I have supported entrepreneurial ecosystems in a number of cities over the last decade-Flint,
Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Evansville, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Memphis, and San Diego to name some. Nobody designs the perfect system and each community has its unique characteristics. My strategy has been to assume that it is an iterative, trial and error process. In other words, I have embraced my work as an intense learning process. As I move from city to city, I take promising practices with me to try on in other locations. Networks and collaboration are key. Most organizations think they are team players; in reality, they can do more to strengthen their partnerships and create shared impact.
A tool that every community needs and very few have is an accurate and detailed map of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The maps should not be static laundry lists but capture the most important dynamics such as who is connected to whom, what are the flow of information and other resources. The ecosystem is messy and includes newer and older firms, smaller and larger firms, high and low- tech firms, growing and shrinking firms, private and public sectors, for profit and non- profit, entrepreneurs, service providers, champions, and connectors. Connectors are key to healthy entrepreneurial resource networks.
How do we get started? We bring together different visions of the ecosystem and listen to the community to learn what ideas resonate broadly. We ask, “what will have the most impact on the community and what is most feasible to implement?” We facilitate listening sessions so that the community stakeholders can align their collective vision with their ecosystem maps to flesh out a tangle action roadmap.
The Kauffman Foundation is drafting a digital handbook for communities interested in advancing their entrepreneurial ecosystems. The first version is a work in progress and they are seeking insights and feedback from real practitioners in the field. You can add your comments at the link below:
Next time, I will write about what happens when communities combine resources for entrepreneurs along a continuum of care. Connecting the assets and resources of a region to the entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners in an intentional way allows individuals to enter a seamless process at the point that makes sense for them.