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E-Communities in the Driver's Seat

By Simone Elder, NetWork Kansas

You know that moment when you think genius strikes, but you’re afraid to tell someone because it would eclipse their moment of genius? For six weeks, I’ve been sitting on an idea that I needed to share with my boss and NetWork Kansas Vice President of Entrepreneurship, Erik Pedersen, because it would override the concept he emphasizes with our team of “getting a seat at the table” with our E-Communities. Last week, I finally decided to run my idea by him, fully prepared that he would think I had lost my mind. Luckily, he agreed that our long-favored NetWork Kansas analogy of getting a seat at the table was missing something. My “aha” moment is to picture this is partnership instead as getting a seat on the bus.

During three days at the Kauffman Foundation ESHIP Summit in Kansas City and a long drive back to Leoti, I had plenty of time to let this analogy sharpen. During the Summit, we built 3D models of the ecosystems we would like to see. My group built an impressive map whose winding road encountered resources and road bumps, arriving at a final destination: supporting entrepreneurs.  It was a fun way to see that the path to building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is neither clear nor rigid.

I realized that path was a really good way to envision our work and the analogy took root. In the spirit of adventure, I invite you to imagine yourself taking a road trip with me in a sweet 1961 VW bus. Like the bus driver, each E-Community point person and leadership team sit in the driver’s seat of their community’s “bus.”  Ecosystem building starts with knowing your community’s unique culture and roots while engaging people along the way. You have a team of community members and resource partners who are ready to help. I’m one of the lucky passengers you have picked up on the way to your destination. Thanks! We at NetWork Kansas are glad to be part of the journey.

Rural Road (1)

We have a roadmap, but are open to veering off the beaten path in the name of exploration. If that scenic overlook draws you, we want to ride along! We want to join in your E-Community’s development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and that looks different in each community. You get to decide where you’re going. Every great road trip has plenty of time for good conversation and dreaming, right? We are here to help you decide what strategic focus is right for your E-Community.

Plus, we may be one of your favorite passengers. We’re the kind of passenger who is willing to help pay for the proverbial snacks and tank of gas, otherwise known as entrepreneurship programs and access to your loan fund.  We’re able to fix flat tires you may encounter by encouraging you to get back to the basics. We can help you identify what is important to your community, what strengths and assets do you have, and stop and recognize that the road bump you faced didn’t completely throw you off course. We’ve traveled many of these roads before and have learned a few lessons that may help!

Finally, we’re here to encourage adventure; to ask you to take a detour along the journey. We want to take a closer look at opportunities that we feel will lead your community towards entrepreneurial success, while keeping your strategic focus in mind. We want to ask questions of your team to encourage experimentation, helping to remind you that it’s fun to try new things and that failures are just opportunities for learning.

Most importantly, our role is to encourage you to reflect on and celebrate your progress. You’re farther down the road to your entrepreneurial ecosystem than you think.

E-Communities Map NetWork Kansas

All of our great E-Communities have given us a seat at the table, but the ESHIP Summit showed me that our tables don’t move.  The conversation is active, the disagreements are lively, but the table will be in the same place tomorrow that it was today. We have an incredible opportunity to work with 59 E-Communities to move forward and connect the nodes on our roadmap in even better ways.

That trip to Kansas City may be as far as I get from home this summer, but this new way of envisioning our role allows me to imagine all of the great adventures each E-Community will have as we work together to build an ecosystem locally, regionally, and across the state.