Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Lessons Learned from Kauffman ESHIP Summit

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This past week, I had a great time in Kansas City at the Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP Summit. The purpose of the summit was to bring together entrepreneurial ecosystem builders to solve the most pressing issues facing today’s entrepreneurs. The summit was intended to take place in three phases: discover, design, and deliver. During “Year One” of the summit, in 2017, over 450 entrepreneurial ecosystem builders convened to discover the most challenging issues facing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders. During “Year 2,” over 600 entrepreneurial ecosystem builders gathered in Kansas City last week to design real, tangible steps to work toward solving these challenging issues.

But first, why should we care about entrepreneurs? Why do entrepreneurs matter?

Entrepreneurs are the doers, makers, and dreamers who turn ideas into reality and create things of value to address societal and community challenges. Entrepreneurs start businesses and grow businesses. Entrepreneurs drive progress; they are diverse in gender, race, religion, age, and background.

The entrepreneur of today looks nothing like the entrepreneur of yesterday.

Entrepreneurship can be a solution to some of the most pressing issues facing today’s society. Entrepreneurs are nimble and move quickly, creating wealth, jobs and value in their communities. Entrepreneurship can pave the way out of poverty for an individual and that person’s family.

But there are significant barriers to entrepreneurship, especially for women, minorities, LGBTQ individuals, older Americans, people with disabilities, and veterans. Although entrepreneurship has increased interest in the US, entrepreneurial activity in this nation is in a 30-year decline. Voices and talent are being left from the innovation table and there is no level playing field. Ninety-five percent of venture capital money goes to white and Asian men. Women are half as likely as men to own businesses, with only 2.7% of venture capital going to companies with female CEOs in the US. Only 0.2% of these funds go to companies with black female founders, even though these individuals comprise the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. Minorities own half as many businesses as non-minorities. These businesses are more likely to start small and stay small.

When everyone cannot participate in an entrepreneurial ecosystem, that ecosystem fails to meet its full potential.

The ESHIP Summit suggests that we may need a new economic development model, one that’s more human-centric and aligned around individuals in the community who are developing economic value organically: the entrepreneurs.

One way to accomplish this change is through the fostering and nurturing of entrepreneurial ecosystems. These communities are inclusive and allow for “talent, information, and resources to flow quickly to entrepreneurs as they need it.”

An entrepreneurial ecosystem, or entrepreneurial community, is “a group of people that trust each other and believe they belong together,” according to Fabian Pfortmueller, a Swiss community builder.

An entrepreneurial ecosystem consists of many interconnected pieces which allow entrepreneurs to find the resources they need quickly at each stage of their company’s growth. These pieces include: entrepreneurs, talent, people and institutions, champions and conveners, onramps, intersections, stories, and culture.

People are always at the center of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem.

These ecosystems are built and nurtured by entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, which, admittedly, are novel and innovative positions themselves.

Ecosystem builders foster human-to-human connections and “connect, empower, and collaborate with others to build the system.” These people often work behind the scenes to foster trust and collaboration, functioning as a kind of invisible infrastructure.

Anyone can be an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. The only requirements are patience, understanding, and true dedication.

Seven best practice design principles exist to build healthy entrepreneurial ecosystems:

1.     Put the entrepreneur front and center. Entrepreneurs should lead entrepreneurial ecosystems. They know what is needed and what will work. Find people leading in the community and support what they are already doing.

2.     Foster conversations. Connect people with the resources they need.

3.     Enlist collaborators. Welcome everyone.

4.     Live the values. This is a network, not a hierarchy, although there are leaders. Dream, listen, rethink failure, and give before you get.

5.     Tell a community’s authentic story. Don’t try and be anyone else. Tell your true narrative and showcase your leaders.

6.     Connect people.

7.     Just start, and then be patient. Ecosystem building takes time and patience.

The ESHIP Summit served as a Firestarter for entrepreneurial ecosystem builders to learn from each other and co-create ways to best position our individual communities, and the ecosystem as a whole, to create a new economic development model focused on entrepreneurship and building real solutions.

Our entrepreneurial ecosystem is Rochester is young and we have a unique opportunity right now to build it into something that can work for everyone. Each of us has an important role to play in that process. I challenge all of you to be innovative and be collaborative. Create. Talk. Share. Trust and believe. Speak the truth and speak that truth loudly. Don’t shame or hide failure but learn and grow from it. If you want to create a group, event, or start an initiative in the community, don’t wait for somebody to tell you that you can do it. If you want to build something in this community, then just start. #StartSomething

******Reference: ESHIP Playbook Version 2.0*********************