Entrepreneurial City


Growing an Entrepreneurial City


Many civic leaders would love to turn their communities into a hotbed of entrepreneurship, a booming place where entrepreneurs spring forth with innovative ventures that create jobs and boost the local economy.

That’s the vision, but how does one make it happen? Manizales, a city of about 400,000 people in Colombia, is finding out. In partnership with the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, the city has launched Manizales-Mas, a collaboration tasked with the ambitious mission of infusing entrepreneurial spirit into the heart and soul of the community.

Doing that will require far more effort than simply starting a hatchery or two. Manizales-Mas is working with stakeholders throughout the city in an effort that will take time and patience. “The Manizales-Mas project is unique in the world,” says Daniel Isenberg, the ecosystem project’s founding executive director. “I think it’s the first time someone has done this in such a comprehensive, systematic way.”

Manizales-Mas is engaged with 11 wide-ranging stakeholders, from the municipal government to private business leaders, from NGOs to universities, that are working to improve the societal factors that impact entrepreneurship. These groups have much to examine, including government policy, the labor force, the marketplace, financing, infrastructure, networking, education, and even the city’s culture.

Part of Babson Global, a College subsidiary handling the school’s worldwide initiatives, the ecosystem project fosters entrepreneurship in regions around the world. It instructs community leaders to stop trying to imitate what makes an entrepreneurial hub like Silicon Valley so dynamic, and instead focus on the characteristics of their own regions that can be used to create a vibrant environment for supporting entrepreneurs. “It looks at entrepreneurship from a holistic, ecosystem perspective,” Isenberg says. “It’s about empowering the natural flora and fauna.”

While the ecosystem project has performed smaller-scale programs in Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, and Tanzania, with another under way in Denmark and still another set to start in Canada, Manizales-Mas represents its largest undertaking to date, Isenberg says. A team of seven is on the ground in Manizales, and while Isenberg declined to put a specific timeline on the project, its length will be measured in years, not months. “If we want to achieve our objectives, there is no alternative,” he says. “These are complicated things.”

Leaders in Manizales are excited about the collaboration. This September, Mayor Jorge Rojas presented Babson with a gold key to the city and made Isenberg an honorary citizen. —John Crawford