities.com and follow @UIXCities.

tayib1Tayyib Smith co-founded the Philadelphia-based Little Giant Creative boutique marketing and branding agency in 2006 along with his business partner Meegan Denenberg.

As a creative agency, Little Giant is a for-profit venture that works with a number of different high-profile brands and institutions to, Smith says, “help them speak to audiences they might not otherwise speak to.” Their work has included an event series for Heineken called the Heineken Green Room, targeting the youth of color market (ages 21-35) in Philadelphia and New York, as well as developing the first multicultural tourism campaign for the City of Philadelphia.

“A lot of the work we do on the for-profit side is specializing in cultural competency,” Smith says. This kind of work dovetailed nicely with their higher objective with Little Giant: their interest in social justice.

“The social justice direction of the company spoke to our passions,” he says. While Little Giant works with big names like Heineken, Adidas, and Red Bull, outside of the agency Smith is able to pursue social justice-oriented nonprofit interests, including the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship.

Prior to Little Giant, Smith had worked in the music industry in A&R, managing and developing artists and DJs. Music and hip hop culture has always been an influencing factor in his life, so when he found himself in Chicago at artist Theaster Gates’s Place Lab two years ago brainstorming ideas on projects that would have an impact within the community, the idea for the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship took root. He held onto this idea and developed it, eventually submitting it to the 2016 Knight Cities Challenge. It was named among the year’s winners.

The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship aims to increase economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups. Classes begin for the first cohort on November 12, and will involve nine months of training that includes one intensive weekend per month with other shorter exercises throughout the month.

“We want to account for people who are already working or have kids,” says Smith. “The tech scene and incubator concepts tend to be exclusionary concepts; it’s a tough schedule for people who might not come from a family of means. We wanted to be accommodating and adaptive to the community’s needs.”

They received 300 applicants for this first cohort, which they whittled down to 24. It is a competitive program with an extensive application process, but the selection criterion was not a matter of rewarding those who have already achieved the most. Smith says what they looked for most was a desire, a spirit of hustle, the ability to follow-through, and strong communication skills. Ultimately success with this program is not just what participants learn during the course of the program, but also what the relationships they form while there and a gaining new understanding of what entrepreneurship can mean for them.

“We want people to create a pathway to fiscal literacy and be able to be part of an ecosystem that lives beyond this cohort,” Smith says. “Hopefully we introduce them to a new way of thinking about working for a small business and giving them continued resources to start their own, showing them the pathway to careers and preventing them from being caught up in urban ills, lack of resources, or being marginalized. We want them to see that there are ways to independently create their own businesses.”

He also wants to highlight people who have already made the transition from the influence of hip-hop to sustainable careers to make the idea more viable to participants of the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship and push it forward in the community, while also shining a light on the idea that “success” can be defined in multiple ways.

“I’m 45 now and I’ve witnessed a lot that sometimes the pathway to success might be longer than you expect,” he says.

Classes are held in the co-working space Pipeline Philly, another economic development endeavor co-founded by Smith that is designed to bring an exceptional workplace experience to entrepreneurs, start-ups, independent professionals, and small business teams in a prime location in Philadelphia’s Center City.

Smith’s next project is to launch a sister nonprofit to Little Giant called Creative Cities Lab, an equitable community development lab similar to Place Lab in Chicago. Creative Cities will convene 50-75 social entrepreneurs, activists, innovators, policy makers, real estate developers, and really anyone who is passionate about investing in cities to discuss equitable development by addressing the systemic factors that disproportionately affect minorities in America, including poverty, racism, and lack of resources. These meetings will bring together people from around the country and globe with track records of successfully addressing the economic challenges presented by inequitable urban development and focus on potential solutions for a more equitable future, which will include the development of fair and equitable pathways to education and home ownership.

This ongoing convening series will begin with a three-day conference in Philadelphia followed by smaller working groups in Oakland, Miami, Detroit and New Orleans. Smith is targeting the first activation for the second quarter of 2017.

While Smith may be involved with a number of different civic and cultural projects in addition to his marketing and branding work, ultimately they all inform each other and overlap to feed his greater mission of equity in education and economic development, all beginning with the concept of a creative agency that refocuses the contemporary lens on America’s rapidly-shifting demographics and multicultural identity.

“In general I like the concept of what Little Giant is and how these different verticals all speak to our holistic mission.”

Discussion

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.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.

Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

Johannesburg and Maputo Partner to Research Transport Needs and Investments

Johannesburg and Maputo Partner to Research Transport Needs and Investments

I caught up recently with Sarah Charlton who is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The research she is leading, located in both Johannesburg, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique, looks at the interface between the mobility use by residents and transportation investments by the state. The question guiding her research is “are ordinary households using the transport modes that the government is investing in and prioritizing?” The research is a partnership between two universities across two countries and two cities.

Sarah reflects on research during the pandemic across languages, countries, histories and cultures.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This