Like hundreds of other ecosystem builders returning home from the third annual Kauffman Foundation ESHIP Summit, I’m still processing the experience of the past 3 days. This was my second summit and like the first, I’m coming away from the experience with a mix of exhaustion and renewed dedication to continue the work of ecosystem building in my community and within the field of ecosystem building.

ESHIP Summits are unlike most conferences. Rather than a passive experience of sitting and listening to keynotes, the ESHIP Summit is an active experience of mass collaboration. While there are sessions of sitting and listening, these are designed as “Firestarters” to spark and ignite ideas leading into more active, participatory sessions where attendees take part in collectively defining and advancing the nascent field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building. The intent is to bring together ecosystem builders with diverse perspectives from all over to collectively advance the field of ecosystem building in a 2 ½ days of mass collaboration.

Though I’m still mentally unpacking the past 3 days, as I’m sure all other attendees are, the prevailing feeling coming away from the event is a sense of community from working with 450 ecosystem builder peers. For many, I’m sure the Summit was a fountain of useful information, tips, and ideas to take back home to their communities. For me, ESHIP was more about connecting with the vast and diverse network of ecosystem builders and feeling a renewed energy and optimism around doing the work of ecosystem building. Maybe that’s why I’m most drawn to Goal 4 (Connected Networks) of the ESHIP Goals. As I sit in the airport waiting for a return flight home (after multiple headaches of missed flight connections and unplanned overnight stays), reflecting on the last few days, several memories emerge.

Welcome Reception at Union Station

The first official day of the Summit began with the Summit Kick-off and Welcome Reception at Union Station. I arrived late, coming straight from my flight, exhausted from two days of flight delays, airports, and airplanes. The feeling of energy, excitement, and anticipation at the reception was just what I needed to renew my enthusiasm after the frustrations of air travel.

Opening Plenary Session
The opening plenary session on Wednesday morning was an affirming, re-energizing session as well with Wendy Guillies, Andy Stoll, and Victor Hwang from the Kauffman Foundation reminding us all of the importance, impact, and value of what we do.

Dell Gines and the Four Waves of Economic Development
Dell Gines from the Kansas City Federal Reserve shared a wealth of knowledge about how ecosystem building is the new economic development.

Startup Champions Network Ecosystem Builder Game of Life
As one of several National Resource Partners (NRPs) for the event, Startup Champions Network’s session during the NRP Showcase featured a life-size game of Life board game – Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builder Life.


Reconnecting with Old EB Friends
It was great to connect in person with fellow ecosystem builders that I met at last year’s summit as well as my fellow “ESHIP Champions” who I’ve been working with since last August. It’s always great to connect with these fantastic, talented, smart people in person.

Meeting New Ecosystem Builders
In addition to old friends it’s great to meet new ecosystem builders and hear their stories and experiences. Regardless of whether it’s a new friend or old, the generosity of others in sharing their knowledge, experience, and insights is remarkable. I’m grateful to those who took time out of an already busy agenda to chat with me: Juan Garzon, Keith Luedeman, and Igor Gorlatov about their mentor network program in Charlotte; Ted Baker about his pitch competition in Muncie; and Mark Lawrence about his program driving inclusive opportunities for entrepreneurship and economic development and social change in underserved communities.

Mass Collaboration Choir
The Kauffman team and event coordinators of Value Web and Wellington always seem to find unique, fun, and inspiring ways to activate and energize attendees. I’m guessing the closing of Wednesday’s session will likely be the most memorable experience for most attendees. Greg Delson, from the LANDLIGHTS Center for Voice united the crowd in a massive choir lesson, learning to sing. This culminated in a rousing rendition of the Beatle’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ featuring hundreds of ecosystem builders in an exercise of mass collaboration.

MixTroz Interview
Thursday morning’s Firestarter featured Startup Champion Network’s Jennifer Skjellum interviewing two amazing black women founders. Ashlee Ammons and Kerry Schrader are the mother and daughter co-founder team of Mixtroz who have created a cool app and platform to increase engagement at events & collect data in real-time.

Diversity of Audience
One of the ESHIP Goals is to ensure ecosystem builders with diverse perspectives lead our field (Goal 1). Scanning the audience it’s obvious that this isn’t just talk for the Kauffman Foundation. Though there is still room to improve, the mix of ecosystem builders at ESHIP is refreshingly diverse in terms of race and gender. Despite this diversity, it is remarkable that all in attendance have in common a passion and conviction about entrepreneurial ecosystem building and a drive to empower entrepreneurs – the makers, the doers, the dreamers.

Mass Collaboration
A recurring theme from the Kauffman Foundation ESHIP team is “mass collaboration.” The principle infuses all aspects of ESHIP work. It was in evidence during the ‘choir session’ Wednesday afternoon and culminated Thursday afternoon as hundreds of ecosystem builders voted on initiatives and committed to work on delivering the initiatives that have emerged over the last two years of the discovery and design phases.

The Creative Environment
At its core, the ESHIP Summit is a creative convening – people coming together to create and build the field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Working together to create something new is always enhanced by the environment in which we do the work. Once again, the organizers at Kauffman, Value Web, and Wellington created an environment and experience that facilitated and amplified the creativity of those attending.

This is but one perspective of ESHIP. Hundreds of narrative threads were woven over the course of a few days, creating a tapestry of ecosystem building stories. I invite others who attended to write and share their experience and I hope I’m able to find and aggregate those stories here.

Everyone has a unique lens through which they experienced the summit. What was your experience? I invite you to share it, in whatever form and forum that you’re comfortable with. Together, let’s keep the ESHIP fire burning through digital channels, sharing our collective stories.

Jeff Bennett

Founder and Editorial Director at Ecosystem Builder Hub. Former/retired co-founder and President at StartupSac. Semi-retired ecosystem building writer.