Passionate about entrepreneurship, innovation, economic development, community engagement, and higher education, Sammy has been able to work at the intersection of his passions through his ecosystem building efforts at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is naturally inclined to connecting people who could benefit from knowing each other. Activating and catalyzing meaningful engagements either professional or personally energizes him, and with that in mind, he envisions being remembered for someone who brought joy and value to many people’s lives by sparking positive, fruitful, and lasting relationships, collaborations and mutually-rewarding outcomes.

To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?

To me an ecosystem builder is someone who has a keen understanding of the innovation and entrepreneurial community he/she belongs to, has developed trust and a good working relationship with the various members and stakeholders of the community, recognizes the macro and micro-level challenges and opportunities facing their community, and provides tangible value to those members and stakeholders by supporting their respective efforts, filling in gaps, and connecting resources and people to assets, funds, and each other.

What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?

As an ecosystem builder, I am motivated by the vision of being a valuable contributor to the ecosystem I am engaged with and to ensure it is able to optimize all of its resources and assets, as well as to empower all of its stakeholders to maximize their talents and skills for the purpose of collectively generating positive economic, social, and inclusive impact for our respective community and society.

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

I was the lead project manager for the development of the University’s innovation and entrepreneurship resource portal called the Innovation Gateway, which took nine months to develop. Along with maintaining and promoting it, I continue to add more resources to it for underserved groups including Black Founders, Women Founders, and Veteran Founders.

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

The biggest challenge I face as an ecosystem builder is ensuring that all of the resources, funds, and opportunities available to members of the community are aware of them, able to access them, and leverage them when they need them.

What is your biggest frustration as an ecosystem builder?

One of the biggest frustrations I experience is scaling my impact, so I can provide more value to my ecosystem; I am limited by time, bandwidth, and access to resources.

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

I want to learn how to effectively catalyze and mobilize greater collaboration between regional ecosystem builders, industry partners, government officials, K-12 and higher education institutions, and community organizations. I believe by bringing them all together, they can co-create longer-term strategies for leveraging their collective resources, funds, and assets to uplift their community, as well as to address various gaps and obstacles.

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

I think the most important things that need to happen to advance the field include creating professional pathways to becoming an effective ecosystem builder, developing mentorship programs to empower current and aspiring ecosystem builders, and documenting best practices, as well as successes and failures of ecosystem building efforts across the country and globe.

How Can We Support You in Your Efforts

Please continue recognizing and sharing the stories of fellow ecosystem builders. We learn from each other, derive inspiration from each other, and are empowered by knowing others are facing and overcoming similar challenges in their ecosystems.

Where Can People Learn More About Your Work?

For anyone interested in learning more about my work, they can read my professional bio at https://research.umd.edu/directory/sammy-popat, check out the research park I am managing, the Discovery District at https://greatercollegepark.umd.edu/about/discovery-district, and how I am supporting UMD’s extended reality community, MAVRIC, at https://mavric.umd.edu/.


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.