Over the past few months, LISC and Next Street have partnered to deliver a series of workshops inspired by our practitioner’s guide, “Building Organizational Capabilities in Service of Equitable and Inclusive Small Business Ecosystems” that we launched in fall 2021. During our early workshops we focused on how business serving organizations can understand and set strategies for their local small business ecosystems, and how they can define their own organization’s role in the ecosystem.

Based on feedback from attendees, our latest workshop centered on how these strategies and tools can be applied to smaller cities. Practitioners from metro areas with fewer than 1.5 million residents gathered to explore how smaller cities can increase their capacity and resources within traditionally smaller ecosystems.

We started with an overview of our approach to strategy-setting for small business ecosystems, highlighting key activities to understand the local ecosystem, decide where to focus, and operationalize a plan. Attendees then received an interactive demonstration of PolicyMap, during which they learned how influence and drive change by leveraging publicly available quantitative data.

Finally, attendees broke into small groups to discuss their ecosystems, the key players, what capabilities are missing, and what opportunities there are to fill gaps. Below are some of the key takeaways from the discussions:

  • Importance of formalized partnerships – In smaller cities, moving partnerships from an informal network to a more formal partnership system can help strengthen the ecosystem by more easily highlighting major gaps to be filled and allowing for resource sharing
  • Leveraging data to strengthen their strategy – After the extensive walkthrough of PolicyMap as a tool to identify key information within their ecosystems, many attendees were interested in leveraging the tool to understand levels of capital deployment to small businesses in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Unique ecosystem gaps for small cities – In mapping their own ecosystems, attendees agreed that the roles of Convener and Advocate were common gaps in their ecosystem roles
  • Formalizing a referral structure – Many of the organizations in attendance informally cross-refer clients, but because there is no formal referral structure, they are missing out on opportunities to report on their outcomes and share success stories
  • Need for shared power dynamics – Small ecosystems are unique in that they often see a “vacuum” of power inequality because of scarcity of local resources and funding.

If you missed the webinar, you can download the presentation materials here or view a recording here. If you have further questions about the presentation, or ideas for future webinars, please contact us at econdevinfo1@lisc.org or contact@nextstreet.com.