How The City of Columbus Supports Inclusive Entrepreneurship

My relationship with Henry Golatt, program development coordinator within the Economic Development Division of the City of Columbus’ Department of Development, began 18 years ago at a Kentucky State/University of Arkansas football game without my even knowing it.

Now, almost two decades later, Henry and I are working together to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Columbus, with a very intentional focus on Inclusive Entrepreneurship, a framework to connect the startup economy with the best available talent to achieve the greatest possible outcomes.

Recently Henry talked with Rev1 about his vision for creating a culture of entrepreneurship in the city of Columbus, the nation’s fourteenth largest city.

CH: I’m a person who really believes in connections and relationships; the way our paths crossed and then aligned is one for the books.

HG: I’ll never forget that night in Pine Bluff, AR. It was the inaugural game in the University of Arkansas’ highly celebrated new stadium. The whole town had been called into action on a multi-million-dollar fundraising effort that took years. The excitement of the evening was overwhelming.  And then this young freshman running back from Kentucky State received the opening kickoff and ran it for 98 yards to score in the first .07 seconds. Today that running back and I are on the same team, sharing our passion for what Rev1 describes as Inclusive Entrepreneurship.

CH: There is a remarkable opportunity here in Columbus to leverage the economic potential of untapped talent and market opportunities represented by diversity of all types. To stick with the football analogy, it’s a ground game.  

HG: Front and center on the minds of city leaders is how do we as a municipality better service and support existing and emerging small business and entrepreneurial interests in Columbus—a city that is rapidly finding its place on the national stage as a top-tier city by national site selectors.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, the City of Columbus is intentional. We’ve done legacy-type programs and provided a level of services to the community. We’ve developed relationships where we are part of a service provider team, helping make real services and products available. Columbus provides access to capital or technical assistance through Rev1 and other organizations. We are doing all this, but it’s been a little ad hoc.

Part of my work plan for 2018, 2019, and the out years is to develop a small business agenda that spells out what we want to do, what role the city plays, and what resources we make available.

CH: How will that small business agenda take shape?

HG: We see this as a three-step process. First, we need to evaluate and define the City’s role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are launching that analysis with a Small Business Survey and Incentive Study to identify local and regional best practices, formally evaluate our priorities, and realign resources accordingly.

As a next step, we envision the city creating a multi-year strategic framework reinforced with action plans. I want to see a formula document, a Small Business Agenda, the carries forward priorities and speaks to the resources and partnerships needed to implement in 2019.

CH: You aren’t limiting that leverage to “only” initiatives and best practices created in Ohio, right?

HG: We want to right-size the products and services that we offer here, looking for best practices from across the county, selecting the right programs that are best suited to the kinds of entrepreneurial businesses that we grow in Columbus.

We do have ideas about what might be worked in. The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City has programs for high growth as well as Main Street businesses that could be used in our local marketplace. They have already identified sectors that they can influence and have training and materials available.

CH: What do you see as the drivers of the innovation economy here in Columbus? What levers do we need to push?

 HG: The talent pool. One of the mayor’s initiatives is on neighborhoods. Downtown entrepreneurs are doing fine. We want to be more inclusive and empowering in the neighbors with community economic development based both on high growth and small business development.

Our goal is to give entrepreneurs from all parts of the city access to the right information, to help mentor and guide them along that process. We want to make sure that all entrepreneurs have the knowledge of business opportunities and that we help ease their entry into growth opportunities and align them with the support that is available here. In addition to pursuing economic inclusion, we want to ensure that our policies and programs lead to social and geographic inclusion and that no communities, neighborhoods, or areas of our city get left behind.

CH: When you and I talk about inclusion, we mean not only access to opportunity but the realization of that opportunity.

HG: Yes, we will measure our progress by ethnicity and gender, by high growth and traditional neighborhood business, and by access to capital. Rev1 is a steady partner in this. We’ve had a strong relationship for several years. Rev1 has produced results.

The organization has expanded with an emphasis on inclusion. We are supportive of the kinds of results that Rev1 is committed to producing.

The City of Columbus has finite resources. To be effective, we must use our resources to grow and scale and work with a network of partner relationships that are productive to absorb the demand that is out there for entrepreneurial support, partnerships where needs are being met and we are seeing results, like our relationship with Rev1.