Note: This is part 1 of a 2 part series on ESHIP Goal 5. Part 1 focuses on practitioners. Part 2 will focus on academic researchers.
Practical Metrics and Methods (Practitioner Edition): Identify and develop better metrics and methods for ecosystem building.
In a nutshell: There are many metrics and methods in use in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, but they are not all widely adopted. In fact, many approaches are still emerging. Identifying effective practices for ecosystem building requires robust data, rigorous analysis, and room for experimentation. The ecosystem building process can be nonlinear and multidimensional, and there is a need for measurements that are responsive to complexity and change.
To advance metrics and methods for this field, we need more dialogue and stronger feedback loops between researchers and ecosystem builders. Collaborative research focused on developing the field of ecosystem building would allow the field to identify the principles and practices that are most effective for fostering successful entrepreneurship.
Voices from the field
We asked ecosystem builders why practical metrics and methods is important to them.
“I think that it is impossible to create change without knowing your current situation. I would say many ecosystem builders are aware that their place is “behind” but they don’t really know what that means. It is ephemeral and vague. Building a methodology for measuring your ecosystem is a way to start to express your values and your vision into practical measured outcomes and processes. Recently, I worked with a community that was struggling to explain what they thought success looked like in ten years to their funding organizations. I asked them to treat me like a funder. They described social improvement and positive outcomes – but nothing that was tangible. We spent a couple of hours drilling into each of these components – eventually creating five measurable outcomes with process measures to show improvement. This was them articulating their mission and vision and making it a real thing that they could imagine. Metrics do that. They take the vague to the substantive. They turn an ephemeral story into one with a plot and key characters.” – Tom Chapman
“The traditional economic development approach uses static and reactive metrics – the number of jobs created, capital investment dollars, and companies recruited – on an annual basis. While important, these metrics don’t show what’s really happening on the ground – they aren’t tied to a shared vision. For example, my EDO had “7 wins” (companies that relocated) in 2018, but only “1 win” in 2019. Does this mean we were less successful in 2019? NO! We rocked it in 2019, but our metrics don’t capture the true nature of our work.
The ecosystem model approaches metrics in a new way shifting the focus from the short-term to the long-term (20+ years). This is aligned with economic cycles and shows what’s been building over-time. Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins in Colorado didn’t happen overnight – a lot of smart people worked real hard for years in order to become these urban powerhouses.
And the ecosystem building metrics stem from the outcomes derived from the community. So, ideally, you can actually see if you are making progress or having an impact for the specific outcome your community identified. With tailored, specific outcomes, you can start to identify some of the levers to pull to have an impact. For example, if one of our outcomes is to have X% increase in women in leadership roles at tech companies, then a potential metric is to track how many women are enrolled in the university computer science program or how many women are employed at tech companies. Plus, our rural, western community has different goals than our urban neighbors – both great, but different. We each need unique metrics to achieve those diverse goals. Ecosystem metrics are dynamic, customized, proactive, and track the on-the-ground data to drive decisions.” – Mara Hardy
“Practical Methods and Metrics are essential to any replication efforts, whether from entrepreneur to entrepreneur, neighborhood to neighborhood, or city to city. We won’t know whether we’re making an impact and achieving any level of success in our efforts if we don’t first identify desired internal and external outcomes. From there, we should design backwards to ensure that we imbed appropriate methods for tracking those things we’ve determined are important for evaluating successes, shortfalls and areas for improvement. Our organization always sets benchmarks that are both quantitative and qualitative.
As a national community of ecosystem builders, we’re young in the work and we’re often racing to extend our impact. It’s imperative that we occasionally slow down to ensure intentional documenting of processes, methodologies and results. Otherwise, we risk wandering all over the map with only a vague sense of our ultimate destination.” Buddy Palmer
“Metrics can reflect the strengths and challenges of an ecosystem. The more metrics that we can collect about ecosystems the more we will be able to make informed decisions and provide targeted support as ecosystem builders.” Ellen Bateman
Goal 5 in the Field
We asked ecosystem builders who are working in the trenches and focusing on practical metrics and methods to share their experiences:
Mara Hardy’s Goal 5 Experiences
“I’m about to participate in the Startup Champion Network’s Ecosystem Health Challenge from April through June 2020. This is a cohort-based learning series that helps entrepreneurial ecosystem builders gain a better understanding of their ecosystem and how to measure community growth. Participants learn how to conduct a baseline study that inventories assets and identifies barriers and gaps, which includes identifying and surveying the network of entrepreneurs. They learn how to develop community goals and strategies to achieve those. It is led by Chapman & Co., a national leader in ecosystem development and evaluation. I’m excited!” – Mara Hardy
Buddy Palmer’s Goal 5 Experiences
“Six years ago, we became a licensee of the CO.STARTERS curriculum. It’s been an invaluable foundation and has given us a shared vocabulary and process for the way we work with small businesses. However, when we started, we felt that Birmingham was very young in its urban renewal and without a lot of the support mechanisms that we felt were needed to provide emerging entrepreneurs with the “leg up” they needed. That’s why we began to build a self-contained ecosystem that now has a menu of services for our program graduates: https://createbirmingham.org/programs/co-starters/postgrad/.
Last year, through a one-year grant from the City of Birmingham, we were able to take our five years of entrepreneur-building experience and pilot a neighborhood-based version of our work in under-resourced and under-invested communities. This was a focused effort to support our mayor’s goal of investing in women-and-minority-owned small businesses. We knew at the outset that this was a strategy for economic justice that we intended to pursue after the grant period ended. So, it was vitally important that we learn from the process, and we contracted with an independent evaluator to help us do that. The final report has been invaluable in terms of our continuing efforts and it received quite a bit of positive attention in City Hall. It can’t be found on our website, but we’re happy to share it with our national community of ecosystem builders.
By the way, we also used the grant opportunity to be certain that our contracted team of program designers and managers were inclusive and reflective of the communities in which we were working. And they were all alumni of our CO.STARTERS program.” – Buddy Palmer
Tom Chapman’s Goal 5 Experiences
“We have done work in more than twenty states at this point. But, today, I am working on three projects that I am excited about because they have real reach and impact:
- We are preparing to launch a regional entrepreneurship, ecosystem builder, and tech blog across fifteen states in the Midwest. It is called mug.news. Unlike the coasts where tech blogs exist, the Midwest has a relative dearth that covers more than a single community. We think that this will have a significant impact for each community covered – not just Omaha or Lincoln.
- We are continuing to work with the Startup Champions Network as a partner organization to teach ecosystem health challenge courses that focus on how to understand metrics, build your own, and tell stories with these metrics. We are in the process of teaching our second cohort. The third launches in October. In general, this work is meaningful to us, but I think it is a good example of how and why the Startup Champions Network is a critical organization for our country. As a Champion, we bring our very best expertise to the table and share these elements to ensure that multiple communities learn best practices from actual builders.
- In Council Bluffs, Iowa, we have been working with Advance Southwest Iowa and a variety of other partners to build an ecosystem from the ground up. One really interesting element of that project is a program that we are developing with the Gallup Organization. My friends, Sangeeta Badal and Todd Johnson, have built what I consider to be the very best identification tool for finding entrepreneurs in the world. So, we are planning to deploy it inside of schools across Western Iowa to find highly talented individual entrepreneurs and accelerate their growth to help propel CB onward.” – Tom Chapman
Beth McKeon’s Goal 5 Experiences
“The Fluency Score’s objective – standardized data – will redesign the system of capital and resource allocation in the startup industry in more equitable ways. The InBIA has commissioned The Fluency Score for a large-scale program offering the data for free for over two dozen qualifying startup accelerators. You can learn more here.” – Beth McKeon
Ellen Bateman’s Goal 5 Experiences
“Through our network of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) USA State Coordinators and Community Organizers, we have fostered a network of collaborators where they can share best practices and learn from their peers. Additionally, at the end of each GEW we ask that State Coordinators and Community Organizers fill out a survey so that we can gain metrics from each participating community. We are interested in the demographics of participants who participated in activities, the type of activities that were successful in engaging participants, were any VIPs or policymakers engaged, etc. This information helps inform the global campaign for the following year.” – Ellen Bateman
Learn more & connect
Mara would love to connect with anyone who has experience in this area! “The real community case studies are super valuable. I’d love to learn about how communities are getting creative with their metrics.”
“We decided against posting our findings on our website, www.createbirmingham.org, because we thought the document was too research-y for general interest. However, we welcome the opportunity to share it within the community of ecosystem builders in hopes that it might provide our national colleagues with insights and inspiration for their good work elsewhere.Anyone is welcome to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org or our Programs Director, Jessica Moody, email@example.com.” Buddy
Connect with Beth McKeon and her team at https://fluencyscore.com.
Ellen’s team at Global Entrepreneurship Week is always looking for ecosystem builders across the U.S. to share their knowledge with our network and serve as leaders during GEW. If you’re interested in joining their national network of GEW USA State Coordinators and Community Organizers and hosting a GEW campaign, follow the links to apply!
Tom Chapman invites you to learn more: “If I was reading this and not already a member, I would join the Startup Champions Network – http://www.startupchampions.co/apply. This is the premier organization in the country for ecosystem builders. And if you want to know more about me and my work, my firm’s website (https://www.chapmanandcompany.co/) has a number of case studies and a weekly blog entry talking about things that we have stumbled upon (. https://www.chapmanandcompany.co/blog). We write a lot about ecosystem building and the components in our methodology.”