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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Community-Based Accelerators

I like it.  I believe in it.  In fact, I chat regularly with folk at the Centre for Social Innovation, MaRS, and various public servants/social innovators about how we can support and expand this model.
One thing that I think is missing, though - with a strict focus on supporting the best and commercializing world-class ideas and innovations, we're creating an exclusionary field that's neglecting some broader opportunities.
While yes, we want to support the next Google, the reality is that most entrepreneurs are never going to hit that scale.  There's nothing wrong with this; SMEs (small to medium enterprises) contribute massively to our economy and provide valuable services.  They can even be creative; it's not uncommon for great innovations like left-handed scissors or hush-ups get developed this way. 
I'm going to reiterate that point for a second so that it really sinks in - entrepreneurs with purpose can often innovate solutions that policy changes can't. 

Here's another example - a hip-hop artist from Lawrence Heights has an idea for a youth entrepreneurship centre that would offer safe space, resource access, admin assistance, business forms, a library and some training/mentorship for local folk who want to start a business. 
This could be a bicycle shop or a cleaning service or an App for a smartphone - there are various ways to make the model work.
Jaydahmann came up with this idea out of conversations he's had with youth in the community - they don't need another basketball camp or barbeque and are disenfranchised with one-off summer jobs that don't provide the experience that supports career growth.
It's not "world class" stuff, perhaps, but ideas like this can make a big difference on the ground, when properly supported.
So why don't we do that?  If we can have Campus-Linked-Accelerators, why can't we have Community-Based Accelerators as well?

In fact, that's not far off ideas being discussed by Toronto City Council candidates like Andray Domise and Terri Chu.  It's an idea that's been raised by Toronto Youth Council as well.
The obvious first question is, "how will this thing make money?"
Accelerators tend to have rigorous processes designed to weed out those who aren't properly prepared.  I have never been comfortable with this idea; it's a bit like telling kids who's grades aren't perfect that they're not allowed to attend school.
If we can provide additional support for youth in school so that they too might succeed, we can do the same for business or community organization ideas.  In fact, that's a bit of what My SoJo aims to do and what RaiseAnAim is working on as well - helping people get their ducks in a row, line up funding and support the necessary admin stuff through government to result in successes.
Will all of them succeed?  No - but that's no different than where we are now.  Particularly in marginalized communities (or Neighbourhood Improvement Areas) people are being left behind - they're less employed, at greater risk for poverty, crime and illness and ultimately, cost the social system more.  Whoever participates would at the very least walk away with skills, contacts and practical experience they wouldn't have otherwise.

We need to change the view of entrepreneurship as just being a way to generate big revenue, but also being a tool for raising the social floor.  There are existing funding streams at all levels of government that could get behind this; there are existing champions at the community and political level; heck, there are even private-sector partners who would probably jump at the chance to support initatives like this with either dollars or in-kind service donation (speakers, mentors, etc).
It's Corporate Social Responsibility for them, brand-building, employee engagement and can even be R&D.  If a local kid comes up with a good idea on a small scale, it's kind of what big businesses do to figure out how to make that idea explode.
I for one would love to see Community-Based Accelerators happen; the potential benefits are enormous while the costs aren't really anything we're not pay for already in one form or another.
If only there was an accelerator I could bring this idea to, eh?

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