Fostering Entrepreneurship in "Innovation Deserts"
You may have heard of food deserts or Internet deserts -- those places where groceries or online access are difficult to come by. But certain communities fall into similar “innovation deserts,” where the population is cut off from educational, technical, and other resources connected to small business and entrepreneurial success. Often coinciding with economically distressed locations, innovation deserts force residents to look elsewhere for opportunities and support, causing both a talent and economic drain that exacerbates the problem.
Felicia Hatcher has committed herself to ridding communities of these deserts. A self-described C-student in high school, she found creative ways to achieve and finance her education and early career. As a freshman at Lynn University, she launched a company focused on mentoring high school students. Upon graduating, she went on to lead social media campaigns for major brands such as Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Little Debbie. Soon after, she landed a major position with the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. She left it to start an ice cream company.
That company, Feverish Ice Cream, went from a small food truck and cart operation to a venture capital-backed promotional partner to some of the biggest brands in the world. Her success -- and the financial resources it provided -- enabled Felicia to pivot once again.
In 2012, Hatcher started Code Fever, an organization focused on teaching Miami residents how to integrate technical knowledge into their skillset. Soon after, Hatcher and her partners brought Black Girls Code to Miami, and hosted numerous camps and events for local youth. In 2015, they started Black Tech Week to further the cause of creating inclusive innovation communities. The conference hosted several thousand attendees and some of the nation’s top entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, educators, and tech professionals.
The following year, Hatcher’s organizations further expanded their entrepreneurship programs. They began a VC-in-residence program to connect Black innovators with potential mentors and investors. They also partnered with PowerMoves to launch bootcamps and pitch competitions. Black Tech Week soon expanded from Miami to eight other cities.
Like many communities in South Florida, the Overton section of Miami was an innovation desert. Social mobility was relatively low, and potential entrepreneurs had few support networks or access to resources. Even though Miami was the nation’s densest city for co-working spaces (seen as particularly helpful for start-ups), Overton didn’t have one. Hatcher sought to directly fill the gap by opening a co-working space named a Space Called Tribe. The two-story hub offers individuals or small companies low-cost access to WiFi, office space, conference rooms, collaboration opportunities, and a wide array of workshops and guest speaker events. Even though members are from different companies serving different industries and customers, their shared experience can create networking and support relationships.
Felicia Hatcher and her group recently rebranded to The Center for Black Innovation; beyond the services and events described above, they work as a think tank and advocacy organization to further promote investment and innovation in the Black community, and better help all marginalized communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they launched a number of educational programs to help those affected launch “side hustles” to supplement their income. The Center also continues to serve as an incubator and capital investment networker to help people develop and scale their start-ups. And after helping thousands of business people, the Center frequently collaborates with past participants to mentor new ones and continue the cycle of innovation.
- What qualities or characteristics might lead to the emergence of an innovation desert? Is it always a geographical definition, or could it be defined in other ways?
- In her efforts to help marginalized people gain technical and business experience, how was Felicia Hatcher’s progression similar to business growth and grand expansion?
- How might a Space Called Tribe and the larger efforts of the Center for Black Innovation lead to opportunity for local entrepreneurs?
Sources: Center for Black Innovation website, https://www.centerforblackinnovation.org/#what-we-do ; Felicia Hatcher-Pearson, “Ridding Communities of Innovation Deserts,” Impakter, September 5, 2019, https://impakter.com/ridding-communities-of-innovation-deserts-how-corporations-and-governments-can-support-black-communities-innovation-potential/ ; Blair Levin and Larry Downes, “Cities, Not Rural Areas, Are The Real Internet Deserts,” Washington Post, September 13, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/09/13/cities-not-rural-areas-are-real-internet-deserts/ ; Rob Wile, “In a long-neglected Miami neighborhood, a new co-working space stirs to life,” Miami Herald, May 30, 2018, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article212112389.html;