A couple of weeks ago Coco Papy, community manager at The Creative Coast, published an article recounting some of 2017’s local highlights.
You can still find it online, but here’s the summary: between running the Bull Street Labs collaborative workspace and managing the grassroots #MadeInSAV marketing campaign, we’ve seen a lot of high-quality local entrepreneurial activity — way more than we ever realized existed in our sleepy hamlet.
And I’m not talking about high-falutin, hipster unicorn wannabes that pepper the landscape of cities that claim to be start-up havens. No, I’m talking about real, sweat-of-my-brow entrepreneurs — people solving small, specific problems by providing real products and services to fellow residents. If you want proof, just read some of the #MadeInSAV profiles on our website.
Fifteen years ago, urban planner Richard Florida, in his groundbreaking book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” encouraged cities to embrace artists and tech workers to elevate their economies. We read it and took no small inspiration from it. Heck, we’re even called The Creative Coast! It’s a good book, but it turns out it’s full of bad advice. In his latest book, “The New Urban Crisis,” Florida himself admits as much: Too many cities have created expensive, isolated, homogeneous neighborhoods that have exacerbated the economic and social problems they intended to solve.
Savannah is not without its share of problems, but, as I look back at all the activity at Bull Street Labs and #MadeInSAV this year, it seems we are sidestepping some of the mistakes other cities have made. Our “creative class” includes every race, gender, age and income bracket you could name. Some people wear ties and others pierce their eyebrows. Some are building fundable startups designed to be acquired; others are bootstrapping small businesses that will serve our local community for generations. We are aggressive about accessibility here. If you want to work for yourself, there are lots of equally valid ways to do it, and we can help you find local resources that will help.
And a lot of our entrepreneurs are already succeeding. But for every Micro-C, Bark or Smoke Cartel that emerges from our innovation economy and makes the national news, many others succeed without much notice. It’s easy to figure out why. Entrepreneurs are pretty busy; most keep their heads down and stay focused on delivering products to customers. It can be hard to pause long enough to circulate press releases and do interviews.
At The Creative Coast, we’re making storytelling a New Year’s resolution, and we think you should, too. It’s an easy one to add to your list — it doesn’t require sweat or sacrifice, just some thought. Next time you see something cool made here in Savannah, pick up your bullhorn of choice and make sure people you know who live in other places realize what’s going on here.
I have friends in San Francisco, NYC, Austin and Boulder that like our pralines but don’t know about other stuff made in Savannah, stuff such as medical devices, mobile apps, specialty coffee, bath bombs, Viking mead, water pipes, mind maps, and leather clutches. I’m going to talk this stuff up next year, and hopefully the word will spread. The Creative Coast is going to do more PR and marketing to the national market as well.
We want people in other places to know what’s going on in Savannah because what’s going on here is pretty unique. Other “startup friendly” cities tend to create silos full of hipsters, geeks and well-to-do founders, hell-bent on destroying the old and replacing it with the new. We’re working hard to create a different kind of entrepreneurial economy in Savannah: a tide that raises all ships, not just the affluent unicorns. Our entrepreneurial community is already more diverse than I’ve seen in other places so let’s keep it real in 2018 and tell that story. It promises to set us apart from other cities, and that will certainly make the news.
Blake Ellis is a board member with The Creative Coast, a nonprofit organization supporting local innovators which is made possible by the City of Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority. Blake and has been involved in dozens of Savannah-based start-ups including Color Maria, CommerceV3, Rails Machine and RappidApp. Blake can be found online via Twitter at @blakeellisjr or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blakeellis.