By: Simone Elder
Human beings are capable of thriving when we have food, water, air, and community. Similarly, entrepreneurs need more than capital to survive. As we at NetWork Kansas build a statewide network that acts as a healthy entrepreneurship ecosystem, each of our Entrepreneurship (E-) Communities are also considering ways to provide the many elements entrepreneurs need to thrive – things like education, experts, and funding in their local ecosystems. In July, I attended the 2018 ESHIP Summit hosted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to focus on entrepreneurial ecosystem building and to connect practitioners helping entrepreneurs across the country and world.
Wendy Guilles, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation President and CEO asked, “Why do you do what you do?” during the opening session of the Summit. In a room with over 600 people from 50 states, 10 countries, of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, it was clear our “why’s” may be unique, though our “what” was the common thread – entrepreneurship ecosystem building. I was motivated knowing the healthier our ecosystem, the more vibrant our E-Communities in Kansas. At the Summit, my “why” was making sure that our E-Communities were represented as we defined our collective role as ecosystem builders and collecting the best wisdom to bring home.
The Kauffman Foundation has identified Seven Design Principles for building entrepreneurial ecosystems, which should be top of mind as we develop our local ecosystems. These are:
1) Put entrepreneurs front and center.
2) Foster conversations.
3) Enlist collaborators. Everyone is invited.
4) Live the values.
5) Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in.
6) Tell the community’s authentic story.
7) Start, be patient.
While the position you are paid for may be as economic development or chamber director, banker, or educator, if you believe in the power of connecting and breaking down silos in your communities to support entrepreneurs, you are also an ecosystem builder. These principles can be the answer to the question, “What can I do to strengthen my ecosystem besides invest funding?”
The 2018 ESHIP Summit modeled a practice that ecosystem building doesn’t take place in formal settings or board rooms. From our regional campfires to the street party under a bridge (there were no weird vans – only food trucks), it was a good reminder that this work can happen anywhere. It can happen on street corners, in the local post office, and even in pumpkin patches – like Granny Mae’s, perhaps. For over 10 years NetWork Kansas through the E-Community Partnership, we have put into practice a model that encourages the fostering of relationships between entrepreneurs, and public and private resources at the ground level. According to the Kauffman Foundation Draft Playbook, “Entrepreneurial ecosystems, at their heart, are based on human relationships.” The work of ecosystem builders happens as we focus on our relationships and creating vast networks.
We’re excited to engage in this work with you and evaluate the why, what, and how to do this through the E-Community Partnership. If you haven’t taken time to consider why you do what you do, watch this video created as a result of the 2018 ESHIP Summit for a little inspiration. Also, I would encourage you to consider joining many others in adding “ecosystem builder” to the end of your title description on LinkedIn or Twitter. When I think about what a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem looks like for Kansas, I see a state where our rural areas are capitalizing on their agricultural strengths and embracing entrepreneurs who are supported by a well-connected to broad network of resources. What do you see when you imagine a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and what one thing might you do differently to make that come to life?