Nearly 1 in 10 residents of Albuquerque is foreign born. While these new residents seek economic self-sufficiency, there are frequently barriers and learning curves that can be discouraging to anyone searching for an opportunity to succeed in a new place. Through a series of community workshops with the purpose to understand the collective needs of the incoming population, the city learned that immigrant entrepreneurs often felt disconnected from the wealth of services it offered. Albuquerque’s City Accelerator project sought to improve access to these services and support immigrant entrepreneurship. Through the City Accelerator, Albuquerque:
Engaged over 70 immigrant business owners and community organizations in workshops to design a website and application to connect immigrant entrepreneurs to programs and service organizations that best meet their needs. Partnered with APPCityLife, a local tech firm, to build the mobile and data platforms for the app the city is developing. This platform will help entrepreneurs avoid relying on Google searches and word of mouth to find service providers, offerings and other resources from their mobile devices. Refined plans to launch a new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) to connect immigrants and refugees with services that will expand their economic opportunity and family well-being.Held six deep-dive sessions to engage over 75 immigrant, tribal and creative entrepreneurs to identify needs, challenges and opportunities. The deep-dive sessions were hosted by community-based organizations, and were translated for Spanish-speaking residents. Ideas to accelerate
Build a platform for entrepreneurs, with entrepreneurs. Feedback from the deep-dive and design sessions convened by the city revealed several gaps in access to information. The city used this data to design TrepConnect, a simplified app that connects entrepreneurs with the services and supports they need. Building a product like TrepConnect is most valuable when the end user is placed at the center of the design process.
Streamline your small business licensing procedure. Small business owners, especially those who may be new to the country, can easily be stymied by complicated requirements to obtain a business license. Albuquerque responded to this challenge by moving its licensing functions to the planning department, which also houses related functions such as city zoning and permits, and has the infrastructure needed to support a new licensing platform. The city’s new app, TrepConnect, is designed to simplify the process for applying for business licenses.
Develop feedback loops with residents to enhance “user experience.” Albuquerque’s population of immigrants and refugees largely speak English as a second language. The city is currently in the process of placing bilingual kiosks in the planning department to assist users with licensing-related tasks. The city is also piloting a Navigator program to support TrepConnect, where bilingual, small-business navigators work with prospective and existing small-business owners to provide feedback and coaching on starting and growing their businesses.
Create/incentivize physical spaces for underserved populations. Since launching City Accelerator, programs such as Fatpipe, CNM STEMulus Center and the EpiCenter have emerged in Albuquerque’s downtown corridor to provide networking and co-working spaces for immigrants, along with maker spaces and accelerator services to local entrepreneurs. By creating space for innovation, the city is fostering an environment for continued engagement with historically underserved populations.
Why this work matters
A recent report by the New American Economy indicates that over 11,000 immigrants in New Mexico are self-employed. These businesses employ nearly 25,000 people statewide and generate over $190 million for the state’s economy. Promoting economic development in immigrant communities is a way of empowering and creating a two-way dialogue with new Americans while growing the local economy. By engaging with immigrants and refugees, cities make a powerful commitment to include all of their residents — regardless of origin, citizenship status or language ability — in strategies that can reduce poverty and increase self-sufficiency.
Through community engagement, Albuquerque is putting its people at the center of designing and using new and existing services for business owners. The city’s approach to community engagement has also put immigrant entrepreneurs at the center of the technology platform, which will help connect them to the programs and services they need to start and grow their businesses. This in turn helps Albuquerque grow its local economy.