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Talk Back Boston Innovation Forum and Expo promotes city’s creative economy

Shanice Maxwell
Talk Back Boston Innovation Forum and Expo promotes city’s creative economy
Malia Lazu, Future Boston Alliance director, delivered the keynote speech at Talk Back Boston’s Innovation Forum and Expo on Saturday Apr. 5. She challenged the audience to work collectively as entrepreneurs, creatives and small business owners. (Photo: Bobby Shakes photo)

The Talk Back Boston Innovation Forum and Expo delivered on its goal of igniting dialogue on the creative economy in Boston and ways greater access between businesses and the city’s community can transcend its current plateau.

The forum, which was sponsored by Talk Back Boston, a youth platform geared to engaging, equipping and empowering community members to foster the surge of innovation the Hub is facing, featured Mayor Martin Walsh and a panel of successful entrepreneurs at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury last Saturday.

Walsh and the panel answered a series of questions on innovation, creative problem resolution and entrepreneurship.

The panel included: Michael Monestime, corporate relations manager at the Institute of Contemporary Art; Matt McArthur, founder of the nonprofit recording studio and after-school program The Record Company; Dan Natola, founder of exclusive sneaker and retail store Bodega; and Eileen Riestra, founder of DYAStudio design firm.

“I’m here because I believe in Boston,” said Riestra.

And while she was the only female panelist, she was not alone in her sentiments.

A diverse audience of mostly millennials totaling 50 or so filled the room. An enthusiastic Ian Powell, one of the event emcees and host of the “LoudMindsTV” show on Boston Neighborhood Network, noted the energy in the room as he welcomed everyone.

“Those interested in adding to the creative community in Boston are right here in this room. Take a look around, these are the people you want to interact and engage with because they are the ones who care about most about these topics,” he said.

After the preliminary introductions the forum followed the journeys of the panelists to their current positions in the entrepreneurial world. While all different, they each echoed passion and purpose as fuel for their drive. They went on to share perspectives on the Hub’s creative economy and divulged their visions of the city’s future through the mayor’s involvement.

Ten questions were asked ranging from the pros and cons of having a Boston-based business, the struggles of collaborating with local businesses and ways to reach out to them, to how to position oneself and business to have a positive and successful impact on the city as well as obtaining community resources.

“One thing I think that sets us back collaboration-wise is not having everyone on the same page with the same mindset,” said Mayor Walsh. “We’ve had a mayor in this city who was mayor for 20 years and I came in with a different view and a different opinion. Getting rid of the words ‘we can’t do it’ or ‘we’ve never done it that way before’ is a way we’re working to get people on the same page.”

The need for such an open, interactive space such as the one provided by Talk Back Boston was evident in the responses from the audience. Claps, finger snaps and murmurs of affirmation were constantly offered from audience members each time chords were struck.

Following the panel, Malia Lazu, director of Future Boston Alliance, delivered a keynote speech. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, she spoke of collective work and collaborations between entrepreneurs, business owners and creatives, who are “disruptive by nature,” all over the city so that maximized progress, productivity and potential could spring forth from the myriad talents housed within every individual and organization.

“What if we start thinking about our businesses as islands of opportunity for our community and society more than just an opportunity for us and our family?” Lazu asked.

After more probing questions and thought-provoking examples by Lazu, the panelists ended with words of advice and a brief Q&A segment. The event ended with hors d’oeuvres, music from a live disc jockey, business card exchanges and photo-ops with the mayor.

“I thought the event was really good and insightful for people who are into entrepreneurship and want to go into an arts-based business,” said Bryanne Lauture, 21, a staff members at Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.

“There is a need for these conversations to take place all day, every day, every minute,” said Arjun Collins, 25, a 10th grade biology teacher at Jeremiah E. Burke High School. “It’s important for people to be informed before they go off into some type of venture.”

In the end, the majority of participants were not only pleased with the event’s outcome but hopeful of what’s in store.

“We’re in a moment of emergence now; we’re evolving. And if anyone knows anything about basic evolution it’s that you include and transcend. This is not about excluding — this is about us bringing everyone together to take our next most eloquent, evolutionary step. We cannot do it alone so together, through events like this, let’s develop that type of dangerous unselfishness,” said Lazu.