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.

“Not everybody can do ecosystem building; it’s a talent that is developed through experience and education, connections and networking. It is a unique combination of skills and the right mindset.” This is what Kim Louis says about the magic formula behind effective ecosystem building.

But what do current entrepreneurial ecosystem builders say is missing in their toolbox? In the midst of supporting founders in their communities during a global pandemic, what do they wish they were more versed in? We asked the 40+ Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building which skills they would invest in to become even better at what they do. What we found through our research are three essential areas to foster the professional and personal development of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders:

  • Justifying and valuing their work: Building the business case for inclusive ecosystem building through fieldwide metrics 
  • Policy and collaboration with policy, academic and funding institutions
  • Hard skills training: Facilitation & leadership, more and better business support for entrepreneurs, organizational skills, work-life balance

The Business Case for inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem building

Lauren Mehler Pradhan

I wish I knew how to make a compelling case for ecosystem building for those that do not fully understand its potential. Many people will talk about the fact that a community needs a “unicorn” in order to get the ball rolling but I always counter that you need to create the conditions for a unicorn to flourish. An ecosystem of support, funding, education and opportunity is essential for businesses to scale but it is hard to articulate and quantify this to make the case compelling.

Melanie Lenci

Since this ecosystem building is relatively new to me (at least in terminology), I’d be thrilled to gain any knowledge from those who’ve been championing ecosystem building for years. I’m simply excited to be a part of this community and I’m looking forward to learning from other ecosystem builders how I might be able to better express my value as an ecosystem builder, because if I can do a better job at that I might be able to help spread the positivity even further.

Nia Richardson

I want others to obtain the knowledge and understanding of how to build more ecosystems for Black and Brown Entrepreneurs, or help remove barriers that prevent us from doing so. This can be done by creating ecosystems that support micro-enterprise businesses.

Adam Arredondo

I’d love to be able to speak to diversity and inclusion with a higher level of eloquence and confidence.

Kim Louis

I hope to gain more understanding of cultural differences and how they influence an entrepreneurs’ decisions.

Tom Chapman

I am still working on my diversity, equity, and inclusion game. I don’t feel uncomfortable with the conversations anymore (which might be a bad thing) but good, long-term solutions to creating more equity still seems like it is a long way off, that we try to fix the same problems with the same solutions rather than realizing that radical, innovative interventions are necessary. I don’t feel like I have much clarity around these interventions or how they might play out over ten or fifteen years.

Metrics & Data

An essential part in building this business case, we heard over and over again, is data to support the claims. Outside-the-box measurement and practical metrics are, in fact, needed across the board to better inform our work and support our communities, especially those that have historically been left behind: 


Gabe Munoz

I want to learn how you measure your entrepreneurial ecosystem. How should we interpret the data about our startup community, especially in immigrant communities and communities of color?

Denisse Rodriguez

I would like to know how to best measure and track entrepreneurship and economic development in a non-traditional way.

Mara Hardy

How to measure what’s happening on-the-ground and capture the network of relationships and connections between people. How to measure the impact of people collaborating. How to create metrics that give us a better understanding of the changes in the ecosystem and the impacts of programming and initiatives. How to move away from the traditional, static metrics of jobs created, capital investment dollars, number of companies that relocated, etc. And then sharing that story.

Beth McKeon

I am eager for the learnings that will surface when we network the entire industry around standardized language and data using The Fluency Score. Our support work will improve exponentially, and founders will be building better businesses.

Ellen Bateman

I would like to be able to collect better metrics on entrepreneurship trends that are happening across the U.S., so that I can seek out resources that directly correlate to those trends.

Christina Theodoraki

I wish I had access to several data from different cultural settings and understand how the ecosystem differs and evolves in different countries.

Building bridges among research, policy and funding institutions

Heather Metcalf

I’d love to learn more about what we can do to help establish ecosystem development as a field of research, policy work, and practice.

Zen Trenholm

Particularly now due to the COVID-19 recession, policy work has increasingly become a necessary part of how we respond to the economic crisis. In my work with cities, I have to be thinking about and helping shape federal and state policy support to make it easier for cities and towns to deploy employee ownership to save the businesses we can and provide access to work for those often barred from it. Even the term “policy” has so many facets: it doesn’t stop with passing a law. There’s advocacy, advising, drafting legislation, regulation, implementation, communication, assessment. And each city is different. So I am developing and would like to continue to develop a more sophisticated understanding about the life cycle of local policy.

Dan Heron

I would like to talk with other cities that heavily rely on city governance participation.

Paul Riser

I would like to gain a deeper understanding of the levers that can deliver change to entrepreneurial policy decisions from my own state to Washington DC. I think this will allow me to increase my value and ability to influence longer-term and deep systemic change that will impact our ecosystems, cities and country.

Carina Boston Pinales

I would like to learn more about community foundations and how to leverage or develop a localized currency.

Mel Lambert

I’d love to know more about applying for grants. I’ve spent a lot of time finding the right grants for people, but don’t know much about the application process myself. I think learning these skills would make me invaluable to other ecosystem builders and organizations, as I’d be able to help them work through the process along with finding the right fit.

Eric Parker

I would love to improve my work in getting investors to support pre-revenue ventures.

Hard skills

Dustin Shay

I’d like to understand how to build effective multi-year plans that inspire and engage both funders of my own organization (and/or myself!) and the community of founders, investors, and other ecosystem builders I work with.

Jacqueline Summers

How do you provide services and resources to people and businesses who, by virtue of their very process, have to be able to be so self-confident they buck and ignore some advice? How do you help without enabling? I want to be a better guide and mentor who provides a good roadmap for empowering self-discovery.

Clark Rinehart

I’d like to understand how to do a better job of creating business and social fabric in my community.

Taj Ahmad-Eldridge

I’d like to gain high level organizational skills to help create effective processes around ecosystem building. I do believe I’m a vision maker but visions without processes take longer to achieve or meet the shared goals.

Jeannette Balleza Collins

How to build more efficiencies in the way we deliver support to entrepreneurs.

Mark Lawrence

I would like to gain skills and knowledge across the seven goals in order to build a sustainable professional services practice that supports ecosystem building.

Beth Zimmer

Formal development opportunities around facilitation, communities of practice, and leadership are of interest.

Buddy Palmer

I’d like to be a more skilled collaborator.

David Jay

I want to deepen my facilitation practice, esp. around the ways that I model and hold space for vulnerability. I often feel like I’m performing it, and it sets the wrong tone. I’d love a space to work on that skill, and hone my presence.

Candice Matthew Brackeen

Because we are raising a fund, in addition to running our accelerator and a bootcamp series, I continue to struggle to find the appropriate amount of time to give each person or task that needs my attention. Everyday I try to juggle our work with companies in the ecosystem while also being a mom with 2 kids, and even with a supportive husband– balancing is hard. I could absolutely benefit from some more effective time management skills.

Looking ahead

As in any profession, ecosystem builders want and need to invest in professional development to be able to serve both their communities and the field itself. Based on the first edition of Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building, key areas for professional growth are”

  • Measuring and demonstrating the value of entrepreneurial ecosystem building (that goes beyond traditional economic development metrics)
  • Expanding understanding and deepening genuine co-creation with policy-makers, academia & research, and funders (foundations & investors)
  • Training in collaboration, facilitation and leadership techniques. 


For any ecosystem builder looking to expand their understanding and skillset, here are a few opportunities to get started:


For a full list of conferences and professional development opportunities, visit CO.STARTERS and Ecosystems Unite.

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