Larkin and I share a long history of working together: From slinging biscuits for the homeless at 20 degrees Fahrenheit to launching several support programs for fledgling entrepreneurs, we have done A LOT. Most recently we had the opportunity to work together at Startup Champions Network (SCN) that she leads as Executive Director.
“Larkin embodies everything you would hope to find in an Ecosystem Builder for entrepreneurs and venture building. A no-nonsense and pragmatic approach with milestone-driven execution set Larkin apart from peers. As a co-founder, Board Chair and now serving as founding Executive Director, Larkin brought structure, vision and leadership to SCN at an extremely important time.Mike Binko, Startup Maryland
Larkin is also the co-founder of 403 Main and Work & Friends, both of which are innovative approaches to real estate through the sharing economy. Having grown up with three sisters in Lynchburg, Virginia, it seems that everything Larkin does revolves around creating unique experiences and genuine connection among people in her cosmos.
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about the incredible person Larkin is; it’s equally hard to go around Richmond and find a person that hasn’t been impacted by Larkin’s superpower of community building. And that’s really who she is, a superhero. Larkin’s commitment to collaboration is less about simply bringing people together to work together, and more about her desire for everyone to know that true collaboration brings out the best versions of ourselves.Andrew Mathew, Startup Champions Network
“In real estate, I am creating a portfolio of unique properties that provide deep and engaging experiences for people, whether they are travelling and looking for an escape or they are seeking that third place in their professional life where they can plug into a community to they gain access to new skills, jobs and meaningful relationships that span work and friendship. For the work at Startup Champions Network,
My vision is to create a world where entrepreneurial ecosystem building is understood by communities and government entities.
Ecosystem building is an emerging field. The members of our organization are focused on building their own community and our job is to make their job easier. The blessing and curse is that we have a lot of people with tremendous knowledge and expertise, but we only get bite-sized amounts of their time and energy to build that movement. They’re working both in the field while creating that field – and either one of those take a tremendous amount of time and collaboration, and we’re asking them to do both.”
Force of Nature
Having a one-on-one with Larkin is like entering the eye of a storm. You rarely get there but when you do, you are nothing short of awed by her depth of knowledge, understanding and dedication to seeing her community thrive, in both her local and national work. As soon as your conversation is over, however, she is back to setting action into motion, engaging others into her plans and rushing out the door on her phone to her next meeting.
Larkin is a one-of-kind human. She is an instigator and influencer in the most positive sense. She has an amazing knack at relating to people from different backgrounds and motivations, but is adept at corralling them around a singular mission. For Richmond, she has been the instigator behind much of the startup ecosystem from Lighthouse Labs, 804RVA to 1717 and Startup Virginia. It has been great to see her leverage her skills to now have influence on a more national level!Will Loving, Co-Founder Startup Virginia
During her fifteen years living in Richmond, she launched James River Tile & Stone Art, 804 RVA (the predecessor to Work & Friends) and RVA Startup Weekend. Moreover, Larkin co-founded Lighthouse Labs (with Todd Nuckols), Startup Virginia, RVAMakerfest, RVA VDay Love, Pickled and Fermented (Virginia’s first and only festival celebrating all things pickled!), Unreasonable Lab VA, CO.STARTERS RVA, RVATechJam and the Ready to Work internship program for Girls for A Change.
What I appreciate most about Larkin is that she embraces diversity and inclusion and brings others along. In a city as segregated as Richmond, Larkin is one of the few people to give me hope.Angela Patton, Girls for A Change
Larkin moved to West Point three years ago when her husband was stationed at Langley Air Force Base an hour and fifteen minutes East of West Point. Even there, it would appear she can’t help but stir the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She launched 403 Main as the first Airbnb-style vacation rental property in West Point; at least 6 other property owners have followed in her path. She launched a Taste of West Point, the Holiday Market at 403Main, a Youth Innovation Village, and hosted the Middle Peninsula Alliance bankers breakfast as ways to connect with the local community and creatively highlight businesses in the region. She is also currently in the process of forming an alliance for the Town of West Point.
Larkin is an unparalleled grassroots leader with relentless determination and vision for startup communities that lift every entrepreneur, everywhere. I consider it an honor any time I get the chance to work alongside her!Todd Nuckols, Lighthouse Labs
Burning the Midnight Oil
Her lifestyle reflects that energy. “I wake up long before the sun comes up, scroll through emails and social media. By the time my husband leaves for work at 6 a.m., I have already been at it for a few hours and I usually try to catch a nap before getting up myself by 7 a.m. I get on my computer, shower and get ready to leave. On the days that I drive to Richmond (about an hour’s drive), I am usually on work-related calls during the drive. As soon as I get to get to Work & Friends I get settled and start responding to emails and schedule calls. At 11.30 a.m. every day, we have tea time: it’s our sacred thirty minutes to put away all technical devices and check in with my community. After a lunch snack and quick walk, I usually spend my afternoons in calls and meetings from one to four-ish. On my drive home to West Point, I take a few more calls – if I don’t have one scheduled I like to use that time to check in with my family and friends. I’ll have a ready-made meal by myself (meal-subscription changed my life!) and either lay in my hammock or go upstairs around 8 to watch a show with my husband to decompress. I’m usually asleep by 10.30 p.m.”
Challenges in Ecosystem Building
Larkin has been in the world of entrepreneurial ecosystem building since long before we had a name for it. Having invested years of her professional career into this poorly defined field that is governed by the mantra Give before you get, she has seen and experienced some of the challenges that come with dedicating yourself to your community.
‘Give before you get’ has to have a limit.
“We need to understand what our social contract is and what the rules of engagement are among ecosystem builders. It takes time to do this work. And it takes many people’s time. Not everyone understands the value of that. That’s why my mission within Startup Champions Network is to create a world where entrepreneurial ecosystem building is understood and supported by communities and government entities. Without that understanding and appreciation, you can quickly find yourself putting in a tremendous amount of work in the service to others without yourself being fed by that. This imbalance drains you.”
Whether collaborating with board, staff, community members or others, Larkin never forgets that each person is worthy of consideration, attention and love. She brings her whole self to everything she touches and we’re all much better for it.Dwayne Johnson, Civic Software Foundation
“If your community doesn’t embrace the idea that building and nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem leads to jobs and overall community well-being, they will often resist the very change this approach can bring about. For ecosystem building to work effectively and present results in a timely manner, a community needs to be open to new systems, processes, energy and ideas. If you are the pioneer in your community and you don’t feel supported – mentally and financially – the going gets rough quickly and you find yourself operating from a place of scarcity instead of abundance.”
Larkin is both a natural and an experience innovator. She processes data intuitively and offers exceptional solutions to business challenges at any scale. Whether she’s solving for a solopreneur or an entire business ecosystem, she’s a rare breed of thinker and an asset to every environment she graces.Tiffany Jana, TMI Consulting
The best thing you can do for an ecosystem builder…
As an ecosystem builder, your work is to find gaps in innovation and entrepreneurship, and yo create solutions while functioning as a “human router” of information and relationships. The work is constant and ongoing. The best thing you can do for an ecosystem builder is to find a way to partner with them and connect them with your network and resources. Oftentimes, ecosystem builders are called on to “pick their brain and connections”, without an intent of supporting them so they can continue to build the ecosystem. If you find a way to drive resources and connections to your local ecosystem builder the same way they feed the ecosystem, your community will be enriched and reach new heights that you never imagined were possible. Ways you can do this:
- Make sure the ecosystem builder is getting paid to build out the ecosystem as their primary function and if not, introduce the ecosystem builder to sponsors and funders that can support the work or fund the work directly if you are able
- Ask what type of volunteer activities can support the ecosystem builder and take them on (in a timely fashion)
- Identify contract opportunities where you can collaborate with the ecosystem builder
- Hire them if your work could be aligned with ecosystem building and they are available for hire
- Become an ecosystem building ally and learn about the work and share it with your community and government officials so they could hire an ecosystem builder
Larkin is the most welcoming, accepting, and inclusive person I have ever met. From the day I moved to Richmond, Larkin was relentless about including me in everything she had going on. RELENTLESS. Because of that, I have been a part of just about every community effort she’s started. We even co-founded the Pickled & Fermented Festival together! I am just one person in a sea of people in this city who she has made an impact on. I consider myself lucky to be able to work alongside someone who is so passionate about building community and supporting entrepreneurs.Ashley Ray, Emergent Social Solutions
Richmond and West Point, Virginia, US
National force of nature. Tea time instigator & pickle lover. Burner of midnight oil. Inclusion activist and serial super connector.