Addressing an audience of community members and small business owners at the Harvard Ed Portal last Thursday, Karen Mills ’75, M.B.A. ’77, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former vice chair of the Harvard Board of Overseers, said that an “ecosystem” is vital to driving economic development in a community.
An ecosystem is “an innovation district, an accelerator, a cluster, a way to get small businesses together in a community,” Mills said. “It’s creating ways for small businesses to have a voice in a community.”
Mills spoke about innovation and small business growth as part of her Ed Portal lecture, drawing from her experience as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and a member of President Obama’s cabinet from 2009 to 2013.
At the SBA, Mills managed a federal loan guarantee portfolio of more than $100 billion. When she stepped into her role, small businesses were facing “an incredible crisis.” Amid the wider recession, banks had tightened lending rules and pulled credit lines, leading small businesses to close in record numbers.