Metropolitan Economic Development Association

Report date
February 2018

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Partnering with organizations with similar interest, but different reach & capabilities - The partnership between Meda, CRF and Seven Sisters Community Development Group for this work was instrumental in completing the analysis needed to present a blueprint. With CRF’s national reach, they were able to bring forth survey instruments and practices which they had used in other locations to facilitate the assessment of entrepreneurs throughout the region. Additionally, having access to CRF’s in-house design team allowed us to have direct, on-going contact to ensure the final product met expectations. Likewise, Seven Sisters brought a connection with local entrepreneurs and service providers throughout the region helping make easier work of getting the right people into the right rooms to gather input and perspectives on minority entrepreneurship in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Partnering with an organization with ties to communities of interest – One of the recognized gaps for the project teams from both Meda and CRF was a deep connection to Native communities. Seven Sisters Community Development Group, LLC both introduced us and supported us throughout the grant term. In addition to facilitating listening sessions and general project management, they helped create spaces where we could ask questions without being members of those communities.
Engaging the community – We could have created a blueprint based only on the wealth of data and information available through a literature review, making assumptions regarding the effect of national trends on regional outcomes. However, by gathering information from multiple sources, the most important of which was direct engagement with entrepreneurs and service providers, we were able marry data, personal narratives and services provider best practices to create a blueprint that reaches beyond the data and tells the story of why the data exists as it does for business owners in the region.

Key lessons learned

As we reached the end of the grant term and began to talk about dissemination and promotion of the final product (as planned), we realized that those conversations, although needed, were perhaps premature. With this grant work, we have tackled the “need identification”, “increasing understanding” and a subset of the “idea generation parts” of the Community innovation Process. That said, it is essential that we don’t consider this report as final or the process as linear, but as an opportunity to circle back to those communities (on an even larger scale), share what we have, generate more ideas and refine the recommendations.
As with any project, hopes and dreams can often be larger than what is possible within the time and or budget a project is given. Scoping and re-scoping the project was key to delivering on the original plan. Taking time to review what we had done, where we were going and alignment to the project deliverables was key to catching scope creep before it got out of hand, as it promised to do on a more than a few occasions.

Progress toward an innovation

We have made definite progress in identifying several needs, some of which aren’t always talked about, in regard to helping minority entrepreneurs become successful. We also know how these entrepreneurs have received services and what is available in the marketplace. We are absolutely closer to achieving a breakthrough in addressing a community need simply by understanding the regional landscape, something we hadn’t know before. As a result of this grant, we’ve been able to make preliminary recommendations to close the gaps we’ve identified to date.

As we share the knowledge we have gained and use the feedback we receive from the initial version of the Blueprint, we will get even closer to having a truly crowdsourced collection of ideas on how to close the gaps between what is available today and what entrepreneurs and service providers see as the most pressing needs.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

The ability to conduct another cycle of idea generation (through convenings) and move into testing of ideas with pilot service providers and entrepreneurs would be key to reaching a breakthrough on this effort. As with any newly created team or collaborative effort, some of the upfront time is spent in forming and storming phases of group development. Now that we’re “on a roll”, we can move more efficiently through the latter stages of the Community Innovation Process to make recommendations on implementations plans for services providers that are not only supported by the larger community, but tested throughout the region.

What's next?

The next steps are (1) share the knowledge we gained last year with service providers throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. (2) Convene service providers from those states to continue to generate ideas on how to close the gaps in meeting the needs of minority entrepreneurs. (3) Prioritize needs and solutions. (4) Design and test pilot programs (5) Create an implementation guide for wide distribution. We've recently applied for a Bush grant to continue this work through step three.