SXSWedu Launches Next Big Idea: Inclusive Competitiveness

No inclusive innovation framework or economic transformation can be developed without strong support from local institutional powers.
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South by Southwest (SXSW) is a massive conference where collaboration is king, and big ideas emerge. It is the innovation and technology platform where Twitter and Foursquare were launched. Starting in early March, more than 3,000 reporters from around the globe will descend upon Austin, Texas, America's fastest growing city and one of the nation's major hubs of tech innovation, seeking the next big idea. They won't have long to wait.

More than 2,000 miles from Austin, something big is already happening in Portland, Oregon that will debut on a national stage at SXSWedu. It's called "Inclusive Competitiveness."

The shifting demographics of the U.S. require new metric tools and lexicon that offer insight and understanding into how well metropolitan regions perform economically across a diverse landscape of residents. Inclusive Competitiveness measures the economic performance of diverse populations in innovation ecosystems and clusters, emerging technology sectors and other areas critical to U.S. economic competitiveness.

Inclusive Competitiveness is the brainchild of Johnathan Holifield, a co-founder of The America21 Project (America21) and Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness at Nortech, a tech-based economic development powerhouse covering 21 counties in Northeast Ohio. Holifield, who was recently highlighted in Forbes, will sit on a panel I organized for opening day at SXSWedu titled, "Saving America's Black Boys."

Grammy award-winning music producer, Jermaine Dupri, will join Holifield on the SXSWedu panel along with Chad Womack, Ph.D., National Director of STEM Education for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and Jim Staton, a successful North Carolina businessman whose parents were sharecroppers.

Saving America's Black Boys Through Inclusive Competitiveness

The next day, on March 5 at the George Washington Carver Museum, in partnership with Tammara McDonald, founder and president of Game Changerz, Inc. and vice president Diatra James, along with Jim Staton Jr. of Top Flight LLC, I will launch a national campaign at the Saving America's Black Boys (SABB) Solutions Summit.

The SABB Solutions Summit is a historic gathering of more than 100 national, regional and local leaders, celebrity influencers and pro athletes who seek to develop innovative 21st century solutions that bridge the education divide and bolster economic competitiveness in local regions across America through the framework of inclusion.

The SABB Solutions Summit is the launch pad for a national campaign and series of Solutions Summits across the nation designed to catalyze an unprecedented 21st century national economic movement built upon the principles of inclusive competitiveness. Holifield will keynote the Austin SABB Solutions Summit.

Black Innovation Group (BIG)

The proposed outcome of the Austin SABB Solutions Summit is an initial phase of developing a permanent "Black Innovation Group" (BIG) comprised of local leaders representing various parts of Austin's innovation ecosystem -- from the pipeline of STEM education to the productivity of high-growth entrepreneurship and access to capital. These leaders will devise generational economic strategies, plans and programs based upon a framework I call, "Pipeline2Productivity," targeting investments in America's Black boys -- one of the most economically disconnected demographic sectors of our society. The BIG will ultimately build an opportunity pipeline that connects to the local innovation ecosystem and dovetails with the five-year goals established by the region's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) plan.

Pipeline2Productivity and Urban Innovation

The current test phase of this new Pipeline2Productivity framework is Portland, Oregon, where the nonprofit, Ideal Portland, is partnering with the Portland Development Commission, the city's economic development agency, and the Office of Mayor Charlie Hales to conduct the work of research, collaboration and convening the nation's first inclusive Urban Innovation Roundtable (UIR) to develop an inclusive entrepreneurship action plan for the region.

While the SABB Campaign is more narrowly focused on the work of investing in the education and entrepreneurial ingenuity of America's Black boys, the City of Portland is investing in a broader inclusive innovation landscape through development of the UIR.

I first introduced the idea for development of a UIR on Nov. 4, 2011 during a gathering of local minority leaders hosted by dean Sharon Jones, who heads the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland. The concept is based upon the core economic philosophy of Holifield's inclusive competitiveness. Essentially, investing in cultivating and nurturing local talent across all racial groups will result in: an increase in qualified workers for an increasingly tech-based workforce, and more tech startup entrepreneurs creating jobs and strengthening the economic competitiveness of the local innovation economy.

Investing in Black Innovators

The latter point is key: Nearly all net new jobs, since 1980, are the result of startups (according to the Kauffman Foundation). Yet, while Black entrepreneurs grew 60 percent from 2002-2007 to a historic high level of 1.9 million Black-owned businesses, 1.8 million were sole proprietors with zero employees. And total revenue from all Black-owned businesses amounted to less than 1 percent of GDP.

Then, the economy collapsed.

Today, if the creative entrepreneurial spirit of Black boys is to be cultivated and nurtured for significant future contribution to the job creation arena, it will require deliberate long-term investment. The SABB Campaign seeks to inform leaders, influencers and stakeholders of the opportunities inherent in cultivating an entrepreneurial infrastructure and resource pipeline that invests in the creativity of America's Black boys, and inculcates a culture of innovation in Black communities.

Portland: Center of Tech Inclusion Universe

Last year, Oregon Business magazine published a cover story on me and The America21 Project, a nonprofit I co-founded with Holifield and Womack. The prescient cover read: "The Next Tech Revolution." That revolution begins with STEM education, which is key to an inclusive economic transformation. SXSWedu is the introduction of Inclusive Competitiveness on a national stage. Portland is the petri dish where it is currently being developed.

Portland is also the focus of the Activate Local Communities Across America Initiative (ALC), born out of a series of Tech Inclusion Roundtables (TIR) with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), led by President Obama's Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. A convening of the first TIR took place last summer, initiated by Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation, Kapor Capital and co-founder of the Level Playing Field Institute (with his wife, Freada Kapor Klein).

Microsoft Research partnered with America21 during the TIR to establish a framework for deploying the ALC Initiative. Portland is one of three pilot cities whose mayors committed to the process (along with Chicago and Cambridge, Mass). Portland will activate its local communities by convening a TIR and catalyze the process of forming a permanent UIR through collaboration with America21 and Ideal Portland.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber recognizes the key to Oregon's economic future is inclusion. At the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Conference in Portland last November, Kitzhaber held a private "ScaleUp" rally at the headquarters of famed marketers, Wieden + Kennedy, for national and local leaders to gather and start the discussion of breaking down walls of competitive silos and working together to provide needed resources on national, state and regional levels. These resources can be targeted to scale up local economies by making investments in inclusion processes, policies and people that serve to strengthen the economic competitiveness of the overall region.

Portland Development Commission

No inclusive innovation framework or economic transformation can be developed without strong support from local institutional powers. The Portland Development Commission (PDC) has supported the idea of establishing an inclusive economic ecosystem since the day I promoted the concept in a keynote address to 1,000 attendees at The Skanner MLK Breakfast Celebration more than a year ago.

PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton is also supporting the SABB Solutions Summit in Austin as a sponsor and bringing a delegation of Black tech entrepreneurs from Portland, including Portland's Chief Technology Officer Ben Berry, and Ideal Portland founder Dwayne Johnson, to offer insight into their experiences in Portland's developing inclusive innovation ecosystem.

PDC will also promote the recently launched StartupPDX Challenge as an opportunity for entrepreneurs from underserved populations to access the city's startup ecosystem. Challenge winners will receive free rent for a year, a $10,000 grant, and in-kind services from the region's top professional firms and accelerators.

Inclusive Competitiveness: America's Next BIG Idea

Starting March 4, the nation will turn its attention to SXSWedu which kicks off the series of conferences that comprise the total SXSW experience, where more than 65,000 attended last year. SXSWedu, with Bill Gates delivering the keynote address, targets the fastest growing innovation landscape, education.

There's no doubt that shifting racial demographics across America have turned the nation's attention to the challenge of closing education and economic gaps, and adequately preparing historically targeted and economically disconnected sectors of society to participate and be competitive in a 21st century knowledge-based, tech-driven global innovation economy. The ideas introduced at SXSWedu promise to be innovative, with many focused on strengthening the landscape of America's global economic competitiveness through the prism of education and entrepreneurship.

The biggest idea set to launch at SXSWedu is one that already has traction from the White House to the Silicon Forest: Inclusive Competitiveness.

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