This post is part of a series featuring highlights from the Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building campaign which shone a spotlight on 40+ entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from around the U.S. and abroad between February and September 2020.

What motivates individuals with a passion for entrepreneurship to set aside time every month, every week – and sometimes even every day – to invest in the invisible infrastructure of their local ecosystem? What is the driving force in their heads and hearts that leads to countless meetings over coffee, office hours, introductions and referrals among actors in the ecosystem who otherwise would not have met? Ecosystem builders are deeply invested in their communities and face a variety of challenges and frustrations; yet they remain committed to serving entrepreneurs in their communities.

As part of the Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building campaign, we interviewed more than 40 entrepreneurial ecosystem builders predominantly in the U.S. As part of that conversation, we wanted to know What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

The spectrum of motivations covers

  • Human potential of ALL entrepreneurs (fostering more diversity, equity & inclusion) and ecosystem builders (because the sum is greater than its parts)
  • Support for local communities
  • Long-term change on a systemic level.

Equity and Inclusion

Every Unsung Hero mentioned the need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion as we heal, build and nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems. For some, it is not only the very foundation for but the driving force behind their work:

Heather Metcalf

Knowing that there are incredibly talented, skilled entrepreneurs who are addressing grand challenges facing our world who go overlooked simply because of the social groups they belong to. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who have been ignored and excluded for years make a huge difference in the world through viable businesses once someone has been willing to give them a chance.

Gabe Munoz

I grew up in a family-owned business and experienced firsthand the joys of entrepreneurship but also the lows. My dad, who is an immigrant and had a 6th grade education, didn’t know where to go for help and was also too shy to seek help. He eventually ended up having to close his business after 12 years. This is what motivates me to be an ecosystem builder.

Candice Matthew Brackeen

In my former role as the founder and CEO of Hello Parent, I struggled to find and learn from other startup founders in the Cincinnati ecosystem who were experiencing some of the same issues that I was going through. Being tasked to tackle everything from fundraising, to scaling, to managing your own mental health is quite taxing, and you’re often alone. This is particularly true for women of color– so I understood that the journey to startup success for me was going to look very different than for some of my peers– and that we needed to create a real community of support and resources intended to service my demographic. This motivated me to first create the Black Founders Network, which led to the creation of the Minority Entrepreneurial Connectivity Assessment report, which catalyzed the creation of the Hillman Accelerator.

Taj Ahmad-Eldridge

While talent is universal, opportunity is not – my purpose is to change that.

Steven Rodriguez

What motivates me is the opportunity to break down barriers to wealth generation for all.

Unlocking human potential 

What gets many ecosystem builders out of bed in the morning is their unique ability to uncover human potential in their communities. In the various roles and official titles they hold, their key contribution is to tap into the talents and gifts of different members in their communities and to connect them with the right resources, insights and connections to create value for the entire community. 

Denisse Rodriguez

What motivates me as an ecosystem builder is seeing entrepreneurs grow, seeing them fulfill their dreams, seeing them give back to their communities.

Eric Renz-Whitmore

Seeing potential entrepreneurs find the help and resources they need to move forward and grow; getting the sense that our communities/ecosystems are becoming healthier and providing better support for entrepreneurs, and seeing strategies I’ve had a hand in pay off are all motivational!

Carina Boston Pinales

I am motivated by the unlimited potential that is created by people working from a place of pure passion and purpose. With that said, I fully understand that full potential cannot be reached if basic needs are not met. Providing resources and reinforcements through a sustainable and inclusive community to ensure foundational/basic needs are met is the primary need to launch and continue to build and maintain a successful ecosystem. Once this is established, the possibilities are endless and THIS motivates me like nothing else! The magic of human potential and purposeful collaboration is inspiring.

Kim Louis

I am passionate about seeing people achieve what they are on earth to do!

Jacqueline Summers

What motivates me is the creative power and energy involved in trying to make things better.

Jacob Miller

I always see potential for growth. Whether it’s in other people or the way things are done, if I don’t take action to help make a positive impact, who will? The best time to see change happen is by starting today and being committed to those efforts. There is no other way.

Ellen Bateman

Entrepreneurs are brave, risk-takers who are creating products and services that can impact our lives. As an Ecosystem Builder, if I can provide a resource, connection, or work towards reducing a barrier that can help them on their entrepreneurial journey, that motivates me to make more connections, and grow a network of resources that can be impactful for entrepreneurs.

Melanie Lenci

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.

Norris Krueger

Now more than ever, my main motivation is not letting down the entrepreneurs. We are living through the biggest body blow to new and small firms in a century and we know that innovative new and small firms will lead us out… and we still dither too much. I dither too much. Time to show up and show out! We have made progress in growing more innovative, entrepreneurial economies and the potential to do so much more is painfully – and delightfully – visible!

Christina Theodoraki

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. Further, I try to communicate all these findings to other ecosystem builders and stakeholders. Finally, we should act today to build 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.

The sum is greater than its parts

It’s not just entrepreneurs themselves who motivate these system architects and tinkerers. “Entrepreneurial ecosystems, at their heart, are based on human relationships.” (Kauffman ESHIP playbook 3.0) And these relationships expand beyond entrepreneurs.

Mel Lambert 

The people. Not just the entrepreneurs who are excited about their adventures, but the other ecosystem builders who are energized and coming up with new ideas for their communities.

Mark Lawrence

The thing that motivates me the most as an ecosystem builder is the opportunity to inspire and support the next generation of creators, innovators and entrepreneurs and give them the tools and platform to transform their communities.

Beth Zimmer

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.

Paul Riser

I’ve been fortunate to have realized the joy, impact and reward of giving back to my community programmatically, systemically and intentionally since the age of 18 when my friends and I created a non-profit to work with youth, provide scholarships and deliver entrepreneurial programming to students. A fire was sparked, albeit I didn’t realize it until a bit later, inside of me that still burns and remains strong because of the enjoyment and satisfaction that I embrace within collaboration, helping others realize their goals, building programs and achieving milestones that will leave a legacy – far beyond my tenure and position.

Local flavor

Not surprisingly, many ecosystem builders see entrepreneurship as a driving force for progress and innovation in their cities or region. 

Jordan Walbesser

It’s in my nature. I like to help people. I know that we have world-class talent and ideas here in Buffalo and I want to enable the community to reach for their dreams and aspirations.

Buddy Palmer

I work for an economic development agency focused on creative industries. I’m energized by the talents, passion and resourcefulness of the artists, designers, makers, film and kitchen crews, and other contributors to Greater Birmingham’s authentic local flavor.

Tom Chapman

I believe that entrepreneurship is the key to long-term systemic change in Omaha, Nebraska, and the United States.

Zen Trenholm

I am motivated by the vision and commitment of the local public servants and private sector champions who are SEED Fellows. Every day I work with cities and communities who care deeply about the widening racial wealth gap, the closure of their small businesses, and the need for stable income and asset creation opportunities specifically for people of color, recent immigrants, and low-­wage workforces. I believe cities can play a vital role in creating conditions for equitable and shared prosperity and so I get to help equip them with the tools, resources, and partnerships to make this possible. I love seeing the pieces come together… With the economy as it is and a long road towards recovery ahead of us, I’m inspired by how our cities and communities are working to equitably rebuild and I’m honored to be walking that road with them.

Henry Rael

My ancestors in New Mexico survived and persisted through cooperation, a concept that can enable a new, more inclusive economy. I can’t think of any other way.

Building community to foster long-term change

Many ecosystem builders embrace the notion that community is at the very heart of an entrepreneurial ecosystem which became evident when we talked about their motivation for this work:

Adam Arredondo

I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit is the biggest driver of progress and change. Without it, we become controlled by our circumstances. To me, ecosystem building is about cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit of a community which builds energy, creates hope, and drives prosperity.

Lauren Pehler Pradhan

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.

Nia Richardson

Knowing that I am not simply giving someone a “fish”, but I am giving them the resources they need to learn how to fish, so they can obtain the tools to build a SHIP (Entrepreneurship). I help people build ships for the rising tide.

Vince Schutt

I am motivated by helping our society transition into the future – into a world where we have succeeded in our desire to resolve the pressures of climate change. Core among the way I work is democratizing power structures.

Mara Hardy

I’m motivated by the challenge of ecosystem building – it is a never-ending quest. The world is constantly changing, and so these ecosystems evolve, grow, and adapt, bringing new opportunities and challenges. Thus, the work is never complete. As an ecosystem builder, you will never be done, never “solve it,” never do all there is to do. I’m not motivated by instant gratification, but rather by something way out there in the distance that will only reveal itself after a long, unknown journey.

Eric Parker

The internet with all of its promise to connect us through our voices has in fact created vast socio-economic distances between people, communities, and nations. Major innovation hubs have drained the human and capital resources from the communities on the periphery of their network. We are living in a time of immense division because our communities have been divided from one another. However the development of civilization has always followed the network models of trade between people; from river deltas, to seaports, to rail, highway, and airport hubs. We have an opportunity to adopt a new infrastructure, modeled on the mesh network of the internet itself where we each become collaborative nodes that support one another.

Beth McKeon

It’s accepted in Silicon Valley that 9 out of ten startups will fail. That’s the gamble. In the rest of the country, that gamble is unacceptable. That’s nine teams of people without a job. That’s economic devastation. When we do our work better, when we ground ourselves in data, when we iterate and develop this field, we can (and must) flip the script so that 9 out of ten startups succeed. I am motivated to help founders build better businesses, by figuring out product-market fit in fast and focused ways.

Looking Ahead

As entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, what gets us out of bed in the morning is to contribute to a future for our communities that does not yet exist. With an eye toward long-term systemic change, ecosystem builders across the US are motivated by possibility, progress and change toward a more equitable status quo that enhances the wellbeing, wealth and access to opportunity for the entrepreneurs we serve.  

As the world has changed dramatically in 2020, many of the interviewees embrace the uncertainty and the possibility that comes with change. We are comfortable knowing that our work constantly evolves, because we keep the wellbeing of our local communities and the potential of each individual we encounter at the front and center of our efforts.


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 and