Small Business Cities
This post is part of our Age of Urban Tech discussion series, following the fifth edition of the New Cities Summit in Montréal in June 2016.
The Small Business Cities panel looked at the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that are driving innovation and increasing urban economic outcomes. The Mayor of Liége, Willy Demeyer, illuminated what steps public policymakers can take towards accommodating SMEs. City authorities should support certain pillars of entrepreneurial ecosystems, including funding, networking and marketing to attract young entrepreneurs. A longtime public official, Mayor Demeyer also insisted cities must be prepared to deal with the inevitable replacement of jobs due to technological development. He highlighted the ways in which Liége successfully carried out a retraining program for positions made redundant by Urban Tech.
Béatrice Couture, who runs the InnoCité Montréal startup accelerator, also believed that the public sector could play a major role in cultivating SMEs. For example, she explained how her platform, a 12-week acceleration program helping startups commercialize their programs with cities, was created after the release of the Montréal Strategic Plan. She was also an advocate of larger firms supporting tech startups, arguing that within entrepreneurial ecosystems, private sector firms could buy from startups, using them as a “test bench.”
Philipp Bouteiller held a more skeptical view of the relationship between the public sector and small business. “When politics interferes in these matters, typically they go wrong,” he said. Bouteiller argues that small businesses heavily subsidized by cities were not viable. This could just create long-term waste as these ventures would ultimately fail on the open market. However, Bouteiller believed public administrations could create the right environment for business by overcoming their own institutional inertia and simplifying regulations. For example, cities that have banned Uber from their cities are stifling innovation – a result, he argues, of conservative public administrations safeguarding the status quo. Bouteiller suggests “large organizations have an extremely strong immune system” and often startups and innovative companies are seen as threats and eliminated. He endorsed fundamental technological disruption arguing, “there is nothing like a good crisis to foster innovation.”
Conversely, Aaron Lander, CEO and Co-founder of PopUpsters, a Global Urban Innovator, took a more optimistic tone, insisting that everyone should be able to start their own business. PopUpsters, his platform, provides a temporary popup store for aspiring business-owners, helping them through the crucial first 18 months of business by providing mentorship, information and monitoring. Addressing the specter of the digital divide, Lander argued that ideas such as PopUpsters help make Urban Tech a great equalizer. Increasing the ease of establishing business disproportionately helps low-income, minority and disadvantaged groups who, under prevailing conditions, have experienced more business failure.
Moderator: Jeff Blond, Associate Managing Editor, Montreal Gazette