In February 2017, Impact Hub Baltimore hosted Investing in Urban Innovators, an all-day session in partnership with Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation, Invested Impact, and Art in Praxis. The purpose behind the event was inherently multifaceted. Not only to strengthen connections between actors in the social/urban innovation ecosystem in Baltimore, but also to raise awareness of the particular challenges to access to capital faced by people of color. To highlight the costs when non-profit and for-profit innovators can’t get the very early stage capital to bring their ideas to life. To inform audience how other communities are trying to address the access to capital challenges. To set the stage for action in Baltimore to remedy such capital challenges together.
After a warm welcome from Jennifer Bradley, Rodney Foxworth facilitated a conversation with Ben Jealous on the state of urban innovation in Baltimore. This panel set the stage for the day’s discussion by laying out the current situation, both strengths and weaknesses, of Baltimore’s urban innovation ecosystem, with a particular focus on how people of color in the non-profit and for-profit sector are able to access capital, whether grants, loans, or equity investments.
The following discussions featured panelists who spoke on a multitude of topics, ranging from funding approaches for nonprofits to recognizing, deploying, and supporting human capital among other topics. Thought leaders and attendees grappled with questions asking what does the talent ecosystem in Baltimore and similar cities look like? What are the opportunities for people of color and what barriers remain? What are the blind spots and possibilities? How can the tools and benefits of entrepreneurship be accessible to anyone who wants to take up the challenge?
The latter half of the day set space for final reflections on the event and future steps. The Impact Hub team designed breakout sessions, in which audience members broke into small groups to discuss what they saw as Baltimore’s main access to capital obstacles; existing resources that could be used to fill those gaps; and new resources that could be brought to bear. The goal of the breakouts was to get the city’s leaders excited about and committed to working on this issue, so that conversations borne from the event could transform into on-the-ground change in Baltimore.