Randy Hawks: Applying Entrepreneurship to Urban Revitalization

“Let’s be entrepreneurial and act like an incubator for urban change. Let’s not be afraid for some ideas to fail. Let’s use base-lining and data analytics to measure and correct.”

These are quotes you might hear coming from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, someone immersed in a place where innovation is the cultural norm. In fact, these quotes are from Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J., a place where innovation in urban government is becoming the norm. As mayor, Cory combines innovation with entrepreneurship in his approach to urban governance. Cory was in Silicon Valley last week and he addressed a crowd of investors at the Western Association of Venture Capital (WAVC) lunch with his message of urban revitalization, done Silicon Valley style.

As a Rhodes Scholar with an undergraduate degree from Stanford (playing football for the Cardinal as well) and a law degree from Yale, Cory has an uncommon pedigree for the mayor of a gritty, urban city. He is using his bully pulpit to seek new ideas for his city as it becomes an incubator for urban change. He looks for best practices to try out, and expects some programs to fail. His message is to learn from the failures, find new approaches and keep trying.

I was impressed by his entrepreneurial approach to the business of governing a city. He repeatedly referred to his seeking “ground truth” data and relying on data analytics. Practicing a subtle nuance of finding strategies that work — without being driven by doctrinal bias. He mentioned priorities such as new economic engines, intervention in new ways, and education rebirth. Innovation is a key imperative — that’s why he visits Silicon Valley to learn.

One of my portfolio companies contributes to Cory’s “innovation in governance.” His community is a customer of ShotSpotter, provider of acoustic gunshot-location systems for public safety. Cory likes the approach of using innovative technology to assist the police force in fighting crime, along with the ShotSpotter value proposition of a “force multiplier” for public safety. He feels all areas of government need to learn to do more with less.

It was my pleasure to chat with Cory for a few moments after his talk. He is an engaging and articulate promoter of his entrepreneurial approach. He counts as friends and counselors Oprah Winfrey and President Obama. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has bought in to Cory’s education revitalization approach for Newark Public Schools with a philanthropic gift of $100 million. I like Cory’s approach to revitalizing his city. We could use some of the same here in cities across California.

If you would like to experience some of the story of Cory’s leadership in Newark, check out the TV documentary special “Brick City.” Details are here.

Randy Hawks is a co-founder and managing director at Claremont Creek Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm based in Oakland, Calif. You can read his blog here.