This week in Louisville, Ky., mayors and city officials from around the country are attending the second iteration of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship. The event, hosted by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, is designed for mayors to learn how entrepreneurship is transforming cities, spurring economic growth and innovation.
The event marks the second time the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Foundation has sought to gather civic leaders for a conversation about the economic opportunity available to cities that foster and grow stronger support for entrepreneurial communities. The event is also aimed at creating a network of mayors who are champions of entrepreneurship in their cities.
“At the [Kauffman] Foundation we’ve been interested for a long time in how different policies impact an individual’s ability to grow a business,” said Kauffman Foundation policy director Jason Wiens. “For many years our efforts in the policy realm have been in Washington. But increasingly we’re coming to see that while what happens in D.C. is very important, a lot of the decisions that are made at the state and local level have a particularly strong impact on entrepreneurs.”
Kauffman Foundation research shows that many mayors are eager to learn more about how to help create a culture of entrepreneurship. One key objective is to help city leadership understand the difference between entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“Explaining that to mayors, getting them to see the two groups differently, this is part of the education that’s necessary for them to think about how city policies can be better aligned to support those who are wanting to start businesses and those who are in their first years of operating a business,” Wiens said.
Last year’s inaugural event drew 16 mayoral participants. This year, that number has more than doubled with 39 mayors expected to attend, as well as eight other high-level city officials and several entrepreneurial experts.
Wiens attributed the boost in attendance to the fact that many cities are increasingly aware of the job-creating potential being proven in cities and regions that have a strong and well-supported base of entrepreneurs.
“It’s something we think cities are interested in,” Wiens said. “City officials are trying to figure out what these activities can do for a city beyond just tinkering with unique projects. Can there be economic benefits that flow from this?”
Following last year’s event, several of the attending mayors went on to implement local versions of the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program (1MC). The 1MC program, according to the Kauffman Foundation, is a way to engage entrepreneurs in communities around the world. Each week, the 1MC program offers two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisers and entrepreneurs. Presenters prepare a six-minute educational presentation and engage in 20 minutes of feedback and questioning after they present. Entrepreneurs gain insight into possible ways they can improve their businesses, gather real-time feedback, connect with a community that truly cares about their progress, and walk away feeling like they have advanced their business.
Presently there are 62 cities in the United States that participate in 1MC.
At this year’s event, the focus will be on the “Maker Movement," a rapidly growing community of tinkerers and technology-influenced do-it-yourselfers. Spurred by powerful yet affordable technology like Arduino microcontrollers and 3-D printers, the Maker Movement is helping hobbyists transition into legitimate business owners. The movement is also being driven in part by the ability to easily share information, ideas and blueprints with people around the world.
“Our interest in this topic and Mayor Fischer’s interest aligned and we both felt like this was something that was worthy of further exploration,” Wiens said. “I think from the Kauffman Foundation’s perspective, we just naturally see a lot of ties between making and entrepreneurship. Making is a very creative act, just like entrepreneurship. There are people who have started out in making and come upon something that becomes a second source of revenue for them or it’s become a job and they’ve made a business out of it.”
At the event, Wiens said mayors will be pitching their ideas to experts in entrepreneurship on what they can do to support the Maker Movement and entrepreneurship in their communities. The experts will in turn provide feedback to the mayors based on their own experience starting and running companies.
This story was originally published by FutureStructure, sister publication to Government Technology.