In a nutshell: As practitioners of ecosystem builders, we are developing a new profession.

In this endeavor, many of us are creating new concepts and vocabulary and discovering new applications and possibilities for our work. While we share similar aspirations to help entrepreneurs, we often find collaboration with each other challenging because our desired outcomes and our terminologies are nuanced and different. Even key terms, such as “entrepreneur,” “early-stage,” “small business,” and “ecosystem building,” have different meanings for different people and organizations within our field.

Strong collaboration will require alignment on our desired outcomes for ecosystem building and a common terminology for this work. We must build consensus on these cornerstones of our profession to facilitate communication and collaboration within the field and make ecosystem building practices more accessible to the broader community.

Voices from the field

“Quote: Where there is no vision the people perish.
– Proverbs 29:18

Ecosystem building starts with a dream, a vision of making things better and connecting things and people with resources that can make things better. Sharing this ecosystem building vision with your internal and external stakeholders is only part of the process in the building. We spent the first 8 or so years building Playbook Investors Network (PIN), the platform and sharing our vision with corporations and organizations whose goals for social impact are the same. We’ve built relationships with local, regional, national, and global organizations that are in the business of fostering the economic growth of diverse-owned businesses whereby creating stronger communities through job creation, legacy building, and access to capital. In this, we have established shared outcomes and a common language, or lexicon for our work.” Rodney Woods

“The shared vision is extremely valuable – it’s the guiding force for decision-making. It provides a framework to evaluate each decision. ‘Does this action help us achieve our vision? If so, to what extent and how?’ But, it’s also the inspiration that keeps you motivated when things are messy. When you are deep in it, can’t tell which way is up, and the work feels hard, the vision can give you energy to keep grinding. It can light the fire again!” Mara Hardy

“Language matters. A community cannot exist without a shared language. For startups, it’s important that entrepreneurs can speak clearly and effectively with the community, including potential partners and funding sources. Shared language allows us to effectively communicate shared outcomes for the communities. In this way, leaders can focus on effective and concrete outcomes (exits, wealth generation, job creation) instead of nebulous inputs (increasing entrepreneurship, promoting startup culture, etc.)” Jordan Walbesser

Goal 3 in the field

“I try to work behind the scenes to teach my community how to speak in that shared language. I educate entrepreneurs and students about intellectual property law and corporate law. For example, I recently launched an IP component to the University at Buffalo Entrepreneurship Law Clinic. In the clinic, I work with startups and entrepreneurs to develop IP strategies as well as teaching young lawyers how to interact with entrepreneurs. I have also worked with undergraduate students in Buffalo through lectures on engineering ethics, professionalism, entrepreneurship, design processes and methods, as well as e-commerce systems and technologies. I stay active in the Buffalo Startup Community despite having a demanding full-time job as in-house counsel for Mattel.” Jordan Walbesser

“Access to capital is the primary reason why diverse-owned businesses can not scale and grow. Playbook Investors Network’s platform allows us to evaluate and scrub each business before introducing them to third-party financial service providers. Our initial five-state launch will reach thousands of diverse-owned businesses within the next 90 days and we anticipate introducing PIN to the remaining states by the end of December 2020.” Rodney Woods

“There’s been a ton of growth over the past two years in the Grand Valley and our community is rapidly changing. We are seeing positive economic numbers, as well as an influx of talented people moving into the community. Businesses are growing, new community projects are popping up, and entrepreneurs are showing up with new ideas.

But, our ecosystem has room for improvement to capitalize on this opportunity and support the entrepreneurial community as best we can. So, I am one of many partners in an exciting, regional project. We are creating a single stop that will serve as the “front door” for the entrepreneurial community and provide the right tools, resources, and human connections necessary to start, grow, and scale businesses on the western slope. We are applying for grant funding for the project now.

The first phase of the project is to bring our partners together to establish our shared vision and common outcomes. We are all coming to the table with our own hopes, wants, and needs. Maybe even some fear and cynicism. This step is key because it helps us understand where each partner stands – what they see for the future, what risks they are worried about, what things make them feel vulnerable, what things motivate them, etc. If we frame and execute it well, the common vision will be so much more powerful because we tapped into the collective spirit of our community.” Mara Hardy

What’s next?

Mara Hardy says: “At this point, we are in the project development phase, so any resources or advice about how to build an entrepreneurial hub/innovation center would be appreciated!”

Jordan Walbesser shares: “I’m working with leaders in the community to create a non-profit organization that can act as a central repository for Buffalo startup knowledge and resources. The goal is to act as a central point of contact for charitable donations and events as well as provide space for startups in-between Series A and B rounds.”

Learn more & connect

Visit Playbook Investors Network at

If you’re interested in what Buffalo is doing as a startup community, check out their slack at

Find out what Mara is up to at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership! Follow along via Twitter and Facebook!

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