How to Foster Urban Entrepreneurship

This post is part of our Re-imagining Cities discussion series, following the third edition of the NewCities Summit in Dallas in June 2014.

In this session, a direct link was carved between urban entrepreneurship and urban development. The speakers illuminated how cities can work more closely with the entrepreneurial class in order to produce greater economic growth. The panelists agreed that it is incumbent on cities to encourage and nurture that community of entrepreneurs.

Fahd Al Rasheed, who is spearheading the development of King Abdullah Economic City, a new urban mega project on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, argued that the two main objectives for a thriving city are attracting and identifying talent. Both Al Rasheed and Julie Lein agreed that nimble entrepreneurs are infinitely more efficient than bulky companies when it comes to putting the resource pieces in place to eventually create a bevy of new jobs. “If big companies create one job, entrepreneurs create 18 jobs,” said Al Rasheed. “But it would be a mistake to focus on quantity rather than quality.”

Striving for diversity in an entrepreneurial class working in the urban space was also of paramount importance, according to Lein. Along with a diverse class of entrepreneurs, Lein also stressed the importance of integrating older professionals, whose experience, expertise and perspective could be of enormous use. Entrepreneurship should also help correct the lingering gender gap (to wit: only 7-12 percent of all venture capital funding ever lands in the hands of women) that is a part and parcel of the entrepreneurial mindset. For Lein, more women involved in city entrepreneurship will trigger greater dynamism.

More women involved in city entrepreneurship will trigger greater dynamism – Julie Lein

“I see two big gaps for urban innovators,” said Lein. “Seed funding and mentorship.” And it’s important to fill those gaps because “startups provide a great opportunity to bring a wealth of knowledge,” added Lein.

Another valuable link between cities and this growing class of young entrepreneurs is that urban settings are a fertile ground for mentoring that must and should go on between civic leaders and budding innovators. For Al Rasheed, community engagement, initiated by the city, is vital in nurturing an entrepreneurship culture. Eventually, a fruitful tripartite alliance can be forged involving large companies, city governments and entrepreneurs – all of whom come together to spur innovation across a wide urban landscape.

For Lein, the great thing about an entrepreneurial class is that they “see things from the bottom up.”

Urban Entrepreneurship – Lady Barbara Judge (moderator), Fahd Al Rasheed, Julie Lein – © NewCities/Rex C Curry


Moderated by: Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman, UK Pension Protection Fund and Former Chairman, UK Atomic Energy Authority