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Recently, AEO launched the Innovation Hub, a model designed to solve market challenges, spur innovation, and drive system-level change that is transformational for underserved entrepreneurs. Its purpose is to be the central point for the introduction of impactful new methods, products, services, and ideas into the small business ecosystem. As one of its primary directives, the Hub engages in cohorts and partnerships that discover and develop innovations that increase access to capital and guidance from trusted sources, and more.

It’s an ambitious undertaking and one AEO is excited about and well-positioned for, but one of the first questions often asked is “What’s a cohort?”

AEO defines a cohort as a group of organizations or people organized around a specific initiative. Each cohort has a problem they tackle and a co-creative solution they execute. For example, we recently announced a cohort with GoDaddy to support entrepreneurs in underserved communities with training, tools and peer networks to improve their digital presence and ultimately accelerate their business impact. Working together with non-profit organizations, CDFIs and entrepreneurs, the cohort is able to pilot a practical, scalable solution that has the potential to make an impact nationwide. Other existing cohorts address the issues of eradicating the barriers faced by Black-owned businesses, access to capital for Main Street, and identifying solutions needed to successfully prepare returning citizens for entrepreneurship—with more being in development.

At AEO, we understand how the microbusiness landscape is shifting, and what is needed to make this vision of system-level change a reality. We realize that AEO is in a unique position to connect all the parts of the small business ecosystem dedicated to the success of underserved entrepreneurs. AEO has a wide network of dynamic and focused organizations working to help business owners start, stabilize, and expand their livelihoods.  In forming these action-oriented cohorts, AEO takes an inclusive approach to engagement with these diverse market actors. Each cohort is comprised of the members best suited for the cohort’s goals, whether that’s a large, traditional bank or a philanthropic organization trialing a successful program on the ground in a local market. Working collaboratively within the cohort model means innovating faster and better. It means developing new service lines, creating better ways to serve microbusinesses, and implementing solutions that work on a national level. AEO wants to create positive disruption in the system in order to build a robust market for underserved microbusinesses. We want to increase access to the products and services that make entrepreneurs more successful and improve market synergies. We know that cohorts are the best way to make that happen.

For AEO members, the cohort model means partnering smarter and executing better. There’s now an accessible channel to more resources and support in the quest to effectively serve microbusinesses. For our partners, the cohort model is an avenue for mission-driven investment and the ability to take part in transforming what it means to be a microbusiness in America. As for entrepreneurs, AEO’s cohort model ensures they are never alone. They are never without entire teams of organizations and people dedicated to their success, and dedicated to giving them the tools, skills, and resources they need to achieve their dreams. That is the true beauty of the cohort—the power of the collective.