We are standing in the hallway of an old mansion turned AirBnB in Kansas City. It is 9 p.m. on a rainy night in May. Everyone of us spent the day at the largest conference for entrepreneurial ecosystem builders in the world. We are tired and exhausted, we cling to our solo cups as if they hold our life elixir and we shift from one foot to the other while we wrap up our conversations in a whispered hush.
A slender guy with black hair, black rimmed glasses and a scraggly beard clears his throat. We snap to attention and the hallway goes quiet. With his shirt tucked in he is looking around the dimly lit hall with a mixture of sincerity, humility and intent.
He makes eye contact with almost everyone in the room as he speaks: “We host these collaborative dinners because we want to give you all a chance to come together outside of the conference to share a meal, take off all the different hats you wear, and just relax together and be yourself. You are all here because you obsess over helping others, championing the cause of the overlooked people in your community who are working to transform the culture of your region through entrepreneurship together. You are doing such important work, building the future of our economy and an example of what healthy communities can look like all around the country. We at CO.STARTERS believe in you and your work, and are here to support, champion, and encourage you, even if all you need is just a hug and someone to talk to. So, thank you for all that you do!”
You just met Enoch Elwell, founder and CEO of CO.STARTERS, “a network that equips grassroots leaders with the best tools and resources needed to support starters of all kinds, fueling vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
At the time of writing, CO.STARTERS supports 129 communities around the globe delivering processes, programs, and tools to equip local leaders to effectively support anyone who wants to start a project or venture that builds up their local community. While most known for the 9-week cohort program for nontraditional entrepreneurs, CO.STARTERS also provides tailored tools for regional and local Ecosystem Building activities, and specific content and resources for causes, youth, rural, and underserved urban communities.
My superpower, I guess, is identifying hidden value that people don’t see and drawing it to the surface where they can use it.
As you may have sensed by now, Enoch is an incredibly empathetic leader with a deep passion for community building and connecting people, resources and opportunities. When it comes to leadership, Enoch says “In order to be good at running an organization like CO.STARTERS I need to support, empower and grow a team to where from the beginning they can succeed without me. The conversation around succession planning is not always helpful because it assumes you are in control and in charge of everything until you hand it over when you leave. That’s not my approach to leadership:”
We all have so much unrealized potential. As a CEO my job is to identify each persons’ unique skills,facilitating relationships and roles across the team to engage these skills effectively.
Practice what you preach
But that’s not all.
“We’ve recently invested a lot into training in emotional intelligence and effective communication as well as in executive coaching for our leadership team. We have trained on the Enneagram and we read a book together on the topic of trust (The Thin Book of Trust). It’s an investment in ourselves, our company and our community. In the past, we let relational and communication tensions grow within our team, and if we hadn’t done something about it, our team would likely have fallen apart. If we say that we exist to help communities thrive, but we as individuals and as a team are not thriving, then our entire purpose is a lie. So we have been investing heavily in building a healthy team of healthy people, because if the core isn’t strong and healthy, the greater impact we desired is doomed.
If we say that we exist to help communities thrive, but we as individuals and as a team are not thriving, then our entire purpose is a lie.
Father of 3, husband, 2-time CEO
With three little kids, Enoch’s involvement with the Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP Summit and Initiatives and as a CEO of not only CO.STARTERS but also Treetop Hideaways (a luxury treehouse hotel) Enoch wears a lot of hats day to day, including weekends. What does that lifestyle look like?
“I operate at my best when I spend 30 to 60 minutes by myself in silence. (meditation, prayer). Exercising for half an hour to an hour is really helpful, though am not very consistent in doing that. I often feel like I am packing too much into each day. Most of my days are filled with meetings or calls, and in between, I try to get done whatever tasks I can… then occasionally I get a moment to check and see how far I am behind on my emails! I try to make the most of my time during travel by reading, I get through two or three books a month. Every six months or so I spend a day by myself to simply get away, be quiet, let go of myself, and listen.”
Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
Empathy. Community building. Focus on the best in each person and how to bring it to bear for the greater good.