Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Conference: Part 1

“Entrepreneurship ecosystem.” Although the term has been used by academics and practitioners widely in the last few years, little is known about how ecosystems are structured, vary by region, evolve over time, or function for different sub-groups of entrepreneurs. Earlier this fall, the Kauffman Foundation hosted a conference that focused on entrepreneurship ecosystems. Scholars and practitioners led the presentations, while attendees included policymakers and leaders from entrepreneurship support organizations.

The conference provided insights on entrepreneurship ecosystems and areas for further study. Below is a summary of the conference: the research presented, main topics, and key takeaways.

1. The Make-up of General Ecosystems 

Presenters in this session presented many elements and key concepts of ecosystems. Three central ideas that rang throughout each presentation were nuance, diversity and the importance of people.

Nuance. Every entrepreneurship ecosystem is unique. Efforts that aim to improve the ecosystem need to be considerate and thoughtful to these differences especially when looking to copy a program or initiative from another city.

  • Lowe’s research has shown that more entrepreneurship support organizations and programs does not always mean the better for supporting local entrepreneurs.
  • Harper-Anderson stated that regional economic development plans, not just local, are critical for maximizing efficiencies.

Diversity. In order to be a fully inclusive ecosystem, there needs to be diversity of all levels of leadership. This is especially true within support organizations, young companies, and city leadership.

  • The value of creating diversity and redundancy among entrepreneurial firms can never be underrated by policy makers according to Lowe.
  • Harper-Anderson has found that diversity of perspectives and organization types are critical for innovation.

People, not places or organizations. All presenters highlighted the importance of individuals when understanding ecosystems. It’s not just enough to understand the organizations, places and institutions, but also need to focus on the people who start, run, and leave their respected organization.

  • According to Wolf-Power’s research, maker spaces don’t aggregate early-adopter makers/tinkerers, instead, they bring the maker movement to the general public. Her suggestion is don’t build a maker space and hope that the maker movement will bloom in your city, because their needs to be a maker community already present.
  • After travelling to three cities in the U.S., Harper-Anderson concluded that entrepreneurship ecosystems are strongly shaped by their history and local culture.


2. High-growth Firms and Their Ecosystems 

Everyone trying to improve their ecosystem is trying to find ways to create more high-growth firms. Unfortunately there is still no commonly used definition and terms for what constitutes a high-growth firm, let alone methods that have been proven to create more. This session focused a lot on how to define high-growth firms and understanding their importance within an ecosystem. One interesting finding that came from Desai’s paper was that people start companies where they are, rather than people moving to a specific region or city to start a company.

Definition. There is not a singular definition used across academics, researchers and policy makers. This causes difficulty when trying to create policy or initiatives to help high-growth companies.

  • Austrian’s team identified 10 different definitions of high-growth firms, as well as demonstrated the variety of how many companies can be included by different definitions. It also highlighted that whether a firm is defined as a high growth firm depends on the definition in that place.
  • Malecki, brought to attention that policy makers need to have a clear understanding of the various definitions of high growth firms and their implications.

Understanding. The importance and value of high-growth firms to their ecosystem was highlighted during this session.

  • Rice made the point that high-growth firms can become an ecosystem’s anchor institutions.
  • Malecki, argues that what really matters from high-growth firms are the persistent spinoffs.
  • Finally it was stressed by discussant Emily Robbins that cities want to help their high-growth firms but are really lacking measurement capabilities. The cities need help with collecting, analyzing and measuring their own data.

While most of the research discussed during the conference isn’t published yet, there have been two related papers on entrepreneurship ecosystems published by Kauffman researchers. The first is the working paper How to Measure an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, a necessary read for anyone aiming to map or measure the vibrancy of their ecosystem. The second paper is Enabling Entrepreneurship Ecosystems, which lists six specific strategies for entrepreneurship ecosystems.

For full coverage of the conference make sure to check out the second post Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Conference: Part 2.

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