Entrepreneurship ecosystem building has been steadily gaining traction as an approach to grow and revitalize economies and grow stronger, more equitable communities. It’s a systems approach to growing and nurturing entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses.
Entrepreneurship and small business development and growth are vital to local, regional and national economies. Entrepreneurship is a key driver of job creation, economic diversification and improving local quality of life. It is a tool for poverty reduction, reducing economic disparity, and creating a positive sense of community.
If you’re new to the concept of entrepreneurship ecosystem building and just starting out you may have questions about what ecosystem building is, why do it, and how to go about it.
What is Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Building
The field of entrepreneurship ecosystem building is young. Though there are still differing definitions, at its core it’s the activity of building and nurturing a community and ecosystem around supporting entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy — a grow your own approach.
Dell Gines, a top thought-leader in entrepreneurship ecosystem building, wrote an early guide for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In the guide, Grow Your Own: Entrepreneurship-based Economic Development for Local Communities, Gines summarizes the ‘grow your own’ strategy that is entrepreneurship ecosystem building. “Grow your own economic development strategies place the primary emphasis on the creation and support of local entrepreneurs and small businesses to achieve development goals within a defined geographic region.”
Gines continues, “Grow your own strategies create economic growth by focusing on developing local entrepreneurship and supporting local business growth. These strategies leverage the entrepreneurial potential of the existing population by connecting them to resources, networks and opportunities that increase new startups and enhance existing business growth.”
Why Ecosystem Building?
The traditional economic development strategy of attracting large corporations in the hopes of attracting a large influx of jobs is insufficient to grow the region’s economy. In fact, research shows that entrepreneurs and young companies are the key drivers of economic growth, and that entrepreneurship is vital to job creation and economic progress. Research shows that new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation.
Entrepreneurship is important for a city or region’s economic development for a number of reasons. As Gines wrote, “Communities seeking to grow their economy need to understand the impact entrepreneurship and small business play in economic growth… Entrepreneurship is a key driver of job creation, economic diversification and improving local quality of life.”
Jobs are usually the key metric cited when trying to attract businesses to a city. But, entrepreneurs create new jobs. When a new business is started, it creates new jobs for both the entrepreneur and for others who are hired to help run the business. Additionally, entrepreneurs often start businesses in industries that are new to the city, which can lead to the creation of even more jobs.
Entrepreneurship also drives innovation. When entrepreneurs start new businesses, they are often trying to solve a problem or meet a need that is not being met by existing businesses. This can lead to the development of new products, services, or technologies that can benefit the entire city.
Entrepreneurs attract investment. When entrepreneurs start new businesses, they often need to raise money from investors. This can bring new money into the city, which can be used to start other businesses or to support existing businesses.
From a cultural perspective, entrepreneurs create a culture of innovation and risk-taking. When entrepreneurs are successful, they inspire others to start their own businesses. This can create a virtuous cycle of entrepreneurship and economic growth.
Finally, entrepreneurs can help to diversify a city’s economy. When entrepreneurs start businesses in new industries, it can help to reduce the city’s reliance on a single industry or sector. This can make the city’s economy more resilient to shocks and downturns.
So, entrepreneurship creates new jobs, drives innovation, attracts investment, creates a culture of innovation and risk-taking, and can help to diversify the city’s economy. What’s not to like?
To help grow entrepreneurship in a city or region some people take on the role of cultivating, helping, and fostering entrepreneurs. These people have come to be known as entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, or, just ecosystem builders.
What is an Ecosystem Builder?
If entrepreneurship is the life blood of the economy, ecosystem builders are the circulatory system, the arteries and veins that facilitate the flow of ideas, resources, connections, and collaborations in entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Ecosystem builders are the people who facilitate and catalyze the flow of talent, information, and resources in an entrepreneurship community by focusing their work on building a system of support and resources for entrepreneurs in their communities or industries.
What Do Ecosystem Builders Do?
Ecosystem builders can be found working in a wide variety of disciplines and fields. They might work in local, state or federal government, a university, an economic development agency, a chamber of commerce, a small non-profit organization, a large corporation, or more directly in some kind of entrepreneurial support organization. Ecosystem builder might be part of their job title or job description, but often it is not.
A vital role that ecosystem builders play in entrepreneurial ecosystems is as a connector, convener, and a concierge of resources in their communities. Ecosystem builders foster conversations, connect the community, and tell its story. They celebrate entrepreneurs. They champion them, connect them, provide resources and direct them to other resources. They provide access points to the ecosystem so that anyone can participate and intersections for the serendipitous connections.
Ecosystem builders run accelerators, incubators, and other educational programs to teach entrepreneurs necessary skills. They run co-working spaces where entrepreneurs and their teams can work. They organize events like pitch competitions, demo days, office hours, and happy hours, where entrepreneurs can showcase their businesses and make connections. They organize and facilitate mentor networks to connect entrepreneurs to experienced professionals. They publish resources and directories where entrepreneurs can find what they need. They are the very fabric that connects entrepreneurial communities.
How to Get Started as an Ecosystem Builder
There are many on-ramps to becoming an ecosystem builder. It’s a new and emerging field, so there is no defined curriculum or path, but here are some ideas for how to get started in the field of ecosystem building.
Cultivate the Right Mindset
There’s more to being an ecosystem builder than a job title and supporting entrepreneurs. Really impactful ecosystem builders have a different approach, a mindset that sets them apart. There is a mindset, an approach that many ecosystem builders admire and respect the most in their peers. These are people that may not even have anything in their job description about ecosystem building or supporting entrepreneurs but they do the work because it is a calling, a mission, a higher purpose.
So the first steps in becoming an impactful ecosystem builder are actually mental. Effective ecosystem builders need to have a certain mindset. Cultivating the right mindset means continually assessing and nourishing your motivations and approach to make sure you’re in it for the right reasons.
A core mindset shared by ecosystem builders is the idea that entrepreneurship ecosystem building is the way to transform communities and economies. If you don’t fundamentally believe in the power of entrepreneurship, it’s unlikely that you will last long in the field, and other ecosystem builders will see your motivations as a charade.
Most communities have people and organizations that help entrepreneurs in some way, often by providing services that entrepreneurs and small businesses need. But there is a distinction between entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) and ecosystem builders. Ecosystem builders take a systems thinking approach to helping and supporting entrepreneurs, thinking about the impact of their work on the entire network of people, programs, and resources in the community — looking at the gaps and creating new resources to fill those gaps.
The best ecosystem builders do the work for the greater good. It’s not about them – not ‘egosystem building.’ In the soul of an ecosystem builder lives a servant leader working for systems change.
Once you have the right mindset there are a host of resources to learn from and ways to plug into the field of ecosystem builders. Check out the resources listed below to get started.
Research and Learn
Books – Specific To Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building
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The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway
The Rainforest Blueprint: How to Design Your Own Silicon Valley: Unleash an Ecosystem of Innovation in Your Company, Organization, or HometownThe Rainforest Blueprint by Victor Hwang
The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt
Beyond Collisions: How to build your entrepreneurial infrastructure (Changing the Economy) (Volume 1) Maria Meyer & Kate Hodel / Sourcelink
Other Websites and Podcasts – Specific To Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building
Courses and Certifications – Specific To Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building
Articles and Papers – Specific To Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building
Plug into the Field of Ecosystem Builders