Unsung Hero Spotlight: Jeannette Balleza Collins

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

An Ecosystem Builder is a patient cheerleader-meets-truthteller who gives before she gets, who detects patterns of needs and feels compelled to fill those gaps, who believes in the potential and good nature of people, who wants to leave things better than they were when he found them, who is buoyed by what the future might bring, who has the superpower of turning indignation into opportunity, who understands that human connection is transformative, who delights in the successes of others, and who understands that love, wrapped in story, conquers all.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

There’s something funny yet empowering about the fact that we’re all making ourselves up as we go along. That makes the idea of changing narratives seem so possible.

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

I co-created with friends Aron Shelton, Margot Lemaster, and Monica Kumar story-sharing salons called Prologues. Prologues highlights the backstory for impact happening in Northwest Arkansas. Each prologue is designed to introduce others to the good work happening around the region through the personal lenses of the humans catalyzing positive change. Through each live-event story-sharing salon, the hope is to deepen networks around community-building efforts. We’ve showcased story-sharers from all walks of life at our first two events, and the unique format and shared vulnerability pack a powerful punch that promotes unity.

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

Practicing the art of triage, both strategically and from day to day.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

Making our ecosystem more easily navigable and ultimately founder-friendly.

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

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

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

Professionalization of the field, mastermind groups or peer-to-peer forums, as well as shared mentor and investor networks.

How can we support you in your efforts?

Thank you for all the groundbreaking work you all are already doing to help ecosystem builders! Please continue to help us increase our effectiveness as ecosystem builders by supporting Heartland communities that are geographically dispersed band together to form a type of virtual density to support our entrepreneurial support efforts.

What others are saying about Jeannette

Jeannette embodies nearly every trait you would expect of a keystone in an ecosystem. Even while living in a different region in Northwest Arkansas (NWA), Jeannette took an interest in helping me develop an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Southwest Missouri (SW Mo). Jeannette arranged introductions between myself and the University of Arkansas, Startup Junkies (a regional entrepreneurial support organization in NWA, and organizations working to increase inclusiveness in communities- Engage NWA. Through these introductions, the entire region of SW Mo has benefited. The college I work for is now exploring a partnership with Startup Junkies which has the potential to serve aspiring entrepreneurs along the entire I-49 corridor from NWA to Kansas City. This partnership could potentially connect two distinct regions and help rural communities in SW Mo become more economically self-sufficient while leveraging resources among education institutions, industry, private partnerships, and community members. Through her introduction to the University of Arkansas and the Social Innovation Initiative, our college is exploring a partnership to bring social innovation initiatives to our area- initially to serve neurodiverse students and young adults in the Neosho area. We have also began to look at models and examples provided by Engage NWA to help our culturally diverse communities become more inclusive and deepen relationships and engagement among Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and other diverse communities. Through introductions, continued engagement, and sound advice, Jeannette acts in the interests of humanity and the betterment of society. From her I have learned a better society and entrepreneurial ecosystem is built on better relationships and support for individuals and communities.


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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