What I Learned at the Epicenter Community as a 2017 YTILI Fellow
As a young Hungarian social change-maker on a two week fellowship in Boston, I learned that diversity is one of the key factors of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
I co-organize an entrepreneurship event in Budapest, Hungary, called 6:20ChiliNights, where we host two entrepreneurs bi-weekly. They share three business challenges they have with an audience of experts in 6 minutes. Then, audience takes 20 minutes to brainstorm possible solutions with the entrepreneurs and thinks of steps how they could move their businesses forward.
I believe that this event is unique because we don’t talk about success stories, but we create an atmosphere where entrepreneurs can honestly talk about what they struggle with. I like to say that -
There’s no point in struggling alone, when we can succeed as a community.
I had the chance to explore some of the coolest startup and entrepreneurship events in the US to be inspired and to potentially bring some formats back to Hungary as a YTILI Fellow. The Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI) 2017 Fellow - a program of the US Department of State in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States that allows young innovation leaders to gain experience in the US.
Before starting my Boston journey, I googled possible events I could visit, and interesting people I could meet. First, I arrived in Washington DC with other 46 innovative European Fellows, where we had the chance to participate in a three-day orientation organized by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) packed with extremely useful workshops and meetings.
We learned how to ‘Perfect our Pitch’ from Carrie Hutchison, Director of Corporate Communications at National Geographic, and we heard super pro networking tips from Videesha Kunkulagunta, Smart City Intelligence Investor, just to name a few of the speakers. One of my favorite part of the orientation was that I could meet many talented entrepreneurs from all over Europe. We shared inspiring stories and created valuable connections.
Before I arrived in Boston to spend two weeks exploring the startup ecosystem, I knew this city was the ‘startup capital of the East Coast’. But without seeing and experiencing it, I guess I couldn’t imagine what it looks like in reality.
According to Digital Factory, “the Hungarian startup scene is like a good goulash in the making: all the ingredients are in there, starts to “smell” real but it is still cooking.”
In comparison, I’d say Boston’s startup ecosystem is like a huge, juicy burger with extra bacon and cheese. If you know what I mean…
So when I arrived in Boston, I thought I was prepared - I could pitch and network like a pro. Soon I realized that the speed and energy of the city is just at a whole other level than the one in Budapest!
During the two weeks, I visited more than 20 startup and entrepreneurship events, such as Impact Hub Project Open Night, Epicenter Community Pitch Competition, 99th Mass Innovation Night, Summer Café Night at District Hall, Office Hours, Youth CITIES Mini Hack, Lead Boston, or Mentor Exchange at the Boston Chamber of Commerce.
I explored entrepreneurship hubs like Roxbury Innovation Center, District Hall and Cambridge Innovation Center. I attended Collaborative, a three-day social impact and non-profit conference with the most reputable players of the sector.
I had meetings with so many interesting people including Small Business Administration representatives. … And I went to a Red Sox Game!
What I Learned at Epicenter Community
My host was the amazingly dynamic and passionate Malia Lazu, President of Epicenter Community, former Executive Director of Future Boston Alliance and former Adjunct Professor at Emerson College. Malia, Leora, Arielle and their team at Epicenter Community welcomed me with open arms, and I’m very grateful for that.
I love their mission of bringing people of different communities together. I never thought that income inequality was such a big problem in Boston. According to the Brookings Institution, “Boston suffers from the worst income inequality of any major U.S. city”. According to the Boston Magazine, “those in top five percent of earners make $266,224 a year, compared to the $14,925 earned by those in the bottom 20 percent”.
Of course, we need to educate people with the lowest income, and we need to give them the resources to be able to set up their own businesses to raise living standards for themselves and their fellows. But what I realized is that it’s also important to transform the minds of people by bringing them together and encouraging them to have fun together, and show that in reality, we’re not different at all. And you can only do it with passion and by understanding what the community needs.
Malia and her team seem to know everyone in the Roxbury neighborhood. The city asserts that it "serves as the heart of Black culture in Boston.” (Roxbury, 2009) Each time when we went out for coffee or a meeting, we randomly met people who were eager to share what they’re working on right now, or how they’re doing in life. In the big city of Boston, it was heartwarming to see that these people are so close to each other in this community.
I have a confession to make: Although I’ve never thought about it before, most of our 50 speakers at 6:20ChiliNights were successful, white men in their 20’s from Budapest. Now I see that if we want to create a country with higher living standards, we have to create more opportunities for women, members of minority groups, members of the younger and older generations, and people outside of Budapest to start their own businesses. Because probably they’re the ones who need it the most.
This blog post was originally written for the Epicenter Community Blog.
Anna Toth is a Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI) 2017 Fellow - a program of the US Department of State in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and should not be attributed to the staff, officers, or trustees of The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Anna can be reached at email@example.com.
"Roxbury." City of Boston. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.