Community Innovation Accelerator

Community Innovation Accelerator

To achieve inclusive economic growth within a city, a dedicated effort is required. To accelerate and sustain this effort, Forward Cities is launching its next cohort of Community Innovation Accelerators in a select number of member cities to:

  • Place a full-time two-year Inclusive Innovation Fellow to serve as a trusted local project manager and facilitator;
  • Create a cross-sector, diverse Inclusive Innovation Council;
  • Map the local inclusive innovation ecosystem and gather relevant data input from sources such as a community survey, a benchmarking inclusive competitiveness index, and synopses of local/regional data sources and reports;
  • Coordinate and align a diverse set of decision-makers and stakeholders on target outcomes and strategies;
  • Identify and leverage local assets as well as national best practices to create high-impact results;
  • Invest in high potential, high-impact ventures and initiatives to increase economic growth and inclusion;
  • Evaluate results and scale what is working; and
  • Connect with a national network of other cities and partners to strengthen the work.

By Fall 2018, Forward Cities will select at least five partner cities to participate in its next cohort of Forward Cities Community Innovation Accelerators.

To achieve the full potential of the Accelerators, each partner commits to dedicating time, resources, and collective energy to launch and sustain this effort. These commitments are below:

Phase of WorkParticipating CityForward Cities
Hiring Inclusive Innovation Fellow (first month)Recruit, approve, provide office, and supportRecruit, hire, train, place, and support
Forming a cross-sector Innovation Council (first month)Identify leaders, commit to 18+ months, serve on committees, and contribute to final deliverablesFormation & governance structure, coordination/ facilitation support, national network
Systems Mapping
(months 2-3)
Support data collection, identify local data partners, feedback on Systems Mapping reportLeads process with national and local data partner; produces final report
Identify potential investments (months 4-5)Provide planning venues; input on planning & implementation prioritiesLeads design and delivery of process
Investment in Pilots
(month 6)
Raise investment funds for pilots & serve on investment review committee; ongoing support for funded pilotsProvide supportive investment funds for pilots & contribute to investment committee; ongoing support for pilots
Scaling of High-Impact Enterprises (based on progress)Identify local impact investment funds & venture philanthropy to scale high-impact enterprisesIdentify national impact investment funds & venture philanthropy to scale high-impact enterprises
Policy & Advocacy (ongoing)Align municipal policy; contribute to attracting state-wide supportTechnical assistance to align local policy; advocate for state-wide support; connection to national best practice
Story-telling (ongoing)Local media support; attend national convening to help showcase workShare stories across Forward Cities’ media channels and platforms; showcases case studies at national convenings

Racial Equity Training

Based on its experiences in other cities and the profound impact that well designed racial equity training can have on building trust and deeper communication within a community, Forward Cities recommends that each participating Labs city embark on an ambitious effort to introduce racial equity training to a broad-base of stakeholders before, during, and after this process. Forward Cities has a partnership with the Racial Equity Institute that can provide this training and can arrange an introduction if requested. Note, this is not part of the proposed budget.

Target outcomes

There are three sets of outcomes we strive to achieve in partnership with our partner cities: the impact of membership within Forward Cities as well as the ensuing outcomes of the Community Innovation Accelerator work short-term (1-3 years) and longer-term (4+ years).

Impact of joining for Forward Cities network:

  • Greater coordination and engagement among a diverse, cross-sector group of community stakeholders within Pittsburgh and a partner micropolitan community;
  • Increased connection to a national network of leaders striving to accelerate inclusive innovation and economic development in their respective cities; and
  • Enhanced visibility for Pittsburgh’s work nationally and access to tools, resources, and promising practices to help the work locally.

Short-term impact of the Community Innovation Accelerator (1-3 years):

  • Greater understanding of local assets, community opinion, and base-line data benchmarked against other similar cities;
  • Stronger strategic alignment by community leaders and stakeholders on target outcomes and prioritized actions to achieve outcomes;
  • Improved connectivity of under-connected entrepreneurs to resources and relationships contributing to revenue growth and increased employment;
  • Increased public and private procurement commitments for contracting services from minority owned enterprises;
  • Strengthened connection between currently under-connected workforce and emerging employment opportunities – particularly within the innovation economy;
  • Initial improvements to under-developed commercial corridors (i.e. street improvements, retail frontage, site readiness, etc.)
  • Strengthened and aligned municipal policy to city’s inclusive innovation goals; and
    Increased awareness and support for efforts by the local business community.

Longer-term impact (4+ years):

  • Increased number of local, minority owned enterprises;
  • Growth in average annual revenue per minority-owned enterprise;
  • Increase in livable wage jobs within currently under-employed communities;
  • Increase in jobs taken by local, currently under-employed workforce;
  • Increase in per-capita income across all demographics;
  • Revitalized commercial corridors in currently under-connected neighborhoods including increased local business ownership;
  • Growth in home ownership among currently under-represented demographics;
  • Growth in public and private contracts with local, minority owned businesses; and
  • Increased investment in local, minority-owned enterprises.

Strategies to measure impact

Forward Cities will work with local and national data partners to establish baseline data across a set of target outcome indicators and measure progress over time. Additionally, Forward Cities will work with national and local data partners to collect survey data to capture additional impact measures such as increase in awareness of and support for local initiatives, behavioral shifts, as well as national connectivity.

For additional information about Forward Cities Community Innovation Accelerators and to
discuss participating in our next cohort, please contact:
Fay Horwitt

Additional Information about
Forward Cities Community Innovation Accelerators

For additional context on the Community Innovation Acceleration process each phase is outlined below.

  1. Placing an Inclusive Innovation Fellow and Forming a local Innovation Council: Forward Cities, in partnership with partner organizations within the participating city, will help recruit, hire, train, support, and match funding for a full-time, two-year Inclusive Innovation Fellow. It is anticipated the Fellow will be housed at the local Foundation or an appropriate community partner and stay engaged in the work after the fellowship ends. Forward Cities will also work with city and community leadership to form a diverse, cross-sector Innovation Council of leaders from across the regional innovation ecosystem to serve as a steering committee. A job description of the Fellow as well as an overview of the Innovation Council is below.
  2. Systems Mapping: Forward Cities and its national partners will work with local data partners, the local Fellow, and the Innovation Council to evaluate the current inclusive innovation landscape including deploying an asset mapping tool and a community survey as well as collecting base-line data against a set of Inclusive Competitiveness Indicators. Additionally, drawing on the best available data from public and private sources, Forward Cities will review existing local and regional development plans and data as well as interview key regional partners to gain insights into potential opportunities and gaps to advance the local inclusive innovation economy. Forward Cities will also work with state and national partners to help identify potential funding/ resource partners to support a community’s transition to the knowledge based economy such as the Economic Development Administration, USDA, the Council of Governments, local workforce development boards, regional and state Foundations, and state funds etc. Drawing on this work, a local trend analysis will be completed anticipating each city’s changing economic landscape including scenario development on the industries and communities most vulnerable to labor/ industry shifts. Collected data would be compiled into a “state of the city” inclusive growth report that will inform strategic implementation efforts.
  3. Planning and Pilot Development: Kicked off with a two-day event, the Innovation Council along with national thought leaders will gather to imagine a new future of inclusive growth for the city and county. This includes: identifying target outcomes (based on data from the IC Indicators and future work trends); envisioning a road forward; developing strategies to achieve this progress that leverage local assets, build on work already being done, and draw on national best practice; and focusing on 2-3 immediate “beach-head” initiatives that can be implemented within 6-12 months and build momentum for community-wide inclusive growth. Stemming from the kick-off retreat, working groups for each strategic initiative will be established to refine the pilot programs including crafting operational plans, identifying accountable organizations, and developing a three-year action plan with a corresponding budget and resource strategy. These working groups will be supported by: the local Inclusive Innovation Fellow, the local Innovation Council (that act as local steering committees), Forward Cities, and appropriate national thought leaders/ practitioners.
  4. Implementing Pilot Initiatives: Once the pilot programs are investment ready they will be submitted to a review committee of local funders and Forward Cities for funding consideration. Qualified plans will receive initial seed capital with matching funds from local funders and Forward Cities. Once milestones are hit, successful pilots will be eligible to receive follow-on capital through local and national funding partners.
  5. Research and Evaluation: Throughout the implementation process, Forward Cities will work with local and state research partners to track progress and try and determine what is working and why. The research will be shared through supportive case study development, story telling, and research briefs designed to help local stakeholders as well as the broader Forward Cities network gain insights into this new wave of inclusive growth work.
  6. Scaling Promising Practices: Over time, it is anticipated that some of the most successful initiatives can be expanded to other cities across the network and beyond. To support replication and scale of the most promising ventures, it is envisioned that the Partners will work with impact investment funds, venture philanthropists, and partner cities to invest in these initiatives and support their expansion.

Supportive Local & State Policy Advocacy: A critical ingredient to a healthy innovation ecosystem is a supportive policy environment. To support progress laid out above, Forward Cities also proposes working with the participating city to audit its current policy environment through an assessment in our Municipal Policy Toolkit and determine potential local policies that align with target inclusive economic development targets.

Additionally, through its work with InnovateNC, Forward Cities helped draft legislation to create a proposed NC Community Innovation Fund. The Fund is designed to award competitive matching funds to under-connected metro areas and micropolitan communities to stimulate local job creation, increase incomes, foster small business growth, build the local tax base, and help small to medium-sized communities across the state transition to a knowledge-based economy. The $3M two-year initiative ($12.5M; 5-year) has made it into the Governor’s budget and Forward Cities, in partnership with North Carolina’s Office of Science, Technology, and Innovation, is now working to build legislative support for the appropriation to be included in the spring 2018 budget. To strengthen support in other states, Forward Cities proposes working with local and state leaders to explore how state resources can further catalyze and sustain this important work.

Amplify the work through Story-Telling: Forward Cities’ national learning platform is designed to be a robust resource for cities striving to grow and diversify their local economy to make it more inclusive and resilient. By the end of Q1 2018 this will include a freely available capacity-building toolkit including self-assessments, case studies, relevant news stories and research studies, and a story-telling platform to highlight promising practices across the Forward Cities network. Forward Cities also distributes a bi-monthly newsletter to more than 10K subscribers and has a social media platform that reaches over 23K followers. Forward Cities also has relationships with publications such as Governing Magazine and Strong Towns. Leveraging these platforms and relationships, Forward Cities proposes working with national and local media outlets to amplify the important work emerging from this work – helping to expand awareness of and support of participating cities’ pioneering effort locally, state-wide, and nationally. This includes showcasing stories and local leaders at Forward Cities’ national convenings.

Inclusive Innovation Fellowship Job Description

To help member cities accelerate inclusive economic development in its communities, Forward Cities strives to place a dedicated, full-time “Inclusive Innovation Fellow” in a select number of cities for two years of service starting in January 2019.

Through the two-long commitment, the Fellow will serve as the central project manager within each “Forward Cities Community Innovation Accelerator” – a structured strategic planning, investment, and implementation process including:

  • Organizing and supporting the local cross-sector Innovation Council such as identifying potential members, coordinating meetings, and supporting action items emerging from meetings (see separate attachment describing role of Innovation Council);
  • Coordinating local partners to support the systems mapping, strategic planning, and implementation work;
  • Serving as lead project manager for all deliverables including research brief, strategic plans, and investment ready projects;
  • Cultivating and managing a local volunteer/ intern team to strengthen local capacity;
  • Helping teams receiving investments hit critical implementation milestones;
  • Developing progress reports for the Innovation Council and key local and national stakeholders;
  • Identifying and amplifying the good stories emerging from the work in partnership with local and national media partners;
  • Building awareness and support for the work among local and regional partners and stakeholders;
  • Serving as a liaison with the national Forward Cities team and actively engaging with Forward Cities Fellows in other cities to maximize opportunities for shared learning and collaboration; and
  • Leading as an entrepreneur and addressing additional needs and opportunities as they arise consistent with the mission of advancing inclusive innovation and economic development locally and regionally.

The ideal Fellow is:

  • Local to or deeply familiar with the community who is able to engender trust;
  • Familiar with the local innovation economy and its important contributors;
  • A strong and trusted facilitator – especially across diverse constituencies;
  • A well organized project manager with demonstrated management experiences;
  • A strong verbal communicator and exceptional writer;
  • An entrepreneurial spirit;
  • A strategic thinker; and
  • Organized, has attention to detail, and effectively manages time.

Professional & Academic Qualifications:

  • The Fellow should have at least five years of work experience – ideally with relevant experience in project management and community facilitation
  • Bachelor’s Degree is required and relevant post-graduate is helpful

Time Commitment & Reporting Authority:

  • This is a year-long fellowship – ideally with the opportunity to stay engaged in the implementation of the work post-fellowship;
  • The Fellow will be a full-time Forward Cities employee and report to the Forward Cities national team with dotted line accountability to the local Innovation Council and its Co-Chairs;
  • The Fellow will be housed at a local community foundation or appropriate community organization.

Professional Development Support:

Each Forward Cities Fellow will be part of a cohort of at least four other Fellows that are doing similar work in other Forward Cities member cities. As part of the cohort, the Fellow will receive;

  • Training and ongoing professional development support from the Forward Cities national team;
  • Access to key stakeholders and decision-makers within the city to help support success of work;
  • A robust network of peers, partners, and supporters locally, regionally, and nationally dedicated to the work of inclusive innovation and economic development in under-connected communities.

Compensation: $75,000 with full employment benefits

Creating a Dynamic Cross-Sector Innovation Council

To foster a coordinated approach to advancing inclusive innovation and increase opportunities to collaborate with other cities across the Forward Cities network, we encourage cities to create a robust cross-sector Innovation council that represents a broad and diverse cross-section of the local innovation ecosystem.

How to best leverage your cross-sector team:

  • Attend convenings/workshops together
  • Create listserv for ongoing communicationShare resources & ideas
  • Drive work together in local community

Often times the inclination is to invite the “usual suspects” to the table—those that have typically been tasked with economic development and innovation in a community. While it is important to include this background and expertise on the innovation council, it is just as important to bring in representatives that have not historically been engaged in this work. It’s also helpful to have the right mix of influencers, connectors, and doers on the innovation council—all of whom must be willing and able to contribute a significant amount of time to this project.

Having the right stakeholders at the table will make the output more reliable and reflective of the whole community. However, it also means that more time should be appropriated to effectively build trust among the group.

Members of the local innovation council should include:

  • A diverse group of policy, political, and community leaders who can authentically represent the needs and interests of the your local innovation/ entrepreneurial economy and its diverse workforce, and that have successfully “moved the needle” in an important sector for the community’s transformation (i.e. education, urban renewal, housing, etc.). Include local policy makers and civic leaders that can help align economic and community policy with entrepreneurial ambitions;
  • Established small business and corporate leaders committed to building an “intrapreneurial” corporate culture as well as contributing to an innovation economy, such as contracting with local entrepreneurs/small businesses and “on-boarding” a diverse pipeline of emerging entrepreneurial talent;
  • Emerging innovators and entrepreneurs/social entrepreneurs – including those who are currently or recently under-connected from the community and/or region’s enabling entrepreneurial resources.
  • Early-stage investors, banking executives, and philanthropic leaders who have a vested interest in the community’s economic future. Include funders investing in social/business entrepreneurship development (i.e. foundations, corporations and individual donors);
  • Organizations providing a robust enabling environment for incubating and accelerating emerging ventures – again, with a focus on inclusion (i.e. capacity building or support organizations working with small businesses and entrepreneurs, incubators, etc.);
  • Education and talent developers/recruiters focused on developing and connecting emerging talent from across a diverse range of neighborhoods with available opportunities (i.e. key leaders in local K-12, university, community college and technical/vocational education systems, education reform leaders, etc.);
  • Established and new media journalists/story-tellers committed to telling the community’s ever-changing story of inclusivity and innovation (i.e. bloggers, journalists, social justice advocates, etc.); and
    Data and local research and policy/advocacy organizations tracking the evolution of the innovation economy and workforce trends.

Using the proposed matrix, describe the diversity* of members, depth of their support, and capacity to participate in the innovation council.  Add additional columns and rows as needed.

SectorRelevant Experience/ InfluenceDiversity contribution (perspective; background)
Talent Developers (K-12; Higher Ed; Exec Ed)
Entrepreneurial Enablers (incubators, coworking, etc.)
Data partners
Policy Leaders
Corporate leaders
Social innovators/ Non-profit
Social innovators/ Non-profit
Civic leaders (CVB, Downtown Assocation, etc.)
Transit experts
Urban planners/ developers
Diversity advocates

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