Urban entrepreneurship is ultimately about creating happiness

Would you like to become an urban entrepreneur? Below you can find some features of successful ‘urbanpreneurs’ in a new generation smart city, as they have been coined by Boyd Cohen. According to Cohen, urbanpreneurs can prosper if they rethink the ultimate goal of their businesses.

According to Boyd Cohen, the smart city guru who gave a keynote at the opening event of the latest Peloton Innovation Camp, urbanpreneurs cannot exist just ’anywhere’ according to the prerequisites of an industry, but live from embeddedness. Urbanpreneur startups do not necessarily focus on venture capital and global expansion but rather aspire to solve quality of life challenges in urban environments. They thus draw influence from their city and build on that in order to contribute back to their community. Their solutions may of course spread across contexts and communities and can thus help to solve global urban and civic challenges elsewhere.

Indies and civics

An urbanpreneur does not have to necessarily be a private sector actor. What is more decisive is the willingness to address the city-wide challenges and the ability to create an impact through own agency. Urbanpreneurs may exist only part-time, or once in a while, when there is a clear momentum.

Such indie and civic entrepreneurs have it easier to be viable economically if they have a fertile terrain to operate on. If their home city is attentive and receptive to their initiatives or even invites urbanpreneurs to contribute to ongoing strategic processes, we are likely to see innovations emerge from this platform. With a city as a sparring partner, an urbanpreneur is also close to a potential multiplier of its impact.

Besides the required agency of urban individuals, urbanpreneurship is about the peer to peer economy that dense urban environments well cater for. A lot of examples can be given from circular economy solutions in food recovery to redistribution through sharing economy services. All them have a common factor: the solutions meet the particular needs of the growing cities.

Side effects of success

The paradox of urban entrepreneurship is that its success if often its curse. Urbanpreneurs get pushed out of certain cities because their own attempts to improve their urban environments have been successful and have managed to convince also the real estate investors. In other words, the groups that prioritize societal or environmental gains (or the intrinsic values) of their agency over monetary gains can not always live with the pace of the rising rents – even the rise may be a side effect of their existence.

Cohen promotes the idea of innovation districts – walkable urban neighbourhoods that are well-connected but little bit off the beaten track due to their (industrial) history. He sees this model not only as a better source of sustainable innovations but also as a question of happiness. The Silicon Valley model is inconvenient for the urbanpreneurs not only because of different kind of R&D or business angels but mainly because few urbanpreneurs would like to live in the scattered car dependent suburbia.

From wheel to hexagon

Cohen wants thus to reframe the whole debate around smart cities. To date, a lot of talk has been dedicated to technology. But after all, he wants us to remember that a city is for its citizens. The ultimate goal of the cities and also of the urbanpreneurs is promote the happiness of the citizens with smart services and solutions. He has started promoting the Happy Cities Hexagon, instead of the famous Smart Cities Wheel that he developed by in 2012. “We believe that happiness is the ultimate goal for cities, from the citizen up”. 

Can the Finnish smart city business ecosystem live up to the happiness challenge? We will report back from the latest Peloton Innovation Camp soon. This event by the startup accelerator of Demos Helsinki took place in Helsinki 26.1 – 27.1. In the premises of NewCo over 20 startups and established companies tried to address some of these issues through co-creation and experimentation.