Designing a Brand School for Neighborhood Businesses
The idea of tech accelerators like Techstars and YCombinator is sexy but could it work for neighborhood businesses. Y Combinator has 1,000+ companies with a valuation of $65B and Techstars has 762 companies with market cap of $5B. These accelerators attract highly educated founders who can move to Silicon Valley, Boulder or the various cities the accelerators exist in and dedicate 3 to 6 months to focus on their idea.
How do tech accelerators translate to neighborhood businesses? They don’t and they weren’t designed to. The retail brick and mortar businesses that exist in urban cities with underrepresented owners who are typically disconnected from the capital resources and the density that exist in midtown or downtown areas that drives sales. Their ideas as constructed aren’t scalable, there is no funding from family and friend’s and they don’t have teams (the business owner is usually the primary employee) with complementary skills, but their ideas are important to a city. I am not throwing shade at Techstars or YCombinator I personally know partners and founders of these organizations and I love what they are doing!
Common Challenges for Local Neighborhood Businesses:
- Limited Bandwidth: Oftentimes, owners are their only full-time employee working 10–12 hour days, so they spend the majority of their time on core business operations, such as finding and negotiating with suppliers. They are also active in their community during non-work hours — renting out their space for community events, teaching around the community, etc.
- No Financial Resources: Owners don’t have the resources to hire additional full-time or part-time employees or can’t justify the cost of specialized help (e.g. PR person, corporate accounts person). Typically, owners do not have an in-house social media marketing manager, corporate accounts manager, publisher relations manager, etc. that are needed to drive branding and marketing operations
- Automobile Traffic Challenge: Traffic in commercial corridors like Grandmont/Rosedale, Livernois Avenue of Fashion and Corktown (all Detroit communities) need traffic calming measures to help the businesses in their communities. The cars are driving 35–55 mph and the businesses have poor signage that have little to no visibility.
- Lack of Foot traffic: Foot traffic is a major barrier for sustainability with neighborhood businesses. Primarily because many neighborhood business corridors aren’t walkable, density of businesses is almost, there is poor lighting and safety is an ongoing concern.
Design Thinking in Neighborhoods
Really interesting things can happen when empathy exist and a design thinking approach to complex problems is utilized. We are tackling this problem as a part of my Rebrand Detroit project which is funded by the Knight Foundation’s — Knight Cities Challenge. We are working on a learning experience that infuses a mix of:
- Collaborative and interactive learning
- Minimal group sessions with business owners
- One-on-one coaching (during their downtime)
- Micro learning: Digitally delivered content
The ultimate goal is to help business owners build awareness and drive revenue growth which is a challenge.
Also published on Medium.