Unsung Hero Spotlight: Melanie Lenci

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

To me, an ecosystem builder is someone who’s constantly out and about, networking and engaging in loads of different circles and areas of the community to get to know people and what they do so they can help connect them to others who may be able to enrich their lives or help them with a problem they may be facing. An ecosystem builder busts through silos as if they’re not even there. They’re a constant learner with a natural lust for meeting new people and informing others of new or old programs, resources, people, places and opportunities that may be helpful.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

I’m an entrepreneur intoxicated by bringing people together through storytelling. I didn’t set out to be an ecosystem builder. Until recently I didn’t even know what the term meant. I think it’s in my nature though, as my energy for it has just grown and grown since I started bringing community together through entrepreneur storytelling just over two years ago. I love passing on helpful info, getting to meet entrepreneurs passionate about what they do and connecting entrepreneurs and those in the ecosystem with other entrepreneurs, fans, investors, mentors and ecosystems partners. Frankly, I get a gushy feeling in my chest when I see connections made and I feel lucky to be in a position to do so.

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

I started Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs™ (KAE) and launched monthly-ish, 2-hour Entrepreneur Story Time™ events in Santa Fe back in January 2018. I’d been in Santa Fe just over a year and recognizing the city’s abundance of entrepreneurial talent, combined with my love of storytelling, I started a Meetup group and Facebook page and just decided that if others like it, they’ll come, if not, I’ll stop doing it. Well, over 2 years it’s grown to 450+ members and events consistently attended by 25-65 local fans of entrepreneurship and entrepreneur ecosystem partners each month. Our local entrepreneur storytellers generously share their insights and experiences so others can learn what it takes to make it in the Land of Enchantment and beyond. I hold each event at a different local bar or restaurant each month, and people really seem to like being introduced to businesses they might not otherwise think to visit and support. I also provide each event venue owner with the opportunity to share their short story (up to 5 minutes), creating a community of fans more likely to come back and support these businesses again in the future. While other groups and programs intended to create community have come and gone, KAE has grown in participation and recognition in a way that I’d never imagined. By leveraging the power of storytelling, we’ve helped establish a truly engaged entrepreneur ecosystem for our community and my heart comes close to exploding after each event, as it’s just overwhelming to see the energy and positivity and true connections made each and every time. It’s an amazing feeling to see that our local entrepreneurs-turned-storytellers naturally attracted fans and ecosystem partners who’ve seen the value in coming back time and time again.

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

As you can tell, I really just fell into ecosystem building, but as others have started to see my value in this role and I’ve gotten involved in working with different ecosystem partners in varying capacities, the most challenging aspect has been trying to get some ecosystem partners to collaborate, or at least stop seeing each other as competitors. Getting others to stop for a moment, let go of any past grudges or judgements or assumptions and just see how they might actually complement each other’s efforts can be a wee bit challenging. That said, Santa Fe has come a long way with that even in the 3 ½ years I’ve been here, so it just goes to show that change is possible.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

Fortunately, what I do is so fulfilling that my frustration level is pretty darn low, but if I had to pick something that could be tremendously helpful it would be for those ecosystem partners offering programs and opportunities for the entrepreneur community – like grants or training programs or incentive programs or whatever – to make that info easy to find and put it into human speak that non- program-entrenched people can understand. It can be frustrating to know that there are a plethora of great opportunities out there to help and educate our entrepreneur community, but if our entrepreneurs have to spend their precious time trying to understand or simply find the info they’re looking for, they’re not making $ and their frustration grows as well.

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

Since this ecosystem building is relatively new to me (at least in terminology), as I simply stumbled into it through my love of entrepreneurs and storytelling, I’d be thrilled to gain any knowledge from those who’ve been championing ecosystem building for years. I’m simply excited to be a part of this community and I’m looking forward to learning from other ecosystem builders how I might be able to better express my value as an ecosystem builder, because if I can do a better job at that I might be able to help spread the positivity even further.

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

I don’t know that I can speak to the entire field of ecosystem building, but I can speak to seeing the need for those in roles like local economic development to open their minds, and their budgets, to innovative entrepreneur gathering initiatives, especially with a storytelling component. Of course, I’m bias here, but I truthfully never imagined that Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs (KAE) and Entrepreneur Story Time events would become such an experience where entrepreneurs would not only connect with each other, but also learn from one another what local and other programs, people and resources helped, or didn’t help – a topic I now ask all KAE’s entrepreneur storytellers to address. Once KAE events started to get a little buzz, then ecosystem partners, like local city government officials and entrepreneur program-related personnel (actually, really fun people I’m now thrilled to know!) started showing up and joining in the fun and each event now not only feels a little like a party, but people are actually meeting and connecting in a way that doesn’t often happen in an office or a conference room. If local economic development offices were to put some of their time and $ behind efforts like this, I could see it as being transformational for disconnected entrepreneur ecosystems struggling to truly engage with their entrepreneur community and those who’d love to support them, but have no knowledge or means on how to connect with them. With ecosystem building generating a bit of a buzz these days, I’m over-the-moon with hope that city and community and other leaders will begin to see the value in innovative ecosystem building methods like storytelling to strengthen their communities while having a heck of a lot of fun.

What others are saying about Melanie

Melanie launched the Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe meetup group (in its 3rd year) and is pioneering the building of social capital and strong connections within an ecosystem through the medium of storytelling. Melanie invites diverse founders to tell their stories of triumph and hardship as entrepreneurs to a crowd that is interested in hearing an interesting story and who later become engaged as participants in the entrepreneurial journey of the presenter. It’s the perfect balance between ecosystem building, community engagement, and fun.

 

Related: Cultivate a Culture of Trust and Collaboration within our Field: ESHIP Goal 2

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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