The link between diversity and innovation

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Philadelphia gave the world cheese steak, which is reason enough for it to exist, but the City of Brotherly Love also is pointing the way for other communities that desire to build a diverse startup ecosystem. Helping to give Philadelphia a diverse direction is economic development expert Archna Sahay, who recently spoke at StartingBlock Madison. She wears a number of hats in Philly, but mostly she’s a strategic thinker and business connector whose specialties are innovation and ecosystem development.

Sahay visited Madison to discuss strategies for building a diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, an approach that boosted Philadelphia’s innovation scene from also-ran to recognized leader. The city ranked third among the nation’s top startup cities in the 2017 “Innovation That Matters” report, which is compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the appropriately named Washington, D.C.-based incubator 1776.

Consider that just two years earlier, Philadelphia surprisingly was unranked in that particular study. Yet the city already was a hub for innovation in health care and education, and is trying to become a player in advanced manufacturing. If that sounds familiar, it should. Madison shares similar traits, but Philadelphia has a profound advantage over many locales.

Philly is the hub of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the nation; as such, diversity of all sorts comes naturally. Sahay, a senior consultant for J. Nowak Strategy, which focuses on economic development and inclusion strategies, says moving up in national innovation rankings was a matter of prioritizing the development of an equitable and inclusive ecosystem and building stronger connections with diverse groups already in place.

For Greater Madison, diversification is going to come with more determined work by everyone. The good news is the community has a great deal to offer in terms of technology opportunity and quality of life, and it already has a national and international magnet called the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As the saying goes, if we can get them here, we can keep them here, but we’ve only just begun to really try.

Part of StartingBlock Madison’s mission is to cultivate entrepreneurs and foster innovation. After her visit, Sahay was complimentary of the new StartingBlock facility. “It’s well thought out, well designed, and extremely engaging,” she states, “and well situated downtown in terms of access to other things in the city.”

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