Building a Platform Instead of a Wall

Albuquerque is harnessing the strength of immigrant entrepreneurs to improve its local economy.

In an election year when the national debate over immigration has often been polarizing, the city of Albuquerque is bristling with energy around engaging its diverse population of immigrant entrepreneurs. From networking events like Taza that engage Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, to small business development support through Emprendedores, the entrepreneurial community is rallying around the local economy with immigrants playing a critical role.

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 makes great business sense.

Emphasizing people and place, the city of Albuquerque -- through its work in the City Accelerator program -- is exploring how to connect immigrant entrepreneurs to the places within its entrepreneurial ecosystem that can best support their needs. The city has previously provided a wealth of resources for immigrant entrepreneurs, but these resources have often been disconnected and fragmented. While national politicians debate building walls, Albuquerque is choosing instead to build a platform.

The City as a Platform

Gary Oppedahl, economic development director for the city of Albuquerque, often characterizes the city as a “platform” for entrepreneurship. Over the past two years, informal programs including Fatpipe, CNM STEMulus Center and the EpiCenter have emerged in Albuquerque’s downtown corridor to provide networking and co-working, as well as maker spaces and accelerator services to local entrepreneurs. Additionally, innovators have created open source apps on top of this platform, including Social Impact and Nonprofit Community (SINC), which has taken elements from informal peer programs such as 1 Million Cups ABQ and CNM STEMulus and applied them to the nonprofit community. The city is building the "operating system," while encouraging innovators in the community to keep building and enhancing the system.

With this view of the city as a platform for entrepreneurs, the next step is to ensure that consumers — especially historically marginalized populations like immigrants — have equitable access to the underlying system.

City Accelerator: Building a Better System for Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Through an intensive discovery process, the city engaged over 40 people representing 30 organizations in a day-long workshop focused on designing solutions for immigrant entrepreneurs. Repeatedly, citizens said that the city’s economic development ecosystem lacked the logic needed to help immigrant entrepreneurs on their small business journey. For example, the organizations represented lacked a common language around entrepreneurship and standardized practices to guide their work (intake, referral, follow-up, etc.). A standardized practice matters because it allows entrepreneurs to seamlessly enter and exit the entrepreneurial ecosystem regardless of their starting point.

Through the City Accelerator, Albuquerque has started standardizing processes to create a more streamlined, integrated approach to serving immigrant entrepreneurs. The city has engaged a diverse group of citizens, representing organizations throughout the city’s business and cultural ecosystem.

At the same time, Albuquerque is working with AppCity Life -- a local company that partners with cities throughout the country -- to build Trep Connect,  a technology platform that connects immigrant entrepreneurs to programs and service organizations that best meet their needs. Through a series of small business “deep dives” with immigrant entrepreneurs, the city has determined the core features and functionality of the Trep Connect system by putting the end user at the center of the design process. To date, the city has engaged over 70 immigrant entrepreneurs through 6 design sessions. Through engagement with immigrant entrepreneurs, the logic is now baked into the design of the platform, because it was informed by targeted end users.

Through community engagement, Albuquerque is putting its people at the center of designing and using this platform. 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, which in turn will help Albuquerque grow its local economy.  

Director of collective impact in the mayor's office for the city of Albuquerque, N.M.