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Strangely Invisible Seismic Changes Demand New Approaches to Jobs, Business & Community Prosperity

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Nov 19, 2012

Last Wednesday, over a hundred entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, universities, and others who care about technology, human progress, and community prosperity gathered at the Doubletree Hotel for the SBIR/STTR Annual Conference in Portland, OR.

Lisa Gansky launched the day with a fast-paced description of some seismic shifts in the way we live, work, and do business. In a nutshell, she argues that the combination of social networks, mobile technologies, and 'thing-tracking' (GPS, RFID, and similar fast-evolving technologies) have brought us to an inflection point: lots and lots of people are finding it less costly and more convenient to access products and services rather than to own them.

This is the foundation of the share economy described in her book (The Mesh) and the emergent movement to make sharing the next big thing.

Whoa! The Business of Sharing?

The implications of these changes are quite profound.

If sharing, rather than "buying" is the new black, legions of traditional business models may be upended – hence the evolution of a whole new brand of consultants, intermediaries, and experts whose talents lie in business model generation and innovation.

Moreover, the way we regulate and govern "business" is evolving without a blueprint for what comes next. San Francisco – home to dozens of businesses in the share economy space – has launched an initiative to figure out whether or how to regulate such firms. Where, for example, is the line between "hotels" (subject to hotel tax) and residences-for-rent like those listed on AirBnB (not subject to hotel tax)? As the share economy evolves, dozens of similar issues will arise. There are increasing calls for a bigger vision of such an economy (more signal, less noise).

An ecosystem is emerging here: when people, such as the owners of the properties listed on AirBnB, or those renting seats in their cars and tools in their garages and so on, can monetize what had been unused value, they can raise capital (say, for starting their own businesses), in new ways. This week, Skillshare (a shared platform for learning) lists a new class for people who seek to do exactly this – maximize the value of their owned assets so they can raise capital for starting their own enterprises.

The ability of people to generate value (and capital) in new ways – because technology allows us to organize and share at a scale we simply couldn't do a decade ago – means that communities have new choices, tools, and ways of approaching job creation and economic development from the bottom up.

Which is where #scaleup comes in.

ScaleUp Campaign: Local Innovation, Inclusion and Impact Economies from ScaleUp Campaign on Vimeo.

An emerging collaboration of people working on jobs and prosperity in creative ways want to share information about what works, so they can #scaleup solutions.

We convened last week in Portland, Oregon – our Louisville, southeast Michigan, New York City, Maryland, and Washington DC colleagues joined via Cisco Telepresence (many thanks to Wieden + Kennedy, for hosting). All of these people (and there are many, many more) are finding new ways to create prosperity in their communities by connecting and experimenting with new and old, top and bottom, traditional and non – they are are building (hacking?) new economies.

Here are five strategies they shared:

  • Rebecca Cohen, research and policy maven at the Workforce Intelligence Network, is sharing real time labor market intelligence and supporting action-focused partnerships between firms, educational institutions, economic and workforce development organizations in southeast Michigan. WIN is changing the conversation around talent in the region, and building a next-generation approach to workforce and economic development.
  • Christian Johansson heads the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development – and freely shares the secret sauce that landed Maryland a top spot on on the US Chambers' list of best states for innovation and entrepreneurship. "We reward innovation, invest in our skilled workforce and encourage entrepreneurship through state programs and public-private partnerships."   
  • Nell Merlino, founder of Count Me In (and Take Your Daughter to Work Day, among others things) is working with women entrepreneurs grow their businesses into million-dollar enterprises, adding millions of jobs and placing more women in positions of economic leadership in their communities.
  • Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder of the Pipeline Fellowship, trains women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring, and practice. She and her colleagues are unlocking capital for women social entrepreneurs and changing the face of the US angel investment community.
  • Haley Stevens makes innovative economic development happen in regions. Currently working on the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) – a new collaboration between Louisville and Lexington – Haley is linking public- and private-sector manufacturing initiatives within and across regions to maximize their overall impact and shed light on the policies, regulations, and protocols that impede or advance the health of the sector and region.

Although the launch of #scaleup was inspiring, what comes next matters more.

If you are a convener of the kind of innovation described in the video (or know someone who is), join scaleupcampaign.org (and follow on Twitter) so we can learn from each other, and accelerate positive changes in our regions and communities.