Keynote Speaker Delmonize Smith: What Is Urban Entrepreneurship? The Answer to a Thriving Local Economy
The keynote speaker for the Center for Transformative Action‘s (CTA) 2nd annual Finger Lakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute was Delmonize Smith, Founding Director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE) at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
Dr. Smith kicked off the first night of a weekend long institute to support the exchange of ideas, best practices and growth system for social entrepreneurs and value-driven businesses. There were representatives from Ithaca College and RIT along with familiar campus faces, such as Anke Wessels, Executive Director of CTA and AEM 3380 professor, and e-Lab’s Director, Dan Cohen.
Dr. Smith had a presence full of energy, hope, and passion for affecting positive change in people’s lives. He started out by poignantly illustrating the statistics of the Ithaca community. In ‘The Heights’, only 11% of the residents are below the poverty line and the average income is $140,000. In another community just a few miles away, the residents are 72% below the poverty line and the average income is $16,500. He identified that this area could potentially benefit from urban entrepreneurship for the betterment of the entire community.
So, what is urban entrepreneurship?
Dr. Smith defines the term in these 3 principle factors:
1. The process in which often marginalized, aspiring entrepreneurs start off with no specialized resources and then utilize the community’s untapped business potential to grow a successful business and to further develop the area’s economy
2. The way to bring inner cities back to life through strategic and profitable ways to re-engage the marginalized residents in the economy
3. The right entrepreneurial mindset
This definition echos the theme of this year’s Cornell’s Annual Entrepreneurship Summit: From Nothing to Something. Urban entrepreneurship is the exact manifestation of just that. Urban entrepreneurship gives hope not only to the entrepreneurs but also to the entire community. Dr. Smith pointed out that a critical component to any entrepreneurial endeavor is a space to bring all the key players together for making ideas happen. For example, CUE brings together SBA representatives, VCs, angel investors, and manufacturers to bring great ideas to life.
During his presentation, Dr. Smith shared a truly inspirational success story from his experience at CUE. CUE helped Ellen Fitzgerald, a female entrepreneur who may become the first millionaire from Rochester’s “fatal crescent”–an area that has 67% of residents under the poverty line with an average income of $4,700 and the highest infant mortality rate in NY state. Ellen first came up with an idea for a motorized umbrella due to a paraplegic friend who would often come in her shop soaking wet after getting caught in the rain. Now her invention will improve the lives of wheelchair users across the nation. Ellen is also now the CEO and founder of EFUnlimited, which promotes the innovating and marketing of products that make everyday lives easier.
“Shared values is the new way to achieve integration in thriving economic success” – Delmonize Smith
Through his work at the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship (CUE), Dr. Smith makes sure to “jump in the pool,” get out in the field and identify what aspiring entrepreneurs and communities in certain areas actually need. Dr. Smith’s personal philosophy about urban entrepreneurship does not include the term “nonprofit.” He elabroates that a sustainable, profitable funding and diversified portfolio model is much more effective in keeping operations running and continuing to impact our local economy.
Jennifer Park is a senior majoring in Policy Analysis and Management. She has enthusiastic interests in strategic business development and public-private partnerships. On campus she is involved in H.E.L.P. for Children as Co-President, Albert R. Mann Library as Student Computing Supervisor and an active member of Society for Women in