Unsung Hero Spotlight: Christina Theodoraki

Christina Theodoraki

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

An Ecosystem builder is someone that observes or is capable to identify a problem as a system and contributes or provides a solution in a holistic manner.

These are persons who discreetly or loudly contribute to build a vibrant ecosystem. (I don’t say that ecosystem builders are people that yell to be heard but they are definitely people who share their experience and connect at the individual and collective levels with others to make things happen). Without these persons the ecosystem collapses. That means that “ecosystem builder” is not only someone who tries to build an ecosystem but also somebody who contributes to maintain the ecosystem evolve and thrive. As the ecosystem is built by a variety of populations with central and peripheral players, ecosystem builders are needed in all the positions and categories in order to succeed. These can be policy makers, entrepreneurs, students, incubator managers and staff, universities, professors, educators and researchers, or just citizens. We are all connected to our ecosystem.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

I was always considering that a problem should be addressed holistically, from the individual action to the system interactions. Even though I have never known what to be or do in the future, I very quickly knew that I wanted to help entrepreneurs. Thus, this still couldn’t fulfill me as sometimes the “system” takes some decisions that don’t really work and lead to deadlocks (top-down logic). I knew that I should come to a position that helps to increase the sustainability and evolution of the ecosystem. I am a professor in entrepreneurship and educate students to this reflection and contribute to the development of an entrepreneurial culture and mindset. This is some contribution but not enough. I do research on entrepreneurial ecosystems to further understand their composition and provide findings that may help build resilient and sustainable ecosystems. I also do research on incubators, as intermediaries between entrepreneurs and the ecosystem and how they decrease the gap between them. And also try to communicate all these findings to other ecosystem builders and stakeholders. Finally, we should act today for building an entrepreneurial ecosystem and I try to communicate and connect others and try to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem community to talk about these issues and help them improve.

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

  1. I did my PhD on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, defended on November 2017 and received 2 Best Dissertation award on entrepreneurship from the Academy of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the International Association for Research on Entrepreneurship and SMES (this was a hybrid French – English version but I have an English version at Research Gate.
  2. I have organized 2 events on entrepreneurial ecosystems during the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Toulouse: one event in English with researchers to advance our knowledge on ecosystems, and one for all ecosystem shakeholders in collaboration with the school’s incubator.
  3. Writing several articles for public and policy-oriented journals and media:

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

A very common challenge that many Ecosystem builders face is that the ecosystem needs a holistic viewpoint. This is also the truth with the challenges that entrepreneurs face too.

I have always heard that this is too broad, too abstract, probably too innovative or not innovative at all (this is just another buzzword to describe networks or clusters), a definition is needed, a framework is needed, boundaries are needed…

I have to testify that I am a woman, I come from Crete in Greece and have lived the last 10 years in France where I finished my PhD. I started my PhD in 2013, and by that time there was very limited work on entrepreneurial ecosystems and the existing literature was even criticizing the concept and dissuading from pursuing. I don’t know if I thereafter became an ecosystem builder because I was working on this topic or if I had this holistic viewpoint from the beginning that confirmed me that it will be absolutely this topic and not another one. In any case, this was not an easy path but I am glad, honored and grateful for taking it. As in the poem d’Ithaka by CAVAFY describing the longed-for destiny of Odysseus: “As you set out for Ithaka hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery […] Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Ecosystem builder is a passionate vocation with responsibilities and a long road full of experiences and discoveries. Be entrepreneurial and keep persevering!”

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

My biggest frustration and battle are to keep saying that building an ecosystem is a need and it matters. Thus, it needs a collective contribution. You need to engage others and sometimes the vocabulary is not the same and we still need to educate and try again and again. To build an entrepreneurial ecosystem you need to engage in a long-term strategy thus to convince, you need to show the results. This is quite frustrating, and this is a common frustration with entrepreneurs, I think. Most ecosystem builders say that there is a big gap between the entrepreneurs and the policy makers that should promote the ecosystem builders. This is true in every position of the ecosystem. Ecosystem builders make noise, engage, act, and this several times can be disturbing for the ‘system’ that needs to be transformed in ‘ecosystem’.

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

I wish I had access to several data from different cultural settings and understand how the ecosystem differs and evolves in different countries.

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

Engage in a long-term policy to build the ecosystem and give power to ecosystem builders who struggle to collect all the components.

 

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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