Goal 7 Sustainable Work: Develop professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders
In a nutshell: Entrepreneurial ecosystem building requires perseverance. The work is arduous and often ambiguous, and it can take 20 years to see concrete results. Many practitioners – including grassroots organizers and change agents within large institutions – operate without adequate training, funding, or recognition of their work as a professional endeavor. In this void, they must often rely on their instincts, personal support systems, and ad hoc revenue streams. While dedication powers many of them to continue, practitioners across the field are burning out.
To sustain the work of ecosystem building, we must equip our practitioners for the long haul with a professional job description, training programs, ongoing peer support, and sustainable funding models. Together, we can ensure that ecosystem builders from all types of organizations have the professional recognition and resources they need to nurture this work and give it the time it requires to achieve results.
Voices from the field
We asked ecosystem builders why developing professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders is important to them.
Mark Lawrence, Managing Partner, Inncuvate, Washington D.C. Metro Area
“Goal 7, specifically 7.1 Sustainable Funding Models, matters to me because generating revenue and funding for ecosystems building activities is a key to helping me build and grow Inncuvate. I come to this work from spending over 17 years in Big 4 management consulting leadership roles and my hypothesis is that there is a space for a professional services firm with ecosystem building as it’s core service offering that can help grow the field and deliver on multiple projects across the country, if not the globe. My trial and error experience shows that funding for ecosystem building projects (outside of those that are grant funded and tied to real estate development activities) are very inconsistent and need a repeatable pricing and profitability model for more to be able to sustain and feed themselves to continue to do this great work.”
Eric Parker, Founder and President, theClubhou.se, Augusta, GA
“Ecosystem Builders need a sustainable business model. The vast majority of the people we support cannot afford services. Investors don’t understand the value of financially supporting the entities that provide them with deal flow, and foundations pit each of us in competition with one another for a limited pool of resources.”
Kim Louis, Westmoreland County Project Manager for Forward Cities, Pittsburgh, PA,
“I think that people’s time is valuable. I’m happy to have a conversation with anybody to connect them to whatever resources I have access to. However, my time is valuable and if I give you an hour of conversation out of my expertise, that means it’s not just the time investment; behind that time stands 25 years of experience, a college education (that I’m still paying for) and a family that I support. And that family includes my children who I am trying to give a sustainable future to.
I’ll help anybody who has a need, but for the first time in my life, Forward Cities recognized that my time is valuable and that my expertise was worth investing in and supporting financially. I have built ecosystems my entire professional career, but Forward Cities is the first organization that paid me to do it.
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. If I pay a chef to cook me a spaghetti dinner and I pay teachers to teach, you need to pay an ecosystem builder to do THEIR work.”
Mel Lambert, Director of Adult & Community Services at Kirkwood Public Library, St. Louis, MO
“This work is important, not only because it keeps the economy moving, but because it provides a safe space for all entrepreneurs. This was the first place I heard talk about inclusivity and diversity in a way that mattered, that pushed for inclusion and highlighted diverse entrepreneurs and their work. Not just identifying it as a need, but also showing diversity’s value to the ecosystem. It’s time people started recognizing the work that goes into this type of profession, and how important it is to building up communities.”
Goal 7 in the field
The Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem in south Virginia recognized the need for an ecosystem coordinator and rallied their stakeholders to hire the first entrepreneurial ecosystem builder for the region. Read the case study here.
We asked ecosystem builders who are working in the trenches and focusing on developing professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders to share their experiences.
Mel Lambert’s Experiences
“My main goal in moving Sustainable Work forward is showing the value to other libraries, and how they can help keep their ecosystem builders going forward by providing them with data. With doing that, the side goal is also showing libraries how they can make this work sustainable by hiring people who have the skills to help entrepreneurs and workforce development. Libraries and ecosystem builders should be working together, all the time. I’d love to see different libraries get grant money to support things like an Ecosystem Builder in residence – who can help build up the profession, while also providing much needed guidance to the communities we serve.”
Mel Lambert explains, “As a librarian, I’ve been very vocal about how libraries are a great space to build resources for ecosystem builders. I’ve helped different chambers in the St. Louis region find data for their groups, done some work for the NCRD (National Center for Resource Development) – helping them put together lists of resources and contacts, helped Startup Champions Network search for grants, and worked with different entrepreneur support organizations in St. Louis connect with each other and other resources the library may have available to them.
I’m a board member and Program Director of the BALSA Foundation which provides grants and resources to first-time entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area. I’ve helped many of the entrepreneurs in this organization pull together resources for their business plans, and met with some of the other presenters to help them figure out what information they need to succeed, and what data we can help them find.
I’m also a mentor for WePower – helping their entrepreneurs connect with resources and other organizations who may be able to help them.
My main goal in moving Sustainable Work forward is showing the value to other libraries, and how they can help keep their ecosystem builders going forward by providing them with data. With doing that, the side goal is also showing libraries how they can make this work sustainable by hiring people who have the skills to help entrepreneurs and workforce development. Libraries and ecosystem builders should be working together, all the time. I’d love to see different libraries get grant money to support things like an Ecosystem Builder in residence – who can help build up the profession, while also providing much needed guidance to the communities we serve.”
Kim Louis’ Experiences
“I live in New Kensington, a micropolitan which is a city with under 20,000 people. Our university put in a coworking space for entrepreneurs with the goal of attracting more small businesses in order to draw more people downtown. I approach it from the perspective of removing barriers for underrepresented entrepreneurs to make them as much participants of this downtown corridor as other entrepreneurs who may already have a leg up. If we’re talking about an equitable ecosystem, then organizations that come in to promote big business need to also support ecosystem builders that can help bridge some of the gaps that these organizations can’t meet by themselves.
So I think for anyone who wants to invest in downtown, you need to include entrepreneurial support – and the position of an ecosystem builder in particular – in your budget from the very beginning.”
Mark Lawrence’s Work
“I am digging into my Management Consulting roots and trying different ways to brand, propose, and sell ecosystem building work. I operate at the intersection of economic development, community development, and workforce development to craft solutions. I am also serving as the connector for local entrepreneurs to regional and national resources. I am building a platform that combines entrepreneur mindset education, seed investment and startup studio high growth venture models to create more opportunities for the New Majority in the communities where they live. See igniteT2.inncuvate.com, acceleratepgc.co, and mihubcoop.com as examples.”
Learn more and connect
Mel Lambert invites you to return to your local library: “Support your local library! Look at what database and research offerings they have on their website! Most have a ton of resources you’d never know existed that can help you with your research for free. If you don’t know how to use a tool – ask! Librarians can easily help you learn how to use a research database. Follow groups like EveryLibrary who have also been champions on this front, driving home how libraries are ecosystem hubs and provide access to materials to all. I just started a new job at Kirkwood Public Library – so right now the best place would be to follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. I’m hoping to bring much of my skills to the new library and build up some of their resources to help their ecosystem!”
Meet our featured Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building of Goal 7