Sandi Webster has always strived for self-improvement. That’s why she’s pursuing her Executive Doctorate in Business Administration at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
In October, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune selected Webster’s company, Consultants 2 Go, to join the 2015 Inner City 100, a program that honors the nation’s fastest-growing inner-city businesses.
Based in Newark, N.J., Consultants 2 Go provides consulting and marketing services in the telecom, pharmaceutical, financial services, and insurance industries. Webster, who is pursuing her Executive Doctorate of Business Administration at Fox, founded the company in 2002 with a former colleague, Peggy McHale.
“Peggy and I are very fortunate that our company has excelled in the way that it has,” Webster said. “We’ve rapidly grown our consulting firm beyond our wildest imaginations and it’s an honor that we were recognized in this way by ICIC and Fortune.”
The Inner City 100 program “recognizes successful inner-city businesses and their CEOs as role models for entrepreneurship, innovative business practices, and job creation in America’s urban communities,” according to ICIC.
The list of companies was unveiled Oct. 7 at the Inner City 100 Conference and Awards in Boston. Winners gathered for a full-day business symposium featuring management case studies from Harvard Business School professors and interactive sessions with top CEOs. Keynote speakers included Governor Charlie Baker, and Harvard Business School Professor and ICIC Founder and Chairman Michael E. Porter.
Webster’s professional trajectory changed due, in part, to missing the bus.
Then an executive with American Express, Webster didn’t arrive to work on Sept. 11, 2001. Early-morning crowdedness on the day of New York City’s mayoral primary election kept her from catching her usual morning bus and, as a result, she never made it to her company’s building, located less than two city blocks from the World Trade Center.
“I had been with the company for 18 years and, after the attacks, I never went back to work for American Express at that building,” Webster said. “We lost so many good employees that day, and it caused the displacement of so many others. It altered the lives of everyone who was in New York City.
“I can’t tell you how many people started their own businesses after the tragedy of 9/11, simply out of need.”
After that day, Webster said she connected with McHale and began to reconsider her line of work.
Webster, whose company generated nearly $10 million in revenue in 2014, is always looking to improve. She, too, was looking to further herself.
“Being in the business world, I aspired for a higher-level degree,” she said. “I have a unique perspective, having worked in corporate America and now in representing clients in the small-business side. I can see where gaps are and help them work more efficiently.
“That’s why I chose the Fox School. I found the Executive DBA faculty to be knowledgeable. The proximity to our offices in Newark, N.J., was important, as well.”
Webster said working mothers comprise 80 percent of Consultants 2 Go’s employees. Her vision for her company, she said, is to offer flexible hours and locations for her workers.
“Corporations tend to let go of senior executives, some of whom are women, and that’s intellectual capital walking right out the door,” Webster said. “Conversely, there’s no one around to train young executives. That’s where I believe Consultants 2 Go can fill a void.
“Within the Executive DBA program, I hope to earn greater knowledge and complete research so I can more-closely work with companies to help them realize a better use for their intellectual capital.”
Innovation in the United States is not lacking. It’s just that patents are being registered in less-likely locales, according to researchers from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
The findings are part of an ongoing research initiative spearheaded by Dr. Ram Mudambi, the Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management.
The umbrella project is dubbed iBEGIN, or International Business, Economic Geography and Innovation. A segment of the project explores innovation hubs in the United States, undertaking detailed analyses of more than 900 metropolitan areas in the U.S. In one of the first published outcomes of this research effort, Mudambi and his team examined the evolution of Detroit, a mainstay of the global automotive industry for over a century. While Detroit, a downtrodden city, continues to experience manufacturing decline, it is doing well as an innovation center, he said.
“The beauty of innovation is that it never stops,” Mudambi said. “In 1960, the U.S. was the richest country in the world, and Detroit was its richest city. And while the city has been in a continuous state of decline, we found that Detroit’s innovation numbers are very healthy.”
iBEGIN researchers define innovation through patent output, and they say Detroit’s patent output since 1975 has grown at a rate of almost twice the U.S. average. Detroit’s innovative resilience, Mudambi said, is due to its continuing centrality in global innovation networks in the automotive industry. It has maintained this centrality through connectedness to other worldwide centers of excellence in this industry, such as Germany and Japan. Its innovative links to Germany have been rising steadily over the last three decades, while its association with Japan began more recently, but also shows a steep upward trajectory.
Their research also unearthed a clearer picture of the shifting lines of American innovation. Today, Mudambi said, the Sun Belt features the country’s leading innovation hubs like San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Austin, Texas. Though the more traditional centers of innovation excellence in the Rust Belt cities have generally maintained healthy rates of innovation output, they have seen their shares of national innovative output decline. These include cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago.
“In the 19th century and for most of the 20th century, the innovation hotspots were co-located with centers of manufacturing mass production,” Mudambi said. “These were concentrated in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. That’s not the case anymore. We’re seeing the lion’s share of patents being registered in regions dominated by high-knowledge industries. These industries create mainly white-collar positions for people with a bachelor’s degree, at minimum.
“However, what Detroit’s innovative success says about economies everywhere is that the roots of innovation are very deep. Policymakers spend a lot of time worrying about manufacturing. But manufacturing can be very ephemeral and firms often relocate manufacturing plants with very little notice. Innovation is more deeply rooted and, once an innovation center roots itself in an area, it’s much more likely to stick.”
Mudambi said the ongoing iBEGIN research initiative is a collaborative effort, with professionals in centers around the world, including: Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and University of Venice Ca Foscari, the Indian School of Business, and many others.
In addition to studying innovation in American cities, iBEGIN has ongoing research exploring other contexts. These include country contexts like China, India, Brazil, Portugal, Greece and Korea as well as specialized industry contexts like automobiles, renewable energy and pharmaceuticals.
Fox School of Business adjunct professor of entrepreneurship Chris Rabb will be one of the speakers at this year’s TEDxPhiladelphia, which will examine the conference theme The New Workshop of the World and will be held at the Temple Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 28.
Rabb was nominated by his colleagues to be a TEDx speaker and was chosen as one of the 19 speakers from 500 nominees.
Rabb, who specializes in social entrepreneurship and organizational innovation, is an affiliated member of Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI), based at the Fox School, and is the IEI’s social entrepreneur in residence.
He has much experience with entrepreneurship, as he co-founded a technology-based firm in Chicago, ran a nationally recognized business incubator in West Philadelphia and served on the board of a family-owned newspaper, which his great-great grandfather founded more than 120 years ago.
“I have three great-great grandfathers who were very successful entrepreneurs,” Rabb said. “I learn a lot from those who come before me.”
He also authored the groundbreaking book Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity, which explores the idea that entrepreneurial opportunity can be further democratized by society, leading to greater social inclusion, economic sustainability and community wealth-building.
Rabb recently hosted an intensive and interactive two-hour session with a dozen ex-prisoners who returned to North Philadelphia, seeking to develop entrepreneurial literacy to apply to skill sets they believe they need to obtain employment and make a positive impact in their communities.
Temple Media and Communication adjunct professor and documentarian El Sawyer arranged the session that Rabb hosted, as part of a program led by Sawyer called Shooters, a term for people who do film, video editing and camera work.
Both Rabb and Sawyer were recipients of the 2013 Knight Foundation BMe Leadership Award. Rabb won a grant of $200,000, the highest amount given, to develop a series of workshops to teach entrepreneurship to low-income individuals.
Much of Rabb’s interactions with the ex-prisoners will complement his TEDx talk, which will focus on the importance of commonwealth entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always connected entrepreneurship to social justice,” Rabb said. “I was often looking at business through the lens of creating opportunities despite the systems that keep inequalities as is.”
Fox School of Business students can see a live stream of TEDxPhiladelphia on Friday, March 28, in Alter Hall’s first-floor Undergraduate Commons. Rabb is scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m.
One of the more intriguing developments in the social venture world is the social impact bond – a financial device in which investors put up cash to support a social innovation in return for future repayments, pegged in part to the success of the innovation. The first example is in Peterborough, England, in which investors have pledged $7.8M for a variety of programs to reduce recidivism – a sum the government will repay, presumably out of savings, if and as the programs meet certain targets. (Playing with Fire, The Economist Special Report on Financial Innovation, February 25th, 2012, p. 3).
The promise is that social innovation bonds will leverage the power of finance to attract new capital and increase the accountability with which that capital is applied. The perils include whether the incentives line up and whether the required measurement is in place.
Take the issues of incentives first. To the extent that the implementers are not the investors, what will induce the implementers to invest wisely? On one level, poor investment or execution will reduce the likelihood of future investment – thus aligning incentives over time. But day-to-day, more intensive governance might make sense. How might social investment bond holders be involved in governance, in the way that shareholders have a say (however nominal) on the composition of the board of directors?
Critical to both short-term and long-term governance is a clear flow of information, and especially clear measures of success. Here the challenge is linking do-able, cost-effective measures to social impacts. Social impacts are the result of complex forces, making it daunting to link intervention with impact. For example, how can one disentangle the effects of the Peterborough programs to reduce recidivism from changes in educational policy, regional economics, or cultural forces? While sophisticated methods exist to tease out the relative impacts, these are expensive. The challenge is to devise measures that are simple, clear and related to the impacts of concern.
One tool that we teach in the EMC is the idea of a logic map that connects intervention to impact. Such a map traces inputs (time, money, program ideas) to activities (say job-readiness program) to outputs (job-ready ex-offenders) to impacts (reduced recidivism). Once outlined and agreed to, one can devise affordable, practical measures that might serve as proxies for a true, but cumbersome and expensive, impact study. Thus, in the Peterborough example, the investors might ask to see measures of inputs (matching funds), activity outputs (number of ex-offenders engaged, hours of training), output measures (pre and post-tests indicating increased job readiness), outcomes (job placements), and – if the money exists – a full-scale evaluation of whether those who graduated held jobs and, in fact, stayed out of prison.