Why Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building?

Watch this short film from 2018 on entrepreneurship, ecosystem building, and the ESHIP Summit…

By putting human ingenuity at the center of our communities, we can reimagine our society for a new future.

Entrepreneurs are people who turn ideas into reality, creating value in many ways. They start new businesses. Some grow small companies into big ones. They bring innovative solutions to the market, and they address social and community challenges. They turn their hobbies into side hustles, create our favorite shops on Main Street, and make the products and services that improve our lives. They pursue dreams. They create jobs. They feed their families. 

The current environment has exacerbated challenges, yet entrepreneurship has become more accessible as entrepreneurial education and digital tools become available to more people. The communities that will thrive in the 21st century will be those that are able to unlock the latent entrepreneurial talent in each of their citizens. 

We believe entrepreneurship plays an essential role in building stronger, more equitable communities, and entrepreneurial efforts taken with equity and inclusion at their core can help address systemic racism and wealth inequality in our communities.

Our economic future needs diverse entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is not just about big names and billionaires. It’s about everyday people – from the person who starts the neighborhood ice cream shop to the woman launching an agriculture technology startup – having the opportunity to support themselves and their families and improve their communities. 

Entrepreneurs embrace the future by building it themselves, working toward goals with the spirit and drive to overcome every hurdle in their paths. That spirit has inspired everyday people from all walks of life to take risks and start new things, even in the face of uncertainty. Recent research suggests that entrepreneurs are becoming more diverse and older.

Entrepreneurial opportunities aren’t the same across the country.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we believe that all people – regardless of their background – should have the opportunity to learn, take risks, and to own their own entrepreneurial success. But that is not the reality in many communities today.

Entrepreneurship is tied to important economic impact, like jobs, innovations, productivity, and wages. But if not everyone has access to entrepreneurship, our communities and economies suffer. To achieve a healthy economic system, we need to work together to level the playing field for everyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur.

This is the call to do more to ignite our own entrepreneurial spirit to shape a coordinated effort for our communities: We must do more to support all entrepreneurs in these uncertain times.

As the pandemic re-exposes underlying structures of racial inequality, we must work through that discomfort to ensure that the eventual economic recovery creates a more racially inclusive society.

-Amy Liu, Brookings Institute

Entrepreneurs need ecosystems.

All of the money in the world cannot solve problems unless we work together. And if we work together, there is no problem in the world that can stop us, as we seek to develop people to their highest and best potential.

-Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Traditional economic development and entrepreneurial support models can get us part way there, but to be truly effective, we also need to take a wider view of the entire entrepreneurial support systems in our communities. The emerging professional practice of entrepreneurial ecosystem building is doing just that.

Ecosystem building looks at the whole system of support for entrepreneurs, not just one or two of its individual parts (e.g. an incubator, investment fund, or mentoring program). Ecosystem building takes a systemic approach and seeks to connect organizations, people, and resources to develop more inclusive, entrepreneurial-centric local economies.

Our broken connectedness, our relatedness to each other, is part of what got us here, but fixing that is also the solution to so many of the challenges we face – we need to come together in recognition that our individual futures are interwoven with one another’s.

Ecosystems can’t be bought, they have to be built.

We need ecosystem builders – leaders who increase relatedness, interconnectedness, and trust across our communities – to help us find new ways to work together to support entrepreneurs to take on our most intractable social challenges – and truly declare interdependence – in this pivotal moment in human history.

Over the past two decades, ecosystem building has emerged as a growing professional field of practice and is poised to become a key element of economic, community, and venture development. But without widespread consensus and collaboration about the fundamentals of what ecosystem building entails, this approach will remain a niche activity.

An ecosystem of ecosystem builders

A professional practice for entrepreneurial ecosystem building has emerged over the past two decades, and more communities are taking an ecosystem building approach to helping entrepreneurs.

The ESHIP Summit brings together and connects entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from many sectors, and elevates and codifies the practice of ecosystem building as a key component of economic, community, and venture development in the 21st century.

Read more about ecosystem building efforts in communities across the US

– Create Opportunity for all through Community

These seven goals serve as the foundation for our collective action and build the tenets of the ecosystem building field in the US.

More than 1,000 ecosystem builders collaborated to formulate the ESHIP Goals: a proposed set of objectives to guide development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field. The goals help us prioritize, organize, and collaborate as we work together to improve the effectiveness of our emerging field as a whole and with that, the effectiveness of individual ecosystem builders.

For more background on the intentions and inspirations for the ESHIP Goals, check out the Scale and Goals tab of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook Draft 3.0.

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