(Courtesy photo by Susan Nam)
It’s no secret that Philadelphia’s underserved communities often reside in neighborhoods where opportunities and resources are scarce.
Then, as gentrification takes place and opportunities are suddenly available, longtime residents are pushed away and displaced. According to a recent study completed by the NCRC, from 2000 to 2003 seven cities, including Philadelphia, accounted for nearly half of gentrification nationally.
Can social enterprise make a difference?
Little Giant Creative believes so. The full-service creative agency is developing a multi-use entrepreneur hub in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood (currently at 3401 I Street) based on the premise. The hub will be known as the Idea Facility Lab (IF), and it will facilitate business literacy as well as provide a welcoming space for the local entrepreneurial community.
With its reading room, breakout office space, tech lab with accessible equipment, and full café area, IF Lab is akin to coworking spaces such as Cultureworks and Pipeline Philly in Center City but with one crucial difference: it is located where people reside and feel more comfortable — in their neighborhood.
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“Unlike most incubators that invest in well-resourced locations with the expectation of attracting new, high-rent business tenants,” Little Giant cofounder Megan Denenberg said in a press release, “IF Lab is pivoting the narrative of displacement and gentrification by creating a welcoming space for the community to meet the changing needs of the market,”
“Most aspirational services and resources within transitioning neighborhoods are geared toward the incoming population with very little access to the existing, mostly low income community,” Denenberg told Generocity via email. “Likewise, as storefront rent increases it will be harder for new low income minority businesses to begin their enterprises.”
By providing access to entrepreneurial resources, Denenberg said, low-income minority populations can build economic viability and help shape the development their transitioning neighborhoods.
Little Giant is no stranger to big projects. A few years ago the company launched the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, and last November put together an ambitious multiplatform exhibition —“A Dream Deferred: Redlining Past, Present and Future.”
The first public event at IF Lab was an open house on March 16, attended by both community members and the general public. Though Denenberg said that IF Lab is still in a “soft launch” phase (it will be moving to its permanent location at 3400 J Street Kensington next year), the current space will be the site of workshops on a variety of subjects that are relevant to entrepreneurs. Some topics will include fiscal literacy, marketing and design thinking.
“[IF Lab] meets people where they are, whether just thinking about a new business or business owners or professionals who have entrepreneurial mindsets in companies and institutions,” Denenberg said. “So, it’s absolutely a place for creatives, individuals and businesses. The permanent location will be accessible from street level and open to the public within contained days and hours.”
Long a neighborhood where nonprofits like the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Prevention Point and Project HOME have been the most consistent providers of services, Kensington has seen an influx of social enterprises in the past decade.
Here are just a few of Kensington’s social enterprises that you should check out:
- Shift Capital
- Kensington Voice
- Kensington Community Food Co-Op
- Impact Services
- Kensington Storefront
- Project SAFE
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