Unsung Hero Spotlight: Lauren Mehler Pradhan

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

An ecosystem builder is someone who brings together the disparate and disconnected resources, engaged people and assets of a company and looks for ways to maximize their collective power.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

I am motivated by possibility. I see the resources, expertise and desire of my community and I believe that by creating a virtuous cycle of interconnected connectivity and a feeling of shared ownership we will accelerate the scaling businesses, open more possibilities and enable more problems to be solved.

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

I launched Food Ag Ideas Week, a multi day series of events and experiences in a build-your-own schedule format designed to drive connectivity and visibility across the sectors that make up Minnesota’s food and agriculture entrepreneur and innovation ecosystem. We led in collaboration with 25+ support and content partners 20+ events which showcased innovative non-profit, corporate, civic, and startup leaders. This past year’s event was attended by over 1,000 unique attendees, with attendees from across Minnesota and the country.

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

Fundraising to continue the program. People like to fundraise specific programs and elements such as pitch slams, conferences and events but they do not always understand funding the ecosystem building itself – the convening, the bridge building, and the advocacy.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

Measurement. It is tough to make ecosystem building tangible with metrics as this is such a new field. When you work to cultivate a community, it is hard to attach yourself to a specific business if you are not offering technical assistance. Instead you are driving visibility to the community itself as well as encouraging more engagement from the larger entities in town. These can feel more causal and a harder sell to individuals who want a direct cause and effect or silver bullet solution.

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

Making a compelling case for ecosystem building for those that do not fully understand its potential. Many people will talk about that a community needs a “unicorn” in order to get the ball rolling but I always counter that you need to create the conditions for a unicorn to flourish. An ecosystem of support, funding, education and opportunity is essential for businesses to scale but it is hard to articulate and quantify this to make the case compelling.

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

An appreciation for the complexity of ecosystem building itself and an appreciation for the softer parts of community building including convening, increasing participation from critical stakeholders and that solutions are solved by removing a variety of barriers vs one.

What others are saying about Lauren

Lauren was tapped to lead a statewide initiative called Grow North to be the hub that works to enable food and ag entrepreneurs to grow and scale in Minnesota. She is likely one of the most intelligent and driven individuals that I have ever met. She will probably be one of only a few Harvard Business School grads that are also ecosystem builders(!), and her previous corporate experience at General Mills will set her far apart as well. In fact, she took much of her corporate experience and applied it to her work with Grow North, having identified 140 organizations that support the food/ag sector in the state. She now is leveraging these connections to have major impact–100+ entrepreneurs featured at 60+ events with over 7,000 attendees. She founded Food, Ag, Ideas Week, a week of individually ticketed events and experiences highlight leaders across food and agriculture. 1000+ attendees, 25+ partners and close to 100 speakers.

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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