CIE Spotlight: How Berkeley is Accelerating Community Partnerships to Enhance Small Business Equity


  • Samantha Pedrosa
March 8, 2023 - (5 min read)

Many cities, towns and villages across the country are looking for ways to enhance equity for small businesses. One way to do this is by embracing community partnerships with organizations that can help small businesses access the resources they need to thrive. Additionally, community partnerships can help municipalities reach underserved populations and promote equitable economic development within their community.  

Berkeley, California, is a great example of a city that is successfully embracing community partnerships to improve equity and will continue to do more with the help of NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) program. The City of Berkeley has taken strides to engage partners from local business support organizations and provide resources that empower entrepreneurs. Though the City is in the early stages of developing new partnerships as part of its commitment to the CIE Ecosystem Accelerator cohort, the focus on collaboration is already making a difference for small businesses and the local economy. 

Berkeley is full of rich history relating to social, environmental, and equity policies. It is also a university city where students from across the country intermingle with a population of commuters who work in the San Francisco Bay area. The diverse population represents a variety of cultures with the potential to enrich the community through entrepreneurship.  

With 400 innovation companies, most in the early stages, calling Berkeley home, the potential for entrepreneurs from retail to restaurants to technology startups is immense; the challenge will be ensuring that all can do so equitably.  

The Partnership 

“Equity has always been a really important part of the City of Berkeley’s values,” points out Elizabeth Redman Cleveland, Chief Strategist of Sustainable Growth for the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development. Redman Cleveland represents the city in a partnership with nine other small business support organizations striving to formalize a network to better coordinate outreach to local underserved businesses. With guidance from program expert Third Eye Network, the city hopes to leverage the Berkeley Business Resource Collaborative (the working name for the partners collaborating with CIE support) to strengthen relationships with diverse small businesses and support Berkeley black and brown business owners’ scale-up, expansion, and continuity. In addition to the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development acting as the “hub,” the Berkeley Business Resource Collaborative comprises representatives from: 

Together, the partners share a goal of helping local entrepreneurs be more successful in creating generational wealth and providing jobs with living wages for residents. By working collaboratively, these organizations hope to learn from one another, expand their outreach in the community, and provide more streamlined services to entrepreneurs along the entire business growth continuum.  

Project Launch ─ Initial Takeaways  

  • Learning from Case Studies: To better understand where each organization can incorporate their skills, resources, and expertise, the collaborative will create three to five case studies showcasing how specific minority-owned businesses have been (or could be) assisted. This will help the group create a real life understanding of how/when/where they can work together to aid local entrepreneurs.  
  • Creating a Pathway to Growth: Establishing a pathway to growth will allow the organizations to set new entrepreneurs up for the best chance at success from the start. For example, if a new business visited the UC Berkeley New Business Community Law Clinic’s Startup Law Initiative, which offers legal advice and support with incorporation documents, they might also be made aware of the Economic Development Office’s assistance with licensing or permitting issues, and that they could attend business development workshops hosted by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, Berkeley Public Library or East Bay Small Business Development Center. By working together, each of the partner organizations can complement the individual ways they support small businesses and refer clients to each other’s services.  

Long Term Sustainability 

Like many new projects, funding and staff resources are limited, but the Office of Economic Development is passionate about making the initiative successful and is seeking avenues for project sustainability. Through their partnership with the Alliance for Community Development, which has done similar work in Oakland, the city has found a collaborator with additional bandwidth for sustained focus.  

As the collaborative establishes next steps, they will identify how to aid entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds though means such as:  

  • Conducting a needs assessment by talking to local businesses owners from communities of color. 
  • Developing infographics that show how specific businesses have benefitted from the services and expertise of more than one business support organization. 
  • Sharing information between organizations on upcoming business education workshops, funding opportunities, etc.  

The collaborative is aware that early efforts must be taken one step at a time. However, City of Berkeley staff have the passion to see it through: “I feel really committed and excited about this. With equity in mind, everybody will be better served by our coordination and collaboration,” says Redman Cleveland. With Berkeley as an example, other communities can see how community partnerships can help cities innovate for the betterment of residents.  

This blog is part of a series highlighting NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) Network. Cities in the network have committed to implementing new policies, programs and practices that increase economic opportunity for residents through small business ownership and entrepreneurship. In November 2022, Mayor Jesse Arreguín of Berkeley, California, committed to establishing and/or enhancing a network of entrepreneurial resource partners to accelerate small business goal attainment.

About the Author

Samantha Pedrosa

About the Author

Samantha Pedrosa is a Program Manager at the National League of Cities.