Andre Fowlkes | A System-Level View on Igniting Change in Memphis

Andre K. Fowlkes • June 22nd, 2012 • Business, Engagement, General, Landscape, Management, Philanthropy, Poverty

This is the second in a series of guest posts from Memphis’ Andre Fowlkes. His first column called for mobilizing more risk capital to test and grow new solutions for Memphis’ toughest public problems. In this column, Fowlkes describes how his organization LaunchYourCity has been working with innovative leaders from across Memphis to chart a course for change. They base their “Vortex for Social Change” on a model developed by Stephen Goldsmith in The Power of Social Innovation. We are glad to see this model applied to a city like Memphis and look forward to following their progress.  For more information on LaunchYourCity’s efforts, contact Fowlkes at andre@launchyourcity.com.

 

LaunchYourCity Inc. is working to transform the Memphis community using entrepreneurship as the vehicle. LYC’s core work includes building high growth innovative companies, instilling “intrapreneurship” within the local workforce especially institutions of learning, connecting entrepreneurs to resources, and reducing the barriers that they face.

LYC is a unified platform of three organizations: LaunchMemphis (a non-profit that is the sandbox for new ideas and the cultivation of those ideas into businesses); Seed Hatchery (a for-profit that provides a three-month marine style boot camp for entrepreneurs along with $15,000 in seed funding for each entrepreneurial organization); and Wolf River Angels (a small angel investment network to fund these companies). Entrepreneurs access these resources at no charge and secure investment dollars in exchange for equity in their companies.

LYC understands the significant challenges that come with efforts to create the jobs of tomorrow. Tremendous obstacles stand in the way of efforts to develop early stage startup companies—including severe Memphis entrenchment, high aversion to risk and new ideas, prescribed funding, and the curse of professionals who assume that they know what’s best for communities. Further, LYC believes in many of the principles highlighted in the book “The Power of Social Innovation” by Stephen Goldsmith, and acquired from a relationship with Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Yet LaunchYourCity knew, dating back several years ago, that it would have to build momentum in the community in order to disrupt but at the same time create reform. One vital component of the LYC business model was to create a “Vortex” of Social Change. Only by aligning the right service providers with the right “market makers”–those who can provide the resources or the demand needed—would real transformation start to take place.

LYC’s Vortex of Social Change is based on a new way of creating social change in the community—in particular by supporting not only the creation of high growth entrepreneurial companies but also supporting the ecosystem in which they are building their work.

LaunchYourCity’s Vortex of Social Change has been in the developing process for 18 months. It has been gaining momentum slowly but steadily. Already the tool has helped shed light on how to better access and collaborate with local and state governments, quasi-government agencies focused on entrepreneurship, nonprofits and foundations investing in this space, private companies offering mentorship and dollars, advocacy and communications organizations with the capacity to reach the masses, and so many more.

By building this model, LYC has been able to better gauge status and where the gaps are.  For example, we have seen tremendous growth in the number of entrepreneurs served and in the accelerators that groom them, but the “market makers” are hedging in their provision of resources. Many are waiting for more results—a not unexpected mitigation strategy reflecting their aversion to risk.

In response, we will work to leverage national partners receptive to LYC’s innovative business model to lure local resources off the sidelines.

In order to achieve our mission of creating more high growth enterprises, we must push harder into the unknown. As a first step, creating the Vortex of Social Change for Memphis showed us that a key point of intervention was the need for more national support to better rally local resources to their optimal capacity.

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