Thinking big and acting fast is the name of the game
by Andy Cutler
Approximately two years ago I set out on a journey to discover how cities could collaborate with one another. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it wasn’t. After conducting 1000’s of hours of research, expanding my global networks and connections significantly, listening and learning from colleagues I respect across a broad range of economic sectors, and drawing upon my own experiences promoting products, places and people, I came up with a new model for connecting cities with Providence, Rhode Island—in this case, connecting cool smaller cities with populations of 1.5 million or less and exploring collaborative opportunities in the areas of--Arts & Culture, Economic Development, Entrepreneurship, Policy and Student Engagement. It’s called Smaller Cities Unite!
Smaller Cities Unite! was founded on the premise of cultivating the question of What if….
What if smaller cities (and their residents) explored interesting and impactful ways in which they could collaborate; thus, creating new paradigms for problem solving, product and policy development, as well as engaging its citizenry (particularly its student populations)? In other words, Smaller Cities Unite! is a platform that wishes to explore a new form of citizen diplomacy—one that is based on trust, respect and action; proving to the world that smaller cities can align quickly, open their networks easily, and create new kinds of relationships leading to unique forms of engagement fast!
Smaller cities understand and work within the confines of their size each and every day. Size matters, and smaller cities have the power to enlist professional (and personal) networks in order to bolster ideation and ultimately create meaningful change quicker than their larger counterparts.
Smaller Cities Unite! looks at the following criteria in forming substantive relationships:
Smaller Cities Unite! will ignite and catalyze new relationships, which can (and will):
First up in this “lively experiment” is Providence and Copenhagen. Why these two cities? There are lots of reasons, but namely:
There are other similarities like both cities were selected as IBM Smarter Cities. But it’s how these cities are dissimilar which captured my imagination as well. Copenhagen is a world leader in alternative transportation (i.e., bicycle transportation), having opened the world’s first bicycle superhighway (with more to come). Copenhagen (and Denmark) is also home to an energy independence movement recognized globally, and calling for their country to become energy independent by the year 2050 (and they already reached the 40% benchmark 8 years early in 2012). No doubt these are two examples of how Copenhagen can not only help advise another city, but prove out to the world that its methods are replicable elsewhere.
Providence is also becoming known the world over for its unique approach to entrepreneurship; namely, in the way it approaches mentoring and community support for cultivating individuals with an interest in any number of areas of entrepreneurship ranging from design to technology and social impact ventures to edtech. The “Providence Model” is a simple one; leveraging our networks to progress ideation as well as fostering startups. Saul Kaplan, the Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory, coined the phrase, “Innovation at Scale” several years back while serving as the state’s director of economic development. He was spot on! Since then, Providence is now home to several startup accelerator programs (one in tech and design, Betaspring and another helping social impact ventures known as the Change Accelerator), which have been widely praised. Whether it’s a young artist or designer who has a big idea or a tech startup started in a dorm room, you are never more than a phone call or email away from government officials, academic leaders and other civic leaders who are willing to assist you in Providence.
On February 16, I will leave for Copenhagen on a journey for two weeks to see if Smaller Cities Unite! can gain some traction and support there. We shall see. But as H.G. Wells once said, “If a thing’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.” After two years in the making and spending all of my retirement savings, this has been equal amounts passion and obsession—two ingredients any successful entrepreneur needs to have, and then some.
Photo Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University