Building a movement

If you work in the field of ecosystem building in the United States, chances are you have heard of the ESHIP Summit, hosted annually by the Kauffman Foundation since 2017. It is a three-day conference during which we

  • Explored the biggest challenges ecosystem builders face in their work (2017)
  • Defined and grouped these challenges into seven Goals that we want to work towards in order to to professionalize the field of ecosystem building (2018), and
  • Divided these goals into smaller initiatives that dedicated teams of volunteers have been working towards in so-called working groups (2019+).

What most people don’t know is that these working groups are doing exactly that: putting in the hours every week to implement solutions that bring us closer to achieving these ESHIP Goals. We’re talking about over 50 passionate volunteers who don’t only have full-time jobs and dedicate much of their time to building their local entrepreneurial ecosystems; on top of these roles, they also volunteer their time to contribute to this national movement of dreamers, doers and changemakers.

Organizing the mayhem that is 50+ volunteers scattered across the U.S.working on seven different ESHIP goals is no small feat (a tip of the hat to the wonderful Cecilia Wessinger for helping us stay organized). As an initiative that cuts across all seven Goals, the Storytelling Initiative is on a mission to shed more light on the different Goals, Initiatives and – most importantly – extraordinary individuals who are pioneering this movement.

Wouldn’t it be cool if…

On the heels of the 2019 ESHIP Summit, we found ourselves wondering:

Wouldn’t it be cool if…

… we had more insight into what’s happening in each of these Goals and their respective initiatives?

… we could tell the stories of the very ecosystem builders who are dedicating their time to building this movement?

… we could report straight from the field of ecosystem building how these initiatives are making a difference on the ground, collecting insights and feedback from those who are implementing and testing these solutions?

Above everything else, wouldn’t it be cool if we could celebrate and highlight all these hard-working individuals who give so much, yet often receive so little recognition for working behind the scenes? (Disclaimer: Ecosystem Builders are terrible at tooting their own horn!)

Yes. Yes that would be very cool!

So we set out to create a campaign that would give people in our field a chance to nominate an Unsung Hero of Ecosystem Building. When we first started, our goals for this campaign were

  • To raise awareness of the growing field and importance of entrepreneurial ecosystem building.
  • To share what is evolving in each of the working groups to advance the seven ESHIP goals throughout the year
  • To highlight and celebrate ecosystem builders around the US who are building this movement through their daily work
  • To engage with the wider field of ecosystem building to share insights, progress and tested approaches from the field.


When Jess Edwards first published the call for nominations in mid-January, we were hoping for 10 to fifteen nominations. When we closed applications two weeks later, we were blown away by the 70(!) heartfelt and thoughtful nominations from all across the country! Read for yourselves:

He’s a #GiveFirst kind of person. He focuses on identifying common threads to help connect stakeholders and community members to grow and accelerate the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He’s less about being in the spotlight and more about placing the spotlight on others. His work in the Washington DC area has been expanded to serve NYC, Miami, and Bogotá in Colombia. More importantly, he’s able to identify gaps in the entrepreneurs journey (similar to the startup development journey by with the data collection to focus efforts in programming and events that help the entrepreneur more effectively get across the proverbial ‘chasm of death.’ He is not just a director, but also executes and is not afraid to do the good work required to improve the ecosystem.


If storytelling is a powerful way to build a strong community and an effective way to engage external audiences, then developing a shared language is critical to the effectiveness of those stories. Jordan is an exceptional Ecosystem Builder because he works tirelessly behind the scenes to teach our community how to speak in that shared language. He spends countless hours educating entrepreneurs on intensely complex topics, such as intellectual property and corporate law.

During the day, Jordan is in-house counsel at a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded, IP-driven, consumer products company. He works on highly-sophisticated international strategic partnerships.

Today, Jordan encourages and strengthens the Shared Vision of the Buffalo startup community through a variety of initiatives and one-on-one meetings, each time working selflessly to help entrepreneurs communicate and share their stories effectively…

Although Jordan’s efforts have not gone unnoticed (he was recently named in the Ten Most Innovative Alumni from the University at Buffalo Law School), he continues to find new ways to build that Shared Vision for the Buffalo Startup Community. In the past few years, he led legal education initiatives for Techstars’ Startup Week Buffalo and is currently helping community non-profits launch their own weekend hackathons to engage and assist underserved and differently-abled members of the community.”

What you can expect this year

Each month, we are going to introduce you to one of the seven ESHIP Goals. You will meet some of the Champions spearheading initiatives and the work that they are doing to advance their mission.

Each week between now and the next ESHIP Summit (save the date for June 30-July 2nd), we are going to highlight one of the nominated ecosystem builders who will tell you more about their approach to ecosystem building in their home communities!

All of these pieces will be published on and we will do our best to spread the word via social media (Twitter & LinkedIn).

And who knows? If we gain momentum with this campaign, we might just open up applications at the ESHIP Summit to recruit the next round of Unsung Heroes!

How you can get involved

If you’re thinking “I know exactly who you should feature next!” hold your horses! We are SO appreciative of everyone who has taken the time to nominate and recommend exceptional individuals who deserve the recognition. We are right there with you! If you subscribe to the Ecosystem Builder Hub newsletter (right here!), you will be the first ones to know when nominations open again.

In the meantime, we would be thrilled if you would

  • Share these stories with anyone who you think would be interested to learn more about ecosystem building, any of the 7 ESHIP Goals, or any of the Unsung Heroes!
  • Comment, like and give some love to the individuals featured each week. Make sure to follow Ecosystem Builder Hub on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to connect with Jeff, Jess and Anika on LinkedIn.
  • Sign up for one of the working groups if you want to help us advance any of the 7 ESHIP goals!
  • Send us your questions, suggestions and feedback!

With gratitude for all of your hard work,

Anika, Jessica, Jeff & Annette

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