The Inner City 100 Awards were created as a way of recognizing thriving businesses who create jobs in low-income urban areas. For several years, Tech Networks has been one of the thousands of businesses applying for this national award. This year, I was thrilled to learn that we were selected as an award recipient.
During the two days of activities that preceded the awards ceremony, I met fellow urban business owners. Some of them were born in the areas where they started their businesses. But many others were like me. They came from outside the community to start their businesses. Conventional wisdom would suggest that it is unwise to start a business in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood. Yet the organization that created the award, the Institute for a Competitive Inner City, had conducted research to show that there are three good reasons to locate your business in the inner city:
- Proximity to Downtown
- Convenience to major transportation hubs
- Highly available workforce
Certainly convenience to major transportation hubs was foremost in our minds when Yves Dehnel and I hopped on the Red Line almost 15 years ago to find a location for our retail store. We had reached the upper limit of how many used PCs we could sell out of my living room in Somerville. We wanted to be on the Red Line because we were currently shuttling potential customers back and forth to the Sullivan T station and we preferred the Red Line to the Orange Line.
When Yves and I disembarked at the Andrew Station, we immediately noticed a For Rent sign on the building across the street. The 1,000 foot retail space, formerly the location of “Pick-a-Pasta,” had been vacant for over a year before we arrived on the scene. Our new landlord was extremely generous. Our first year’s rent was pegged at just one-half of the full rent, while the second year was pegged at three-quarters. We signed the lease, purchased some used store fixtures, and had our grand opening on January 2nd, 1996.
Fast-forward to last week. The two days of festivities that were part of the Inner City Awards were wonderful. We had a mentoring breakfast with participants in another ICIC program, “Growing Up CEO.” These kids, the oldest of whom was 20, had tremendous savvy. Some of my mentees were giving me advice, instead of vice versa.
Other activities included case studies and lectures at Harvard Business School, including a piece on strategy from Michael Porter that emphasized the importance of segmenting the market and emphasizing uniqueness instead of trying to compete head-to-head.
But the most spectacular moment of the conference was the awards dinner held in the Grand Ballroom of the Boston Convention Center. The hall was filled with tables decked out in black velvet and huge dogwood branches illuminated by candlelight. What a lovely backdrop for an awards dinner. It was only at the dinner that we learned our ranking on the list. I was extremely gratified to be named 83rd. Thank you, everyone, who helped make this moment possible. Next year, if I’m nominated, I’m going to buy a few tables and invite my entire staff