Unsung Hero Spotlight: Beth Zimmer

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

To me, an Ecosystem Builder is someone that is a servant leader who is naturally optimistic and focused on solving systemic problems. We appreciate collaboration and work diligently to identify appropriate networks & partners within ecosystems to convene and apply solutions collectively. Ecosystem builders exist in a variety of places, such as communities, organizations, industries, etc.

With regard to Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builders, I wholeheartedly agree with this statement: “The defining characteristic of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders is their long-term and system-wide approach to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in their region or community.”(Startup Champions Network)

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

The notion of working with others to apply impactful solutions to regional and national economic challenges is very energizing to me. Using my talents and skills to add value for others is my duty. This space, so far, enables me to do that.

What is the most successful/impactful program/event/thing you do/have done in your ecosystem?

We have been really successful in changing our community’s culture. We were identified as having a culture that was extremely risk averse and complacent, with very low levels of entrepreneurial activity. Through an effective PR/Educational campaign, we’ve affected the shift to much more of a focus on encouraging more startups and risk taking. Some say that the scales have been loaded too heavily now on startups versus existing business. Data today, 3-5 years later will not support that notion though.

We’ve filled gaps with programs that others had no capacity for, such as entrepreneurial mindset education, CO.STARTERS, the DisruptErie Awards, and the innovation competition across the 4 universities.

We’ve also had some success in convening ecosystem actors to discuss and share programs, refer entrepreneurs, etc.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an Ecosystem Builder?

I believe it is that this vision is too visionary for the majority of our existing leadership ecosystem. Though evidence, globally, shows otherwise, we’ve not yet had success in convincing the power players to adopt this as a priority in economic and community development. There are some positive signs today. Historically, though, the scarcity mentality voices tend to drown out anything that is perceived to have the potential to rock their boats. If we could have open conversations with these folks, I believe that we could change their mindsets. However, these are underlying behaviors that are not shared, for obvious reasons. Today, I have asked some key funders to consider requiring ecosystem asks vs asks from individual organizations. This sounds like a simple, common sense approach… I’m looking forward to seeing if anything comes of it.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

Lack of a local team of advocates and genuine partners that are working together toward improving our community’s economy and prospects for our future.

What ecosystem building skill/knowledge do you want to gain?

Formal development opportunities around facilitation, communities of practice, and leadership are of interest.

What are the most important things that need to happen to advance the field of ecosystem building?

Educating the rest of the world as to why this field is critical, resulting in sustainable resources being deployed across the country. This is why I’m so adamant about Goal 6, initiative 2. I’ve seen in work at a micro level. Let’s get to the macro level, via the EDA, state wides, etc.

What others are saying about Beth

Beth goes above and beyond for her community. We all face challenges when working with groups of people, and many times Beth is looked over or side stepped and yet she persists. She has been a confidant and mentor to me through this ecosystem building journey and always exemplifies what an ecosystem builder should strive to be.

 

This article is proudly sponsored by CO.STARTERS. We equip unsung heroes, unlikely starters, and unordinary communities to thrive through entrepreneurship. Learn more at costarters.co.

Anika Horn

Anika Horn is an ecosystem builder for social change, social enterprise advisor and storyteller. She is on a mission to equip ecosystem builders with the insights, resources and community to lead fulfilling lives and purpose-driven careers. Learn more about her work at SocialVenturers.com and AnikaHorn.com.

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