Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Great Time at the Efor All Summit

David Parker Welcomes Us to the EforAll Summit
A wide range of people from all over the US and parts of Canada converged on Lowell for the EforAll Summit on November 3. The E in EforAll is Entrepreneurship. And "All" really does mean all: millennials, people of color, old people, middle-aged people, small cities, mid-sized cities, American cities, Canadian cities, techies, non-techies, and so on. With so much diversity, just standing in line for breakfast was already an inspiring experience. I felt like the summit had already met my expectations before I even sat down. The keynote speakers were wonderful. The panel sessions were dynamic and interesting.  What an excellent day!
Crowd Listening to Desh Desphande's Keynote
The first keynote speaker was, of course, Desh Deshpande. No matter how many times I hear Desh Deshpande speak, I come away inspired.  His summit keynote asked "do entrepreneurs change the world or does the changing world create entrepreneurship opportunity?"  What I took away from it was that whichever way you look at it,  the world is changing, and either you lead it or grudgingly accept it. He reminded me that cultural shifts don't happen top down. I think that's something I learned from my Mom a million years ago during the civil rights movement, but it applies equally to the "New Economy".  We all need to be in on making the New Economy work. Entrepreneurship is a career, not a one time deal.  Entrepreneurs need to learn to fail fast, try again, and not give up.

There were 3 panel session tracks: City Leaders, Program Managers, and Entrepreneurs & Millennials.  I decided to mix and match based on the panel topics rather than stick with one track. First up for me was How to Keep/Attract Young People in Mid-Sized Cities.  The brain-drain out of mid-sized cities is something I think about a lot. Why does every talented young person have to be sucked into Boston or New York (or gasp, shudder, Silicon Valley, which seems to be becoming a mega-city)? Heck, even Boston has had trouble keeping millennials. How can places like Lowell and Lawrence compete?
How to Keep/Attract Young People in Mid-Sized Cities Panelists
How to Keep/Attract Young People in Mid-Sized Cities Panelists
For the most part, the panel was very thoughtful. Before you try to attract more millennials to your mid-sized cities listen to the ones who are already there. Seriously, they may not give a darn about how late the bars are open. Every young person I asked what they were looking for said "opportunity." Other things that came up were affordable housing and transportation. When someone finally did ask the panel how small cities within the orbit of larger metro areas can flourish, specifically the Gateway Cities in Boston's orbit, the panelists concluded that we focus too much about Boston and instead need to work together on housing and transportation to include Gateway Cities. I could do a whole blog post on why transportation is key (making a mental note of it), but suffice it to say that I-495 is not the best way for people to get from Lawrence to Lowell or vice versa. My beloved valley needs to work on connecting our cities.

Another cool thing at this panel was  that the folks from the Pond Deshpande Center in New Brunswick showed a couple of clips from The Millennial Dream. The optimism and the commitment to social impact of the young people in the two clips I saw made me want to see the whole film and gave me some hope for the future of our mid-sized cities.
Keynote Lindsay Hyde and Facilitator John Conley
Lindsay Hyde's keynote focused on the some of the challenges that woman entrepreneurs face. She absolutely nailed it with "Women are often too conservative on their company's value." We need to have the confidence to ask big and to work the network. She was so inspiring I decided to join her roundtable discussion at lunch. Good stuff.
Crowd Taking Notes
Keynote Ed Rauch Describing his Path from Trader Joe's to Daily Table
Keynoter Ed Rauch emphasized purpose in his talk. My notes from his talk read like little motivational post-its to put over my desk:
  • Core purpose is crucial for entrepreneurs. 
  • Profits are the results not the core purpose. 
  • The three questions to ask about your project: is it possible? viable? desirable?
  •  Failure is critical but fail around your purpose.
  • Love people and use things.
What else can I say about it?
Fireside Chat with Ted Leonsis
The speaker I was most looking forward to, Ted Leonsis, did not disappoint. In fact he exceeded my expectations. From his personal story about how he started out mowing lawns on Andover St in Lowell and upsold Jim Shannon on a specialty lawn cut (best origin story ever) to his memories and lessons from the golden days of high-tech in the I-495 belt, I was riveted. He emphasized both historically and currently tech innovation happened and happens outside of Silicon Valley.  In talking about Washington, DC where he's based now,  he immediately brought up affordable housing and transportation as key issues for DC's huge millennial population.

The post-it going over my desk from his talk is: The entrepreneurial economy isn't about being the "Uber of" or the "Zuckerberg of", we need a different measure of success.
Inclusive Entrepreneurship Panel Watching Key Points Being Written on the Whiteboard
Next, I attended the Inclusive Entrepreneurship panel in the Program Manager track. The panel featured lots of diverse takes on how to be more inclusive. Different programs are looking for different criteria for ideas  and they're also working with different immigrant groups and languages. Somebody suggested that we need a "Yelp" to help entrepreneurs find the right advice/program for them. The panelists all agreed that what and how much they contribute to the community not just how many people they will hire is how they evaluate ideas. The post-it over my desk for this one is: Confidence, competence, collaboration.
Writing Down the Talking Points

Lots to Discuss
Then it was over to the newly renovated UTEC Hub building for the Defining Entrepreneurial Success panel  (City Leaders track). I was eager to see the renovations and eager to hear from leaders from Lawrence, Holyoke, Providence, Somerville, and Chattanooga.
Entering UTEC's Newly Renovated Hub Building
Look What They Found Under the Dropped Ceiling During Renovation
The audience had a wide range of questions for this panel, ranging from what metrics they use to how to factor in climate change.  Just what are the criteria for an entrepreneurial city's success?
I love that Somerville actually tries to measure happiness to see how they're doing as a city.  There are definitely other measures of success than "number of jobs created for people under 30".
Several panelists spoke of the need for affordable housing and transportation. Those two things seemed to be a theme that threaded throughout the summit and definitely matched up with what I was hearing in the hallway conversations with young people whether they were from Lawrence or Fredricton. A couple of panelists mentioned that these things are important to the aging population of their cities too. After housing and transportation, the next most frequently mentioned thing was public spaces that encourage people to meet each other and exchange ideas that might lead to innovation.
A Long List of Questions Grows
After all the stimulating panels, I was kind of tired and headachy for the final keynote by John Harthorne of MassChallenge, but once again he was so inspiring that I overrode the fatigue. He reminded us of MassChallenge's mission to "restore creativity to the soul of the economy." My post-it takeaway:  create value and solve problems!

John Harthorne
The summit ended with the presentation of awards to:
  • MassDigi from Worcester for Innovation
  • Nuestras Raices from Holyoke for Engaging Diverse Entrepreneurs
  • Kyla Pacheco of Action Worcester! for Top Entrepreneur
  • Taskforce Fredericton Startup Network for “Top Collaborative City-Wide Effort Promoting Entrepreneurship in a Mid-Sized City”
Photographing Award Recipients
I could go on and on about all the wonderful people I met and the amazing projects they're doing. It was almost like every encounter I had would make a good blog post. The main thing I took away from the summit was a feeling of optimism for the future of mid-sized cities in the new entrepreneurial economy.

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