Normally, entrepreneurs are the ones who have to make pitches.
At a forum next week, however, it will be the mayoral and city council candidates in the spotlight – as they make their case to the city’s entrepreneurs.
They’ll gather at a candidates forum Oct. 7 at Packard Place, the uptown startup hub, for a candidates forum for the local entrepreneurial community. ShopTalk and the Charlotte Entrepreneurial Alliance are co-sponsoring the event.
Mayoral candidates will get four minutes to make their elevator pitches, and city council candidates will get two. Attendees will be able to chat with candidates afterward.
The pressure will be on for candidates to show that they get the challenges that entrepreneurs face, says Packard Place co-founder Dan Roselli.
“I think the entrepreneurial community wants to hear that they understand the issues, they understand the struggles that entrepreneurs go through,” Roselli says.
“They want to hear that the candidates want to support these struggles.”
Charlotte’s mayoral candidates – Republican Edwin Peacock and Democrats Jennifer Roberts and Dan Clodfelter – are scheduled to attend. (The forum happens the day after the Oct. 6 runoff between Roberts and Clodfelter.)
In advance of the forum, ShopTalk asked the three candidates to write 350 words off this question:
Being as specific as possible, what’s the No. 1 thing you would do as mayor for the small business and entrepreneurial community?
What’s the No. 1 thing you would do for entrepreneurs?
Clodfelter: Develop funding sources
After being appointed Mayor I convened a gathering of local folks working to develop a support system for entrepreneurship and innovative new business concepts in Charlotte. The goal of this convening was to identify ways that we could accelerate the growth of innovative small businesses and build an even more robust support system for new start-ups, especially in the “fintech” and energy sectors of our local economy. We have had subsequent meetings to identify the “missing pieces” that are holding us back in achieving these objectives. Recently, the group convened to discuss findings from a survey of the local landscape for entrepreneurship and innovation.
A key finding of the report was that while Charlotte has a strong and growing network of business incubators and accelerators, it is seriously deficient, compared to other cities nationally and even other cities within our own region, in the availability of initial and early stage funding for new start-ups. This is a problem that also plagues small firms engaged in traditional lines of business. Small businesses engaged in these more traditional activities can benefit from the growth and expansion of existing, proven sources of funding embodied in the community banking and credit union systems and in non-traditional lenders such as Grameen Bank, which now operates in Charlotte.
For new businesses in the technology and innovation sectors, we have to work to identify and develop more sources of non-traditional capital, such as by encouraging our larger corporate citizens to establish or contribute to angel funds, venture funds, and other pooled funds that can be accessed by entrepreneurs and innovators in fields of interest or in lines of business allied to those funders. Some companies in our region have already established or participate in such funds, and we need to build on this start.
I will continue to work with the group we initially convened in 2014 to try to boost local sources of early stage funding for entrepreneurial start-ups and innovative small businesses.
Peacock: Create culture of risk takers
Being a small business owner myself in the financial services industry for 15 years, I’m optimistic about our opportunity to become America’s most family and business friendly city. Here are seven ideas I’d like to work on as your next Mayor.
▪ Embrace innovators and create a culture of risk takers: Charlotte is well known for being a banking center. However, we’re not known as the place to be for start-ups. This must change. As Mayor, I’ll be chief advocate for building a culture and reputation for embracing risk takers and creating a culture where America’s innovators will think of #CLT!
▪ Amplify Google Fiber’s arrival to CLT: We must use this opportunity to accelerate the buzz of #CLT being known as a start-up city. This platform also provides the chance to strengthen and grow small businesses of all sizes and in all industries.
▪ Promote CLT: “Global Hub for Trade and Commerce” – As Mayor, I want to promote CLT and echo CPCC’s efforts to promote our airport’s exclusive intermodal facility. This initiative to brand us as a ‘global hub for trade and commerce’ marries perfectly with our small business initiatives to embrace innovators.
▪ ‘Going Global’ with Corridor Revitalization – CLT’s women-owned and ethnic-focused small businesses need a Mayor who will promote corridor revitalization through small business activity. Micro-financing lenders like Grameen Bank must be showcased to our growing minority communities in order to augment our efforts of ‘going global.’
▪ Accelerate the Applied Innovation Corridor (AIC) Connecting Uptown and UNCC – Small businesses and start-ups need a space to cluster. This AIC corridor just outside uptown off the light rail extension must be promoted to lay the foundation for CLT’s next generation economy. It will also foster the needed transfer of research from academics to industry.
▪ Partner with Foundation For The Carolinas – This powerful not-for-profit must continue to be utilized as the long-term bridge builder between business, government, nonprofits and our faith community. Their long-term focus on promoting small business and entrepreneurial growth cannot be overlooked.
▪ Focus on Basic Citizen Needs – We can never overlook that businesses and citizens in all four corners of our city want to feel safe and secure; they want strong schools (K-12 and beyond); they want options for affordable housing; they want clean, livable, and vibrant neighborhoods, and they want a streamlined path to doing business within a city that has low taxes and fees.
Roberts: Reach out to potential owners
I was walking recently in the Hidden Valley neighborhood meeting with neighbors, and I was encouraged by the number of people who wanted to start a small business but had no idea about what resources were available to them.
We have tremendous resources in Charlotte for small businesses but too often potential small business owners, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods, are not aware of them. We must do a better job of communicating this information, especially to women- and minority-owned businesses, by holding more workshops in our disadvantaged neighborhoods and by working intentionally with our neighborhood associations to spread the word about available information and capital resources. We must also include our vibrant immigrant community in this outreach.
While we work to extend opportunities to traditional small businesses, we must work to grow our burgeoning high-growth entrepreneurial industry as well. Private industry should be the primary driver of entrepreneurial growth. For example, our banking industry is a natural springboard for the exciting financial technology sector. The mayor and other elected officials must contribute to this effort by being aggressive advocates for these entrepreneurs locally, regionally, and around the globe.
The mayor can help high-growth entrepreneurs by creating an environment where they feel welcome and respected and know they will have the support of the local business community and of local government. As chairman of the county commission I worked with elected officials and business representatives to expand Charlotte’s core industries beyond banking and worked to promote Charlotte as an energy industry hub. We had great success in those efforts and we must do the same with high-growth entrepreneurial industries by marketing Charlotte as more than a big company town but as a city where today’s entrepreneurs have the resources and support they need to deliver on tomorrow’s ideas.
Any efforts to grow our small business and entrepreneurial community must be rooted in guaranteeing that Charlotte is a welcoming and accepting city that can attract top talent from around the world. To make certain we remain a city that is a great place to live, work, and raise a family, we must have good schools, good jobs and opportunity for all.
Want to go?
Entrepreneurs and small-business owners are invited to attend the free candidates forum on Oct. 7 from 5:30-7:30 at Packard Place, 222 S. Church St. Register: http://www.meetup.com/packardplace/events/225561614/