Four years ago, New York City Economic Development Corporation launched New York’s Next Top Makers, a competition pitting hardware startups against each other to win capital. The Shark Tank-style program was a typical model that celebrated competitive startups and the allure of a “winner.” Over the past three years, SecondMuse recast Next Top Makers as a collaborative program that enabled startups to work together and share best practices, resources and partners. The collaborative model also enabled founders to lean on each other, open up about struggles and work together to build a stronger ecosystem. This year, SecondMuse scaled the model to more than 80 startups and entrepreneurs for NYCEDC’s Futureworks Incubator. The Incubator fosters what SecondMuse calls “Collaborative Equilibrium.”
“Collaborative equilibrium,” a term coined in the Community-Sourced Incubator White Paper published by SecondMuse, describes an ecosystem where business visionaries come together to leverage one another for shared benefit. This novel concept and the Community-Sourced Incubator (CSI) model have come to life through Futureworks. Futureworks NYC is a key component of the Mayor’s Industrial Action Plan and fosters collaboration among a community of partnerships, services and spaces dedicated to increasing local production and supporting advanced manufacturing in all five boroughs of New York City.
In the white paper, SecondMuse outlines the qualities that fuel this ideal innovation economy, made even more important by the explosion of entrepreneurs across the country. In the white paper, four guiding principles that have historically been overlooked are highlighted: Creating safe spaces for storytelling and authenticity, providing fluid evolution of roles within the incubator, removing traditional competitive practices and learning from and sharing founders’ experiences.
Through the Futureworks NYC CSI experience, the potential of collaborative equilibrium has become abundantly clear, already yielding three key results.
- Collaboration reduces irrational barriers to entry. The Community-Sourced Incubator creates an opening for those who don’t “look the part” or don’t already possess the necessary social, business or financial capital to get their work off the ground.
- Community de-risks economic development. By searching for and providing resources within this network, businesses build relationships and share knowledge and connections in a way that is mutually beneficial. Even in the case of one business’s failure, the knowledge and experiences from that venture are often reinvested elsewhere in the community.
- Incubators are compatible with political time horizons. Incubators have the potential to quickly generate impact, aligning with the needs of the public sector. Participants in the Futureworks Incubator enjoy an 80% success rate while the ecosystem of businesses it supports has grown tenfold in the four years of its existence.
When considering major disruptions on the horizon of economic development, especially the future of work, migration and disasters, it becomes clear cities need to bring people together to help confront emerging challenges. The Community-Sourced Incubator’s real potential stands here, in enabling collaborative equilibrium to take root and flourish, and through it, prime a population to leverage disruptive innovation as opportunities. This move toward the community-sourced model serves as an investment in resilience, created by the very people who will be part of that resilient future.