Allison Lucas has an undergraduate degree in business, a master’s in nonprofit management, and used to run a small business providing health and wellness services.
Now, as a Ph.D. student of communication and urban sustainability at Wayne State and an NSF-funded trainee in the Transformative Research in Urban Sustainability Training (T-RUST) program, her research focuses on the intersections of urban sustainability and entrepreneurship.
At this year’s Graduate Research Symposium her presentation, “Organizational narratives of Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem,” looked at how entrepreneurship is talked about, and why it matters. Specifically, she conducted a “qualitative thematic discourse analysis of four reports from two different entrepreneurial support organizations in Detroit.”
Lucas says in Michigan, small businesses employ nearly 50% of people; in Detroit, more than 40% of people consider themselves entrepreneurs. And while successful startups like StockX receive a lot of attention, it’s the small startups, such as restaurants, artists and shops, that add value to our lives in tangible ways and boost the economy.
“How we talk about entrepreneurship really does have the capacity to influence what type of investments are made and what type of resources are flowing through an ecosystem. It also has the ability to capture the attention of a really broad audience,” said Lucas. “It’s a lot about where funding goes, but also more broadly, I think it’s important there’s awareness that different narratives exist, and even though you may be hearing one particular narrative, you may not be hearing the whole picture.”
Lucas says the literature underscores the idea that if there is only one narrative, there is the potential for tunnel vision and missed opportunities for growth. Take Detroit, for example.
“Broadly, there’s an idea that there is a strong future of entrepreneurship in Detroit,” said Lucas. “But are you positioning it as we’re attracting techies from the coast because the cost of living is lower or are you talking about there’s lots of entrepreneurship opportunity in Detroit because funding organizations are realizing the need for more diversity, and they are making resources more accessible to microbusinesses and family-owned business? Who is that story being tailored to, and who is going to be attracted to those stories and what kind of businesses and people will that draw in?”
Lucas suggests future research should further analyze questions about how narratives are prioritized and emphasized by those within the ecosystem, and why particular narratives are privileged.
“This line of inquiry that could inform strategies for scholars, professionals, policymakers and others on promoting an inclusive, diverse and comprehensive narrative of entrepreneurship across the ecosystem. Doing so could mean better outcomes for all entrepreneurs, for our regional economy and for each of us.”