Business development / Communities / Incubators

How C’pher Gresham managed SEED SPOT’s DC expansion

It involved a lot of listening.

What do the locals do around here? (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

C’pher Gresham is originally from the D.C. area, so he was pleased when, in summer 2016, his employer the Arizona-based incubator SEED SPOT decided to expand to the District. The city has a special place in his heart.

But the story of the (first) expansion of this social entrepreneur-focused incubator begins earlier. Gresham, who had moved to Arizona to get his MBA at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, started working at SEED SPOT as the national director of expansion in November 2015. Founder Courtney Klein, who we interviewed here, knew she wanted to bring SEED SPOT’s programming for super early stage social entrepreneurs to more people and locations. But she hadn’t quite decided on a location to tackle first.

C'pher Gresham. (Photo via Linkedin)

C’pher Gresham. (Photo via Linkedin)

What’s a director of expansion to do?

Firstly, Gresham told in a recent conversation, SEED SPOT only considered expanding to locations where they’d received interested inquiries from the local level. This helped narrow the possibilities, and already at this stage individuals in D.C. expressed strong interest in the program.

By January 2016 Gresham began mapping ecosystems in around 10 cities across the country, and having conversations with local stakeholders. “We did extensive interviews,” Gresham said, of this process, attempting to talk to every entity that touches entrepreneurship in the region. He listened, asked questions and then listened some more. “D.C. just percolated to the top. There’s a movement that’s happening.”

And so it was decided — D.C. would make the perfect second city for SEED SPOT. And Gresham was on to step three: identify and build an advisory board. Ultimately SEED SPOT chose eight local advisors, including Ron Kelly of Capital Impact Partners and Sara Morgan of Eleven Eleven PR.

These advisors, along with ecosystem partners like the Halcyon Incubator, 1776, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development and, of course, SEED SPOT’s lead D.C. partner Booz Allen Hamilton, ultimately guided SEED SPOT D.C. to where it is today — getting ready to welcome its first full-time cohort.

As for Gresham, what’s it like to be back?

When I ask he shrugs — it’s a weird time to be in this city, what with the new administration and all the changes D.C. has seen since he graduated from George Washington University in 2009. Still, Gresham takes solace in looking at the local, people level.

“Ultimately, people live here,” he said. “And they want to make their community better.”

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