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An Untapped Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: America’s Inner Cities

A Day with Inner City Capital Connections

Note: The following was originally published on Medium by the Polsky Center @ UChicago

Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) returned to the Windy City July 28th, gathering over 120 entrepreneurs from across the country for a series of engaging lectures, panels, and workshops geared toward the growing pains that all small business owners must maneuver.

Hosted by the University of Chicago, the 87 companies represented at the event were 74% minority-owned and 54% women-owned, highlighting the emphasis on diversity espoused by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), the organization leading the event.

“We are proud that a record number of minority- and woman-owned entrepreneurs participated in our recent Chicago training day, building capacity for growth and getting ready to secure much-needed capital,” said Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC.

Where many saw an irreparable business climate in America’s inner cities, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter saw immense potential. Viewing inner city small business owners as the vehicle for the economic progress that would alleviate poverty in America, he founded the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) in 1994 “to drive economic prosperity in America’s inner cities through private sector investment to create jobs and [grow] income and wealth for local residents.”

One of its flagship programs is the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) conference, which will impact nine major cities across the country by the end of the year. Since its inception 11 years ago, “ICCC alumni have created over 11,000 jobs and secured more than $1.3 billion in capital.”

This year’s Chicago event carried a unique focus, addressing not only financial capital but also human capital needs for small businesses. Nearly every participant spoke about the growing pains their enterprises have undergone in recent months, ranging from building better teams to scaling manufacturing with limited capital. Focused on taking their businesses to the next level and alleviating these growing pains, participants discussed new management styles for optimizing company culture, competitive advantages in fierce industries, deciding when to take capital and in what form, and using customer feedback for growth.

University of Chicago Booth School Professor Scott Meadow moderated a panel on equity and debt financing. As an expert in the finance industry, Meadow shared his wealth of knowledge in this discussion, as he imparted advice on what funding institutions are looking for in their portfolio companies and how to best approach funding rounds. Business school professors from Harvard and Northwestern discussed financial and human capital.

With ICCC’s return to Chicago, the Windy City’s inner city enterprises are better positioned to succeed, which means that Chicago’s entrepreneurial community at large can continue to grow and thrive at a high level. This, however, is no small challenge: America’s 328 inner city communities represent nearly one quarter of the nation’s poverty. The ICIC provides a much-needed solution to address the lack of resources available for inner city entrepreneurs that may ultimately be the key component in alleviating poverty in the United States.

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