When you hear “connected community,” it’s natural to think of the internet. While the internet is undoubtedly a conduit for connections, the actual concept goes much deeper. From public safety and transportation to civic engagement and economic development, access and efficiency are at the root of connected communities.
Learning how connected communities can bolster your business.
Consider the U.S. population. As of 2017, nearly 83% of people call urban centers home. Manhattan alone has a population of 1.63 million, and it’s only 22 square miles. Finding the necessary resources to keep the lights on is no small undertaking — let alone the other essentials that make the borough livable.
Cities have leveraged technology to make their urban meccas healthier, safer, more efficient, and smarter. Smart city technology spending hit $80 billion in 2016, with investments likely to reach $135 billion by 2021. It’s all about increasing citizens’ experiences through smart initiatives that facilitate environmental, social, and financial innovation.
A connected community is a boon for business.
As cities get smarter, businesses prosper. Smart cities will result in smart buildings. The smart buildings will lead to greater workplace efficiency. The more efficient a workplace itself is –, the more it will boost employee productivity. In the end, connectivity will improve the bottom lines of impacted companies.
Better yet, the tech necessary to make a city smart creates thousands of jobs and business ventures for entrepreneurs.
Going smart is like creating a self-sustaining ecosystem for a community and any businesses willing to get involved. Consider Ameren’s Accelerator program, which brings together utility companies, university systems, and accelerator funds to develop energy-related smart city solutions.
Typically, these entities would work in their respective silos. Through the program, however, it’s become a collaborative process that could lead to exponentially faster breakthroughs via pilots and trials.
Collaboration is the key to creating a connected community that benefits everyone involved.
The following are the best places to start for your business:
1. Create Connections.
Connecting with the community begins with a simple step: involvement. Attend community forums, join chambers of commerce, or sponsor fundraisers and other public events. Companies that encourage participation in the community do more than “give back.” They see an actual return on investment — be it a happier workforce, stronger employee engagement, or more loyal customers.
STEAMfest, for example, is a large-scale Compton Unified School District event that gives businesses an opportunity to partner with the community in hosting activities around programs related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. While there’s a do-good aspect involved, this partnership also exposes businesses to more than 10,000 community members in attendance.
2. Build Communities.
While joining an existing community is excellent, there are times that businesses need to build their communities by engaging with area leaders. One such option is university-led accelerators. These accelerators link entrepreneurs and researchers with local corporations, creating pathways to establish consumer solutions and private-public partnerships that will eventually grow into their own communities.
Cohort programs, like Ameren’s Accelerator program, offer a great way to build a community while finding innovative entrepreneurs. The programs often involve university alumni and subject matter experts who mentor participants. The collaboration creates a community of entrepreneurs and business leaders — with the potential to disrupt the marketplace in significant ways.
3. Crawl, Walk, Run.
A small investment in the community makes a big difference. Tell me about your city on your social media. Launch a pilot program or engage in an existing project. Either option has the potential to generate a small win in a short period while creating a foundation for your next project.
Any success can be more easily scaled with an established business behind it.
Lynda Weinman is a great example. Weinman started out teaching digital media at the Art Center College of Design. The only problem: Instructional tools were limited. She took it upon herself to create a free web resource of self-produced tutorials for her students. Over the next two decades, that website evolved into a subscription-based virtual library that LinkedIn acquired for $1.5 billion.
4. Change Your Mindset.
Entrepreneurship is more than starting ventures; it’s a mindset in which risk is seen as a potential, collaboration is considered to be essential, and failure is treated as an opportunity to learn.
In other words, change your approach to problems to keep an eye on your customers and a bias toward action. You’ll become nimbler and more willing to adjust your ideas in response to the market.
Changing your approach or doing a quick pivot isn’t a lesson for startups only. In 1985, Coca-Cola scrapped its original recipe to regain market share lost to Pepsi. After only a few weeks — and tens of thousands of angry phone calls and letters — the much sweeter “New Coke” was replaced with the old formula to give birth to Coca-Cola Classic.
Technology has always been useful in terms of solving problems. The only difference today is that technology has caused these previously isolated problems to become increasingly intertwined. If you want your organization to be the solution, your best bet is to get involved with a connected community — or start taking steps to build your own.