Launching New Leaders

The PIN Leaders Program is working with teams from across the Southeast to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems and tech-based economic development

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, continues not only to foster entrepreneurship, innovation and technology around the state, it also continues to reinvent itself — offering new initiatives that help level the playing field for innovation access and growth in communities. The latest iteration of its evolution is the PIN Leaders Program, which kicked off its first cohort in April with four teams.

PIN Leaders team members

The Leaders Program is designed to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem building and tech-based economic development in small, midsized, and rural communities through a public-private and civic collaboration model. It builds on the Partnership’s mission of using public-private collaboration to create inclusive innovation. The program came out of the realization that many communities lack the human capital, support resources, and community-centered approach to build and grow thriving ecosystems in their regions.

“The PIN Leaders Program recognizes that developing thriving and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems requires increased collaboration across the public, private, and civic sectors,” said Jamal Lewis, economic opportunity manager for the Partnership. “By bringing together multisector teams to learn inclusive innovation and tech-based economic development best practices, we can catalyze the growth of innovation and economic opportunities in communities that have been overlooked in the past. The Southeast has a key voice and perspective to contribute when it comes to making innovation and economic success more inclusive for all.”

As Lewis and his team looked into the possibilities, they realized that no one was working to build teams of people. Innovation programs were focused on individuals. It is a space where they can make an impact, they realized.

The seven-month pilot program is unique in that a requirement is that teams be comprised of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors. This type of cross-community collaboration will help drive inclusive innovation, a hallmark of all Partnership programs. The four teams developed their own projects and applied to be part of the program. Each team will receive in-person and virtual workshops on best practices in community-centered impact and tech-based economic development, peer learning, project coaching, access to project funding, and site visits. The goals are to develop a team of collaborative ecosystem leaders, learn best practices for building inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems, secure funding, connect with local and regional teams to improve resilience and create economic success for all.

The teams and their projects are:

  • Albany, Georgia, will establish an inclusive entrepreneurial center in downtown Albany to address small business and startup ecosystem entry, develop skills and provide support for early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • Montgomery, Alabama, seeks to boost entrepreneurship in the city by enhancing its small business support center, the Small Business One-Stop Shop, which provides tools, resources, and social capital to enhance sustainability and growth.
  • Thomasville, Georgia’s project, Invest Thomasville (TVL), will increase access to capital for economically disadvantaged communities and help grow a locally owned community development financial institution.
  • Tennessee and Kentucky seek to unlock the innovative potential of underserved universities and innovators through the creation of a centralized technology transfer office, which will offer commercialization resources across the region and help develop an inclusive innovation ecosystem.

DeShay Williams, the executive director of Spark Thomasville, one of the team members, said, “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us to be part of this cohort to figure out how to work through this project, each step that it’s going to take for us to provide not just access to capital but on the other side of our community development, access to building entrepreneurs, developing entrepreneurs.”

Kenneth Pen, with the Montgomery project, is also excited about the opportunity to work with the Partnership. “Our reason for coming here is to open our horizon in terms of what we know, and to figure out what we don’t know. And to interact with other people who have gone through [similar] things, to help us brainstorm what has worked in their community, and also what could potentially work in our community.”

In addition to spotlighting the four teams, the kickoff event included welcoming remarks from Jonathan Corso, the Georgia economic development representative from the Atlanta regional office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and Stephanie Tillman, chief legal counsel, Flowers Foods and a Partnership founding advisory board member.

Following that, Partnership Executive Director Debra Lam interviewed Myla Calhoun, the former vice president of the Birmingham division of Alabama Power, and current president and CEO of Propel Education in Birmingham. The two discussed the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in underserved communities.

Partners in the Leaders Program include two Georgia Tech units: the Energy, Policy and Innovation (EPI) Center and the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Other partners are Georgia Power Community and Economic Development, the Center for Civic Innovation, the Urban Institute, the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI), The University Financing Foundation,  New Growth Innovation Network, and Orange Sparkle Ball.