Pursuing Social and Economic Equity Through Innovation
October 2018 Front Porch Gathering Recap
On October 16, 2018, UT’s Center for Community Engagement and the newly established Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship partnered to host the first Front Porch Gathering of the season to explore Austin’s current resources systems and approaches to penetrating, disrupting, and accessing Austin’s economic innovation engines.
The event was held at the Austin American-Statesman Conference Center with food provided from local community artisanal pizza shop, Da Slice. Guests in attendance included community residents, innovation thought leaders, diversity advocates, educators, and entrepreneurs. The event opened with two testimonies from Austin-based entrepreneurs of color, Ashley Behnke and Bryan Mitchell. Both discussed the journey to entrepreneurship and the start-up life, sharing insight on barriers, successes, and word of encouragement.
Ashley Behnke is the Founder and CEO of Spot Loc8r, “a mobile app helping influencers, photographers and brands quickly find locations to create content.” Ashley highlighted the challenges that women of color face when starting their own business. “People always say we need to find doors of opportunity. But many of those doors are closed to us and sometimes we don’t even know the address.” She urged the Austin community to think about ways to make start-up financial and social capital accessible to communities of color. Additionally, she mentioned that the support needed is also intangible. “We also need to realize that a commitment to helping communities of color means not just supporting us in our journey financially, but also mentally and spiritually.”
Bryan Mitchell is the Founder and Owner of Da Slice, LCC, a gourmet artisan pizza shop that makes specialty pies from scratch and infamous for its’ “Chicken N Waffles” pizza. Bryan discussed how becoming a pizza shop owner was not planned and happened by chance. Bryan always enjoyed making pizzas with “non-traditional toppings” such as his infamous chicken n waffle pizza. After a successful pilot, Bryan took the risk and quit his current job to embark on his own entrepreneurial journey.
After the entrepreneur testimonies, Ruben Cantu, Director of the newly established Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT, set the foundation for small group conversation, presenting on the importance of shifting marginalized communities’ mindset on innovation and business ownership from unattainable to attainable. Cantu explained that innovation doesn’t exist without inclusivity of diverse thought leaders.
Innovation is the collision between two or more ideas, people, applications, or movements. However, innovation itself does not consider equity alone, it needs support. Inclusive innovation is the highest form of innovation because it takes into account the entire landscape of people, ideas and movements and allows you to hear the best ideas by eliminating blind spots. When you innovate collaboratively you eliminate silos, When you eliminate silos new opportunities are created for communities to uplift themselves and wealth is more equally distributed.
Furthermore, Cantu explained the impetus for the center’s existence is to provide communities of color a platform of accessing economic power. Economic power as an engine to push the needle in achieving justice in a climate where communities are still being systematically marginalized. The three economic power structure Cantu and his team will focus on are 1) education, 2) wealth and 3) political voice. The Office of Inclusive Innovation recognizes that access to education in order to acquire wealth and wealth is a gateway to solidifying a heard political voice.
In order to make strides in closing this gap, Cantu argued that there is a need for Black and Brown communities to create generational wealth through systematic investments over time. However, to do this, resources need to be made accessible to Black and Brown communities to start businesses.
After Cantu’s presentation, the assembly dispersed into five small discussion groups to cultivate conversation focused on exploring deterrents to economic equity, inclusive innovation, and diverse entrepreneurship opportunity. Additionally, groups explored strategies, resources, and opportunities to challenge the disparate entrepreneurship and economic mobility outcomes for Austin’s traditionally underserved demographics and communities. Groups were facilitated by one of the following entrepreneurial community leaders:
- Savannah Barker, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for Capital Factory
- Monica Pena, Marketing and Development Coordinator for Economic Growth Business Incubator (EGBI)
- Ashley Behnke, Founder and CEO of Spot Loc8r
- Preston James, Co-founder and CEO of DivInc
- Elijah May, Continuing Education Adjunct Faculty member at Austin Community College & Managing Partner of The Experience Firm
Unanimously, the community in attendance perceived innovation as a way to challenge the status quo through creative problem solving built upon ideation. The key themes from small group discussions are detailed below:
- Create more opportunities to support and collaborate with one another – Many participants wanted more spaces like FPG to gather, connect, learn, and collaborate on innovation, ownership, and entrepreneurship.
- Shift the community’s mindset on ownership from unattainable to attainable – Echoing Cantu’s words, community members feel that for many in their communities, business ownership is not intentionally encouraged to achieve, therefore, not seen as a career option. Additionally, barriers to resources such as business education, mentors, and start-up capital; hinder motivation to achieve ownership.
- Reward creativity and integrate a culture of entrepreneurship in schools at an early stage – As a solution to shifting the mindset of entrepreneurship to attainable, many suggested to start this shift in the youth. School’s as this social center should focus less on punishment for failure and more on how to leverage the learnings from failure. Education should integrate a project-based pedagogy and have a culture of encouraging big ideas and out of the box thinking. Our youth are innovative, it is the adults in their lives that can help them believe that they are entrepreneurs and that ownership is a viable option for their futures. One group member shared this story, “A young boy made a boat out of plastic bottles. That’s innovation regardless of scale. Even though they may not profit off of their idea, they are innovators.”
- Increase access to initial financial capital for communities of color – Due to demographics, underserved communities do not have family generated wealth or direct access to a network of investors in the same way as the majority of today’s business owners. Groups feel that stakeholders across Austin such as investors, entrepreneurial community, chamber of commerce, community organizations, and universities, should collaborate to increase the visibility of start-up fiscal capital in communities of color. Additionally, education on acquiring, managing and retaining this capital is needed.
- Increase social capital for communities of color – Similar to the previous theme, group participants felt that there is a lack of access to entrepreneurial experts in underserved communities. There is a need to connect current and aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages with mentors, thought leadership, partnerships, investors, and other entrepreneurial networks.
To review the original notes from each group’s discussion please click here.
The Front Porch Gathering ended with closing remarks from Virginia Cumberbatch, encouraging the community to continue the conversation and thanking everyone for their contributions.
If you are interested in continued engagement and dialogue on inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship please consider the following events and resources below. Click the photo or the link for details and registration.
Future Front Porch Gatherings
Disproportionate Disciplinary Action in Schools: A Guide for Parents
NEW DATE: Tuesday, December 4, 2018, at 6:30 p.m.
Turner Roberts Recreation Center | 7201 Colony Loop Drive, Austin, TX 78724
The Architecture of Food Deserts and Health Services
Tuesday, February 19, 2019, at 6:30 p.m.
Huston-Tillotson University| 900 Chicon Street Austin, TX 78702
Cultural Preservation and Place-Making in the Age of Growth and Gentrification
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 6:30 p.m.
Turner Roberts Recreation Center | 7201 Colony Loop Drive, Austin, TX 78724