Dell Gines has been doing community action work since he was 17 years old. Chance and circumstances would lead him to a career in business and economics later in life; as a young adult, Dell, who was testing “off the charts” in math and science, was often encouraged to study engineering, but he was never told to strive to own his own business.
“Academically, I was in the top 10 percent of African American students in the nation,” he says. “Not one time was I told anything about owning a business, owning a house, owning stock.”
After spending years as a banker, an industry he got into at the suggestion of a friend, Dell realized that careers in finance and business were significantly underdiscussed and underrepresented for him as a child. Dell didn’t know any bankers when he was growing up. In addition, he knew very few small business owners in his community, and he had no one in his family to point to as an entrepreneur. In his former role as senior community development advisor at the Kansas City Fed, Dell dedicated a portion of his research to entrepreneurship, arguing that it increases a community’s capacity to serve itself in ways that other forms of economic wealth-building do not.
Dell explains, “If you want to build strong communities, you have to build capacity by creating ownership and agency, primarily through entrepreneurship.”
Building entrepreneurship ecosystems
The support systems, resources, and relationships that foster an entrepreneur’s starting a business, and which allows them to grow that business to the best of their ability and desire, is what Dell describes as an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Pre-pandemic, Dell, in partnership with Rodney Sampson of Opportunity Hub, developed and released Building Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Communities of Color, a report detailing the importance of ecosystem programs and the roles of ecosystem builders. The goal is to build support systems that allow people to fully participate in the economy and which create ownership.
“What does it mean to be an economic actor [monetarily participating in the economy] in America and also be dispossessed of ownership?” Dell asks. “That’s what we are combating with this work.”
Dell continues to foster entrepreneurship ecosystems, recently partnering with colleagues at the Fed to create the Small Businesses of Color (SBOC) Recovery Guide, focused on the short-term recovery and long-term vitality of SBOCs in the midst of a pandemic.
Editor’s note: Dell Gines left his position with the Kansas City Fed in March 2023.