How Urban Entrepreneurs Can Help Build Sustainable Cities
In a new report, UNCTAD looks at how urban entrepreneurs, also called "urbanpreneurs," use new ideas to solve problems caused by rapid urbanisation and help smart cities grow.
The report, entitled “Urban expansion, an entrepreneur’s playground," published on October 31, showcases replicable examples of urbanpreneurs worldwide tackling the socioeconomic and environmental challenges associated with ongoing rapid urbanisation.
By 2050, almost 70% of the world's people will live in cities, putting the ability of cities to house them to the test.
“Entrepreneurs are stepping in to help cities meet the needs of their rising populations,” said Arlette Verploegh, who leads UNCTAD’s entrepreneurship development team that produced the report.
“As game changers and innovators with strong roots in their cities, they see first-hand the challenges that exist. These urbanpreneurs are in a good position to offer solutions,” Ms. Verploegh added.
Driving sustainable urbanisation
The report talks about how micro, small, and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs) contribute to innovation and job creation, especially in developing countries.
It uses urban farming in Johannesburg, South Africa, as an example of green business and business creativity.
There, urbanpreneurs transform underutilised rooftops into farms, hire locals to produce food sourced from the city and work with partners to scale up green infrastructure.
"Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation for urban development is important and can lead to more business-led innovations for resilient and sustainable cities in the future," the report says.
When it comes to solving problems in cities, urbanpreneurs use networked ecosystems that are powered by better internet connections and digital resources that cities have to offer.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a local fintech start-up is making a difference in a slum by improving financial literacy, expanding financial inclusion, facilitating MSME credit for its dwellers, and helping them access loans with lower interest rates.
In Subang Jaya, Malaysia, urbanpreneurs are helping mom-and-pop shops—small, family-owned retailers—embrace digitalisation. About 97% of the businesses in the country are MSMEs, and many of them need help using digital technologies.
Thanks to local entrepreneurs, more MSMEs can digitise their operations, better manage their inventories, and get financial assistance.
Leveraging multistakeholder collaboration
Modern cities embrace collaboration as a fundamental principle for growth, the report says.
Innovative partnerships among entrepreneurs and other city stakeholders, including universities, policymakers, and enterprise development centres such as incubators and accelerators, are accelerating the rise of city clusters.
Built on collaboration, a new Pan-African digital hub in Kigali, Rwanda, is boosting entrepreneurship and the city’s overall competitiveness thanks to readily available information, talent, and capital.
In Monterrey, Mexico, a networked business ecosystem that prioritises innovation is rapidly emerging, enabling urbanpreneurs to pool knowledge, technology, and resources.
The Tecnológico de Monterrey System is a partnership between businesses and educational institutions that is backed by the government.
With a digital future in mind, it wants to boost economic growth by getting students interested in business and making it easier for start-ups and other companies to work together.
The report outlines how cities can better leverage the power of entrepreneurship.
It calls on policymakers to attract urbanpreneurs—by nurturing talent and making resources available—and recognise them as partners in addressing urban challenges.
It shows how important it is to make a collaborative, multi-stakeholder ecosystem where new technologies can be used to deal with the problems caused by rapid urbanisation.
Amid uncertainty and global crises, the report says, cities with strong collaborative foundations have the potential to become fertile grounds for entrepreneurs to do what they do best: innovating to promote community wellbeing.