Unsung Hero Spotlight: Tom Chapman

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

An ecosystem builder is an economic systems advocate building community, economy, relationships, and densifying networks.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

I believe that entrepreneurship is the key to long-term systemic change in Omaha, Nebraska, and the United States.

What is the most successful/impactful program/event/thing you do/have done in your ecosystem?

Over the last couple of years, companies that I worked with a decade or more ago started to achieve strong exits creating generational wealth for themselves, employees, and the community around them. This long-term impact is probably the most impactful thing that I have done – but the actual behaviors were small – an introduction here, a chance encounter and advisory session there. The point is that my experience is that while we build structures as ecosystem builders, the relationships and small things are really the big things in the end.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an Ecosystem Builder?

My personal struggle is figuring out how to be transformative without making it about me or just my own ideas. I feel like there are times when my insight is valued in an outsized way rather than listening to the entrepreneurs and giving them the credit that they deserve.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

My biggest frustration is how few corporations engage in ecosystem building and long-term building. Most want simple answers quickly rather than understanding that transformative change takes time.

What ecosystem building skill/knowledge do you want to gain?

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.

What are the most important things that need to happen to advance the field of ecosystem building?

I think that ecosystem builders as a group need to do a better job of telling the stories of entrepreneurs – not the sugar coated ones. In doing that, things like metrics and expertise matter. By building metrics and expertise, ecosystem builders can influence decision makers and policy much more directly. But, again it starts with the entrepreneur’s story – not the numbers per se.

How can we support you in your efforts?

My biggest frustration is how often big name people or consulting organizations get paid by states, the federal government, and philanthropists to execute on the same strategies that have led us to such low numbers for innovation, entrepreneurship, and inclusion. There is no real accountability across processes or outcomes. This drives me crazy because I see how it sucks money out of the ecosystem builder’s and entrepreneur’s hands. Put the money at ground level – not to consulting organizations that drop in and out.


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 SocialVenturers.com and AnikaHorn.com.

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