Incubators and accelerators can do much more than support the tech or science industries. They can be centres for innovative social enterprises that catalyse change at a very local level. And if you're a charity or council looking to build up social capacity through incubators, look to New Orleans for on-the-ground social innovation.
I'm drawn to this article for two reasons: 1) I moved to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina and was involved in the rebuilding and recovery effort in the city's famed Ninth Ward and Gentilly neighbourhoods as well as community support and empowerment at a French Quarter community centre. My year in the city showed me how resilient, inspiring, and powerful communities can be in the face of adversity.
And 2) incubators can utilise entrepreneurship to address a city's social, economic, and environmental differences by supporting nonprofits. Incubators like Propeller do this in the same way that an incubator would support any private sector (i.e. tech) start-up: through mentoring, access to funding networks, and providing space for collaboration and creativity. This is an excellent way to bring entrepreneurial characteristics, such as dynamism and creativity, to supporting people and places.
Renaisi's work with the Thames Valley Berkshire LEP reviewing and understanding workspace in the region identified a workspace provider, WSX Enterprises, that is doing great work in their Aldershot centre bridging the gap between military families and local Nepalese communities. Operating out of a refurbished former military barracks, their Chief Exec Peter Grant has proven that the principles of coworking and business incubators can bridge traditional social divides, encourage small business growth, and empower disparate communities simultaneously.
There is cautious optimism for charities and neighbourhoods in the government's Autumn Statement. But to move forward, I believe that government ought to take lessons from New Orleans and Aldershot and invest money in supporting the development incubators and accelerators for local, social change.
Incubators and accelerators are increasingly recognized across the country as amplifiers of small-scale entrepreneurship and innovation. For example, Propeller now plays a crucial role in New Orleans, supporting projects ranging from barbershops to vegetable markets to coding boot-camps.