It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond

Starting a lemonade stand out of lemons: Entrepreneurship and the Economy by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: gabe mulley

flickr photo credit: gabe mulley

I’ve written about how recessions are great catalysts innovation and entrepreneurship, since tough constraints force new ways of thinking about problems.  A job loss is one of the toughest constraints of all, so as a Plan B to finding new positions, many think about starting their own businesses, converting that daydream of being one’s own boss into an true option worth considering.

With the city’s financial sector and the businesses around it in turmoil, Gov. Perdue recognized that Charlotte is ripe for entrepreneurs, and she is funding programs to encourage displaced talent to stick around and try their own thing.  One is the Fast Trac New Ventures Program, a class developed by the Kauffman Foundation, delivered free through the Small Business & Technology Development Center recently graduated its first two classes targeting downsized workers.

George McAllister, SBTDC’s regional director, is no stranger to entrepreneurial thinking in this economy.  In a conversation with him, I learned how he and his team “made a village come together” to get this special program up and running quickly.  He says many candidates that have been through the course saw niches and new opportunities because of all the layoffs.  This gives them the kick in the pants they need, arming them with tools to evaluate the feasibility of their business plans (as well as lifelong skills and professional networks.)

Here’s a few more local entrepreneurship resources I’ve come across this summer:

Solving the right problems: CPCC’s Center for Applied Research by Nheeda Enriquez
June 30, 2009, 10:55 am
Filed under: Charlotte, community services | Tags: , , ,

Terri Manning wears many hats, but when I met her, she wore the one that reads ‘Director of the Center for Applied Research’ at CPCC.  Her team is the only one like it at a community college level, and they respond locally, researching the effectiveness of a city’s health, education, housing, or labor and workforce programs.  And in an era of scrambling accountability, communities struggle to figure out which projects are successful and which require re-evaluation.

Dr. Manning told me about a recent commission to bring a Massachusetts state college’s math faculty together to do just that: assess its effectiveness.  But in digging deeper, she realized that this was a tall order, since each teacher had a completely different syllabus and style.  So she worked with the instructors to establish a common curriculum based on common learning outcomes.  But in the process of doing that, the group recognized that the most important outcome their students needed to develop was critical reasoning skills, and outdated methods of teaching mathematics do not contribute to this goal.  So the Center is now working with educators to create a more robust model of teaching math that can be replicated across other colleges and universities.

This lesson in root cause analysis demonstrates how true innovation begins with spending the time to make sure we’re solving the right problem, and not just solving to fix the symptoms of the problem.  And clearly defining the problem makes it a whole lot easier to arrive at solutions.  Because we as humans have a tendency to want to get to answers right away, it’s a simple detail that is often overlooked.

Entrepreneurial spirit brings life to old material by Nheeda Enriquez

This week I stopped at the Career Center at CPCC (on a referral from another innovative department at the College…more on that in a later post.)  Headed by Pat Nash, the Center has won awards from the League of Innovation in the Community College (Who knew?!  See what happens when you poke around this town?)  It was the first community college to bring counseling services online in 2004, and since then has been finding ways to use technology to aid students in their job searches, including pilots with social media and video tutorials.

photo courtesy of CPCC career center

photo courtesy of CPCC career center

Career counseling is an old business, and it may be tempting to serve the same porridge to a new crop of graduates every year.  But in a town with 11% unemployment, this service is more important than ever.  Nash credits the entrepreneurial spirit of her staff, and they have all the ingredients of an innovative team.  On top of their regular jobs, they test their own ideas and “don’t get nervous” in that ambiguous limbo when a path isn’t yet clearly defined.  They learn and adapt midstream and most importantly, have room to fail, and to try do it cheaply.  But they’re so successful, that they’ve extended their services outside of the community, even giving career transition seminars to retiring players of the Carolina Panthers.