The essence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. An ecosystem that allows for the fast flow of talent, information, and resources helps entrepreneurs quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its separate parts.Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
How might we build and nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems that revolve around purpose-driven entrepreneurs?
In our 2020 Fireside Series, we will assess how the seven design principles for building entrepreneurial ecosystems play out in the content of social and impact-driven entrepreneurship. And we invite YOU to join the conversation!
If you wholeheartedly believe that no entrepreneur can succeed in a vacuum, this might be for you! We are looking for changemakers who
- are or have worked with purpose-driven entrepreneurs for at least a year,
- understand that no one organization can – or should – provide all services that a growing purpose-driven organization needs throughout its life cycle,
- value community over competition,
- are keen to discuss with peers from around the world how we might better support founders, and
- who want to build and nurture thriving ecosystems in their communities.
Learn more about who we are in our Manifesto.
We are gathering as a small group of experts and practitioners to define what ecosystem building looks like in the social impact space and how we might inform our field with good practices.
Each session will be edited into an Insights piece to provide tangible and practitioner-oriented insights, first-hand experiences from the field of ecosystem building, tools, and questions for further reflection; co-authors from each session are welcome!
Each session focuses on 4 key questions:
- Why does this principle matter?
- What has your experience been in the field, good or bad?
- Which tools do you recommend to put this principle into action?
- What other questions do we need to consider when applying this principle?
No need for preparation. We ask you to be present, curious, willing to share your experiences, discuss complex questions and respect each other’s views and opinions.
Once the 60-minute session is over, you return to your desk – hopefully full of inspiration and motivation to build better ecosystems! If you are keen, you are invited to contribute to the production of the resulting Insights piece to share what we learned with the world!
- September 10: Putting entrepreneurs front and center
- September 24: Foster Inclusive Conversations
- October 8: Enlist Collaborators. Everyone is invited!
- October 22: Live the Values (lead by example)
- November 5: Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in etc.
- November 19: Tell authentic stories
- December 3: Start. Be Patient.
*Time: We are expecting a global audience and will do our best to accommodate all time zones. Expect these sessions to take place around
- 9 a.m. PST/noon EST (United States)
- 3 p.m. GMT/4 p.m. CET (Europe)
- 5 p.m.CAT/6 p.m. EAT (Africa)
As part of close to four years of mass collaboration at the ESHIP Summit spearheaded by the Kauffman Foundation, ecosystem builders from across the US have been working on defining and progressing the field of entrepreneurial ecosystems. The latest version of the ESHIP Playbook outlines seven principles for building entrepreneurial ecosystems. This Fireside Series serves as a deep dive into each of them in the content of building ecosystems for social change.
An ecosystem builder’s job
Entrepreneurial ecosystems, at their heart, are based on human relationships. Ecosystem builders are creating an invisible infrastructure in their communities to support entrepreneurs. It’s not like traditional infrastructure. It’s not about physical spaces, fancy buildings, pools of capital, or big institutions. Instead, ecosystem builders focus on building consistent, collaborative human engagement. It’s about process, not product. Context, not content. The journey, not the destination. (source: ESHIP playbook 3.0)
1. Put entrepreneurs front and center
Traditional economic development sees to focus on the forest. But entrepreneurs are like new trees, or even weeds. They are pushing the edge of the forest, evolving to make the forest better. Our job is to focus on nurturing those emerging sprouts.
This translates into:
- Let entrepreneurs be leaders
- Design solutions that are entrepreneur-centric.
- Listen actively. It leads to empathy and understanding.
2. Foster conversations
The primary focus of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is to move knowledge and resources from the people who have it to the entrepreneurs who need it, and much of that transference happens through conversations with people. It is also in these conversations that we inspire possibility and action. Author Peter Block shares a compelling idea: “The aspect of a community that gives it a new possibility is simply the conversation it chooses to have with itself.” (Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, p. 25). In order to foster a more vibrant entrepreneurial community, we need to create more conversations that move knowledge and resources and explore notions of entrepreneurship and the possibility of entrepreneurial success.
Specifically, this means:
- Create interactions among peers.
- Shift the conversation to hope.
- Bias conversations toward action.
3. Enlist collaborators. Everyone is invited.
A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem has a culture of invitation: Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter whether they have an entrepreneurial idea or don’t know much about business.
In ecosystem building, here’s what me mean:
- Be radically inclusive.
- Enhance diverse connections.
- Be a keystone.
4. Live the values.
An entrepreneurial community is a network, not a hierarchy. So it can’t, by its nature, have a strongman at the top. But this doesn’t mean an ecosystem doesn’t have leaders.
- Walk the talk.
- Change values by changing behaviors.
- Make social contracts explicit.
5. Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in, etc.
Change can create tension. There is often friction between the “bottom” (the grassroots) and the “top” (formal leadership). The bottom is made of entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, and other independent thinkers who dislike formal structures. The top consists of leaders and managers who oversee institutions, access large networks, control knowledge, and possess built-in social capital.
This friction between top and bottom can sometimes cause heated disagreements over scarce resources that sow division and retrenchment. But it doesn’t need to be that way. In successful ecosystems, people find ways to overcome parochial differences and build diverse networks of mutually advantageous relationships.
In our roles as ecosystem builders, we achieve this through these measures:
- Bridge social boundaries.
- Build communities of trust.
- Build social feedback loops.
6. Tell a community’s authentic story.
Every community has its strengths. An ecosystem builder’s job is to uncover these strengths, publicize them, and leverage them to write a fresh positive narrative.
In our lived experience, here’s how we go about storytelling:
- Create stories out of strengths.
- Build channels to share those stories.
- Elevate role models.
7. Start. Be patient.
Ecosystem builders need to take a long-term view of change. It might take a decade or two to see any lasting results. That timeframe makes sense because building businesses take a long while. And culture change moves slow before it moves fast. Don’t count success only by statistics in traditional economic reports and political cycles. The real change should be happening well before those statistics ever show it. A program that works in one city might fall short in another. Ecosystem builders must think and act entrepreneurially. They must try things, get feedback, and learn. Fail and persist. And try, try again. The process of ecosystem building is emergent, not linear. And it is perpetual, so it never truly ends. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (Brad Feld, “StartupVille,” Kauffman Sketchbook, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation). You don’t need permission to be an ecosystem builder, you just have to care for your community enough to start.