Inclusive Field. Ensure Ecosystem Builders from diverse perspectives lead our field

In a nutshell: “As professional change agents, system thinkers, and resource providers, ecosystem builders are well positioned to see the hidden structural barriers that perpetuate disconnection, segregation, and isolation – and to remove them.

However, we need diverse voices to lead us toward understanding and removing barriers for all entrepreneurs. Our leadership must include ecosystem builders from all walks of life, all parts of communities, and all kinds of regions, both nationally and globally. In order to empower and create equitable access for entrepreneurs who have been systemically excluded, ecosystem building must also include intentional efforts to level the playing field, to honor the need for belonging within entrepreneurial communities, and to have the (sometimes) hard conversations required for meaningful and lasting change.”

We checked in with Unsung Heroes who build entrepreneurial ecosystems in their communities to find out how they ensure their efforts remove barriers to access for all entrepreneurs. 

Voices from the field

“No one should be excluded from the entrepreneurial table. Full stop. A diverse, equitable and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem is critically important because, in my opinion, entrepreneurship can be the best catalyst for opportunity-generation. As I grow, personally and professionally, and continue to build things, I hope to create systems that promote participation by as many people as possible, especially by those people who have historically been excluded from the entrepreneurial table.” Clark Rinehart

“Helping make my own ecosystem and the others I work with more equitable in the ways they support entrepreneurs is the single most important thing I can do. I’m certain this leads to healthier communities and a better world.” Eric Renz-Whitmore

Historically, we’ve seen that systems at large have excluded many groups of individuals and in return served only specific populations. In order to have a more balanced ecosystem, an inclusive community must embrace the values of ALL its individuals while helping them to meet their basic needs, inspire, innovate and uplift the community at large. As a result, community members live with dignity, they engage and participate actively, and contribute to their ecosystem.” Carina Boston Pinales

“When I speak of diversity and inclusion – I speak more than just race and gender in tech. Three additional areas are often never mentioned but we want to make sure our ecosystem recognizes them:

  1. The golden generation – I work with Silver Moonshots to advise and work with founders over 55 because ageism has been historically rampant in tech and entrepreneurship. As we all age, tech will be even more important to address the needs of an aging generation. Agency allows for people in this generation to be a part of the solutions to their needs.
  2. The disabled – I have been partially blind since birth. My daughter has been as well. I love working with organizations like the Junior Blind to encourage more of our population to have a seat at the table 
  3. The formerly incarcerated- for various reasons a large population of formerly incarcerated men and women look like me. When they repay their debts to society and are returned to society, they often find it hard to participate in the workforce or entrepreneurship. I’m proud to work with and be an advisor to ConCreates as it’s an organization run by and founded by former incarcerated individuals.” Taj Ahmad Eldrigde

Goal 1 in the Field

We asked ecosystem builders who are working in the trenches and focusing on building an inclusive field to share their experiences:

“At Splash Coworking, we are consciously working to emphasize diversity and inclusion in our programing and our marketing approach. An example of our programming focuses is a recent partnering grant we recieved to develop Women’s Entrepreneurship Boot Camps to assist Texas women with starting and growing businesses in Texas.  One of our target markets of participants for our Boot Camps are Texas Women Veterans and women previously convicted of a non-violent felony. Our Business Finance 101 workshop meets attendees where they are in their understanding of finance and is not restricted to a specific demographic or status-quo startup founders.

For the past two years we have been the space where a local organization holds Transgender Day of Remembrance which is an event focused on community rather than services. This is a strong example of how we have created a space to fit the wide range of needs our community has. The diversity and inclusion of our programming and events reflect directly where we meet our community needs, which is boots on the ground and where they currently are. Our choice of partners, organizations and opportunities is vetted with a standard of acceptance, and accessibility in alignment with our mission and practices. Our “Splashers” or coworking members represent a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. This is because our promotion is a reflection of the ecosystem body we have created. We encourage a space that is not only welcoming but is motivating and uplifting. Our whole purpose is promoting responsible,sustainable self-independence with community.” Carina Boston Pinales

“First, I am listening and learning from my friends in the ecosystem. I think it’s important to understand the landscape of entrepreneurship in each region. Next, I’m actively working to build relational equity with people who have been excluded, for whatever reason, in my region. One specific way that I have worked towards a more-equitable ecosystem is by opening up a coworking space, Loading Dock Raleigh’s Prince Hall location, in a historically African-American neighborhood. After a year of conversations with neighbors and business leaders in the neighborhood, I realized that there was a need for a convening place for emerging entrepreneurs. This coworking space is also in close proximity to 2 HBCUs and 1 university that has historically educated women. If we’re hoping that more people of color and women participate in entrepreneurship, especially as founders, then there needs to be the appropriate infrastructure to support these ventures.” Clark Rinehart

“In my position at the McCune Foundation, I’ve been able to meet effective leaders and do what I can to support connections among their work. In New Mexico, organizations are developing a rich landscape of diverse leaders and finding ways to develop, support and ensure they are in positions of responsibility and real authority. I’ve highlighted a few examples below, but realized that none of these projects have a robust Internet presence that really captures the scope and depth of what they are doing. Links in the following section are usually to participating organizations, as opposed to the ecosystem projects they are supporting.

  • Color Theory – Partially emerging from an engagement with Living Cities, several organizations serving entrepreneurs from immigrant and other communities of color in Albuquerque came together to test the theory that if people of color are allowed to lead their collective work, deeper levels of trust, integration and impact would result. This diverse collection of organizations spans a broad ecosystem that provides one-on-one support, access to capital, legal support (with both business and immigration issues), a pipeline of engaged high school students interested in entrepreneurship, and the City Office of Small Business Support, among others. The partners have worked to develop shared language to describe their services, which has translated into a shared intake process across the groups and the adoption of a shared data system that makes the user experience much more convenient and comprehensive from a data tracking perspective. The collaboration is in the process of seeking national funding to leverage local funding (including a “Zone Grant”) and build on the groundwork and trust that has already been built to implement and prove the efficacy of their approach. Participating organizations include: the South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC), Roanhorse Consulting, The NM Dream Team, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), WESST, Encuentro, Siembra Leadership High School and City of ABQ.

  • Enlace Comunitario Leadership Program – One of the more innovative approaches to Leadership Development we’ve seen was piloted last year at Enlace Comunitario, an effective agency focused on issues of domestic violence in the immigrant community. Rather than focusing on high level leadership concepts, this program uniquely sought to develop concrete skills in the areas of financial management, human resources and program administration. Another unique aspect of the program was that it invited participation from other non-profits, serving as a resource for the entire ecosystem rather than narrowly focusing on its own capacity. The initial cohort of 11 women of color built their individual capacities to be effective administrators and leaders, while also supporting a deeper level of trust among the participating organizations.

  • International District Economic Development Center (IDEDC) – While the South Valley Economic Development Center (mentioned above) has served low-income entrepreneurs in a geography of Albuquerque with high numbers of Latino residents, the International District (which encompasses a much more diverse range of communities from around the world) has not had a similar institution dedicated to these activities. Now that the new IDEDC has come online, a whole new generation of leadership from the community is emerging. And the other good news is that the IDEDC is also connected with Color Theory to leverage all the programmatic work in that collaboration.” Henry Rael

What’s next?

“Strong connected networks that allow for collaboration and a culture of trust is the main focus of building an inclusive ecosystem. There is strength in not only having different voices at the table but also actually listening to these other voices. Diversity was step number one, now we need to move towards inclusion and later leader-filled agency.” Taj Ahmad Eldridge

I would like to see government resources for potential entrepreneurs distributed in ways that reflect the composition of their regions’ populations across location and their various ethnic and demographic characteristics so we can *begin* to see the effects of more equitable support for entrepreneurship.” Eric Renz-Whitmore

“In general, by showing up and participating wherever you’re local. We need entrepreneurs  at different seasons of their lives to participate and add value to these kinds of “more inclusive” spaces. Two years from now, I want to see a more robust and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Southeast Raleigh where dozens of small-to-medium sized businesses are being created year after year.” Clark Rinehart

Learn more & connect 

To learn more about Taj Ahmad Eldridge and his work, connect with him on Twitter at @econoahmad or on Linkedin. “In addition, we love to have action items in person so drop by LACI in the Arts District of Los Angeles or join me and a few other folks in the ecosystem for our monthly Taco Tuesdays at a restaurant somewhere in LA (LeBron feel free to join us after the season!)”

Connect with Carina Boston Pinales via social media @SplashCowork or visit their website. “We are looking for resources to expand. We are open to any sponsorship of groups or individuals so we can offer programming to those in need or who may have restrictions.”

Eric Renz-Whitmore is best found on Twitter and you can learn more about his work at Forward Cities

Meet Clark Rinehart on Twitter  and visit him at Loading Dock Raleigh, NC!

Learn more about Goal 1 in the Kauffman Playbook and join us at ESHIP Summit in Kansas City June 29-July 2, 2020! To get actively involved with the work around Goal 1: Inclusive Field, find out details on the ESHIP Dashboard and join their working group!

Over the month of March, we will be sharing some of the best resources on the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion through social media – make sure to follow along via Twitter at @UnsungHeroesEB!