By Karen Guzman
A new podcast series from Yale SOM explores ways to foster Black-owned and Black-led businesses. The series is the latest season of CitySCOPE, a podcast created by Prof. Kate Cooney and students in her Inclusive Economic Development Lab.
“Supporting and Scaling Black-Owned and Black-Led Businesses” is CitySCOPE’S third series. It’s based on research conducted during the spring 2021 semester, when students in Cooney’s lab collaborated with New Haven businesses and organizations, and features the national thought leaders who shared their expertise with the class.
The Economic Development Lab is a hands-on elective that grew out of Cooney’s Urban Poverty and Inclusive Economic Development fall semester course. A few years back, Cooney joined forces with anthropologist Anne Harper, an associate research scientist at Yale School of Medicine who works with the New Haven Financial Empowerment Center, to create a more structured approach for the course’s final project requirement.
The high quality of the resulting class projects convinced Cooney to establish a new lab course.
“One year a student group developed a marketing plan for the Financial Empowerment Center,” she said. “Another year, a group did some analytic work for an ongoing project to develop a debt map for New Haven. It struck me that this work should be shared. It had utility for more than just the academic exercise.”
Today, the lab connects students work with business, local, state, and Yale stakeholders in the New Haven area to address issues of inclusive development. The podcast shares their findings, as well as broader discussions on the topic.
“The lab was one of the highlights of my Yale SOM experience,” said Manuel Morales ’21. “We did a bit of everything, from interviewing experts in the fields of entrepreneurship, networking, and Black businesses to developing our podcast and working with key actors in New Haven to help them further their missions.”
Students help select the theme for each year’s lab and help produce the accompanying podcast. “When we think about choosing a theme for the lab, a lot of things go into it,” Cooney said. “I might think about that fall academic course and where the energy has been in the class to go deeper into a topic, or there might be an area that's capturing a lot of focus in the policy or practice arena.”
In the fall of 2021, the choice was obvious.
“We were just coming off a summer and fall of societal uprisings and demonstrations demanding action on issues of racial justice,” Cooney said. “There was a renewed focus on the racial wealth gap, and one way people were responding was by supporting Black-owned and Black-led businesses.”
While the lab, launched in 2019, has generally included 12 to 14 students, during the logistically difficult pandemic spring of 2021, only four students took part. “It's hard to carry off a lab in the virtual space, but the students were really motivated,” Cooney said. “They knew the theme and felt like it was a place they could give back and learn.”
Students collaborated with Yale Law School’s Community Economic Development Clinic, which engages with local clients on an ongoing basis. In the spring of 2021, the clinic was working with the Black Business Alliance, a state advocacy organization for Black-owned businesses. “They had a project they thought School of Management students would be a nice addition to,” Cooney said.
Through the clinic, the SOM students worked with law students on a white paper on anchor-based business development, in which a large institution (such as Yale) helps its surrounding community prosper. The focus was on using supply chain purchasing to support minority- and women-led businesses. The SOM students also worked with New Haven’s public housing authority to create a set of analyses to support an existing entrepreneurship program for public housing residents.
“We were able to develop a mutually enriching relationship where we gained a first-hand understanding of some of the barriers that black communities face, while also helping them develop initiatives aimed at furthering the housing authority’s mission to provide residents with opportunities for greater self-sufficiency,” Morales said.
Students then shared their work via the podcast. Episodes in the series include a discussion with James Johnson-Piett, CEO of Urbane Development, about the importance of the current surge of support for Black business; an interview with Stanley Tucker, CEO and co-founder of Meridian Management Co., about supporting and scaling minority- and women-owned businesses; and a conversation with Yale College graduate Topiltzin Gomez ’18, chief of staff at Honeycomb Credit, about crowdfunding for small businesses.
“The Inclusive Economic Development Lab was one of the highlights of my experience at Yale SOM,” said Uke Antariksaningrum ’21. “Not only was I introduced and given the opportunity to interact with inspiring guest speakers, but it was also my first experience being part of a podcast production. And we had so much support throughout the course from the guest speakers, the New Haven Housing Authority, our teaching assistant, and from Professor Cooney.”
Past themes for the lab and the podcast have included opportunity zones, community engagement, and infrastructure and equity. “Our goal is to engage deeply and learn some of the leading-edge practices and policy approaches addressing it,” Cooney said. “Students appreciate the opportunity to connect to local actors. They like feeling that they can contribute to efforts underway in the broader community and region.”
For Morales, the lab and the podcast let him apply his skill set in a new way, while venturing beyond his comfort zone. “As an international student, the project gave me an excellent opportunity to do something meaningful for New Haven, the city that had become my home,” he said. “As soon as I heard about the lab, I knew I wanted to be part of it.”