Expanding our ideas of entrepreneurship

Zach Brandon and Amy Gannon discuss different...
Expanding our ideas of entrepreneurship
Smart Voices, Big ideas: (L–R) Amy Gannon, Rob Chappell, Zach Brandon, A. David Dahmer and Henry Sanders

Two of my favorite entrepreneurial thinkers, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon and Edgewood College School of Business interim dean and the Doyenne Group co-founder Amy Gannon, talk about expanding our ideas of entrepreneurship, but in two distinct ways. Brandon says entrepreneurship is all around us and it’s an exciting piece of our history, but we stopped talking about it and celebrating it to the detriment of our economy and reputation.

Gannon says we need to look for places where entrepreneurship isn’t happening but easily could, if only we would invest our resources in a more diverse, strategic and intentional way. I also love her academic research on identity–this that often people who own their own businesses, from graphic designers who work at home to IT consultants who do contract work, don’t always identify as “entrepreneurs.” This is shown to be especially true for women and people of color, and it contributes to a lack of talent diversity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, from networking and co-working to training programs and funding.

Where Brandon’s and Gannon’s thinking aligns closely is on the issue of density. Both know that in order for the Madison area to be a great place for all of us to live, we need a lot more entrepreneurs ’round here. That’s why it’s so exciting to see the emerging next generation of entrepreneurs in the media sector practicing journalism in a new, impactful and often breathtaking way.

Not only are they creating jobs and growing the local economy, they’re catalyzing a kind of social, participatory journalism into the community conversation that we haven’t seen since the civil rights era and the women’s rights movement. And thanks to digital and social media, their reach and influence has grown exponentially in a short time.

When “Black Power: The 28 Most Influential African Americans in Wisconsin“was published on the new Madison365.org in October, the winds of change came whipping through our smartphones.

I was particularly affected by an article on how Oscar Mayer’s closing would impact East High School’s academic-achieving young Black men who’ve developed mentors and role models at Oscar through a club called King’s Journey.

That story was actually produced by WISC-TV and linked from Channel3000.com to 365‘s front page, also signaling a new era of partnerships across the media sector that’s been sorely lacking since the mid-1990s civic journalism project “Schools of Hope.” Launched by WISC-TV and the Wisconsin State Journal, the reporting series revealed the growing academic achievement gaps between white students and students of color in the Madison Metropolitan School District, and led to a collaborative, first-in-its-kind tutoring program in partnership with public schools, United Way, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and others.

For local media to form these kinds of strategic partnerships–particularly those that shine the light on structural racism, racial disparities and other tough issues–without their advertisers running for the hills, but instead enthusiastically jumping on board, is a radical change. It’s also a transformation clearly buoyed by a sense of urgency–and I would hope responsibility–to do something about Dane County’s well-earned status as a terrible place for people of color.

Brandon and Gannon would both tell you that headlines coming out of Madison, such as “The Harsh Truth About Progressive Cities” from Madison365, are not ideal messages for either of their efforts to re-brand our sleepy little college town as a diverse and welcoming entrepreneurial mecca.

Extra! Extra!

Because it’s all happening so fast, it is difficult to describe the sea of change occurring in local journalism today. The entrepreneurs responsible for Madison365‘s launch last summer are Madison native Henry Sanders, Mount Horeb native Robert Chappell and Sheboygan native A. David Dahmer. Sanders, who is Black, co-founded the young professionals group Madison MAGNET and is currently with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Dahmer’s chops in grassroots, activist journalism were honed as editor of the Madison Times, whose audience is mostly nonwhite. Chappell is a longtime newspaper and magazine writer and editor who sees race equity through the lens of a biracial marriage and family.