Recap of 2015 Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship: Recipes for Growth

Earlier this fall, the Kauffman Foundation hosted the 2015 Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship: Recipes for Growth in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nearly 40 cities from around the country were represented by mayors, city council members, and high-ranking municipal staff.

The mayors and city officials were joined by a host of experts who shared best practices about promoting startup activity and discussed ways to encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship in cities. Below is a photo essay of the conference, including the research discussed and major lessons from each session.

There are two other fabulous posts on the 2015 Mayors Conference titled The Day After the Policy Idea: Now What? and The 2015 Mayors Conference in 13 Tweets.

Session 1: Entrepreneurial Cities


Takeaway: Be cautious of growing a startup monoculture in your city. Make sure not to copy entrepreneurship support programs that are operating in other cities. Learn from other cities and programs, but it is more beneficial to understand and build off the needs and nuance of your entrepreneurship ecosystem.

  • Speaker: Dane Stangler, vice president, Research & Policy, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Session 2: The Most Common Complaint: Understanding the Access to Capital. Problem, or Does It Even Exist?

Takeaway: Entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to Fargo, North Dakota complain about a lack of capital. The lack of capital is a common complaint from entrepreneurs in most cities. However, it doesn’t mean that it’s their most pressing issue, let alone the issue policymakers or leaders of support organizations need to tackle first.  Rather than just financial capital, the session’s conversation focused a lot on the value of social capital. Ted Zoller has done extensive research about the importance of connections between entrepreneurs and investors and how local social capital yields economic benefits. His research suggests that the local presence and connectedness of dealmakers—individuals who provide active regional stewardship—are more important for successful entrepreneurship than aggregate amounts of available capital.


  • George Hofheimer, chief knowledge officer, Filene Research Institute
  • Ted Zoller, director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler School of Business
  • Scott Maloney, CEO/cofounder, BowTie
  • K.C. Brechnitz, senior managing director, Ernst & Young Capital Advisory, LLC
  • Moderator: Mayor Betsy Hodges, City of Minneapolis

Session 3: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Takeaway: This session focused on city initiatives to build a platform focused on a specific business sector. The most popular example comes from cities that created a business cluster around the bioscience sector during the 1990’s. Josh Drucker’s research is focused around the effectiveness of such clusters and stresses that if cities are going to build a cluster around a sector, make sure there are sufficient resources, organizations, and companies already in the sector—don’t get caught up in a national trend.


  • Neil Kleiman, director, NYU Wagner Innovation Labs
  • Josh Drucker, assistant professor, University of Illinois Chicago, Department of Urban Planning Policy
  • Stacy Mitchell, co-director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Moderator: Mayor Miro Weinberger, City of Burlington

Session 4: What Do Trees and Recipes Have to Do With Entrepreneurship?

Takeaway: Phil Auserwald presented his findings from his paper on Enabling Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. This paper takes the metaphor of the “ecosystem” seriously—seeking to draw lessons from evolutionary biology and ecology to inform policy for entrepreneurship. He recommends the following six steps for policymakers and leaders of support organizations to enable their entrepreneurial ecosystem:

  1. Favor incumbents less.
  2. Listen to entrepreneurs.
  3. Map the ecosystem.
  4. Think big, start small, move fast.
  5. Avoid artificially segmenting your community or your strategies.
  6. Prepare to capitalize on crises.
  • Speaker: Philip Auerswald, associate professor, George Mason University Moderator:
  • Moderator: Rachel Carlton, senior program officer, Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Session 5: Identifying and Leveraging Innovation and Entrepreneurial Assets

Takeaway: Leveraging existing assets in an ecosystem is a crucial step to enable a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Mitzi Montoya and Sarah Jane Maxted identified certain assets that aren’t commonly recognized within an entrepreneurship ecosystem; including:

  • Strengthening relationships with community foundations
  • Emphasizing the Mayor’s  role of convener
  • Capitalizing on alumni relationships
  • Connecting to foreign cities

Yasuyuki Motoyama stressed the importance of focusing on human capital. A finding from his previous work and in his recent paper, The Regional Environment in Indianapolis, Motoyama urges policymakers to worry less about tech transfer and worry more about human transfer.


  • Sarah Jane Maxted, executive director, MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program
  • Mitzi Montoya, dean, Oregon State University College of Business
  • Yasuyuki Motoyama, director, Research & Policy, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Moderator: John Freisinger, president & CEO, Technology Ventures Corporation

Session 6: The Role of Philanthropy in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Takeaway: Philanthropy can convene for-profit and non-profit leaders to better align activities across the ecosystem. Paul Major of the Telluride Foundation pointed out how Telluride, Colorado is a second home to lots of successful business people. The Telluride Foundation works on engaging business people into their ecosystem by asking them to be mentors. Foundations in other cities across the country are well positioned to do this for their ecosystem as well.


  • Paul Major, president and CEO, Telluride Foundation
  • Tony Tolentino, vice president, Blackstone Charitable Foundation
  • Jonathan Robinson, senior program officer, Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Moderator: Mayor Richard J. Berry, City of Albuquerque

Session 7: How to Measure Your Ecosystem

Takeaway: Entrepreneurial ecosystems are becoming the new unit of measure for entrepreneurial academics and policymakers. This session focused on the how to measure an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Highlights of the session included the four proposed measures for ecosystems mentioned in Dane Stangler’s paper: connectivity, diversity, density, and fluidity. Rhett Morris gave updates on Endeavor Insight’s ecosystem mapping of 15 cities across the world. Thus far, they’ve discovered the importance of mentorship in high-growth tech companies in New York City.


  • Rhett Morris, director, Endeavor Insight
  • Ted Zoller, director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler School of Business
  • Dane Stangler, vice president, Research and Policy, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Moderator: Mayor Madeline Rogero, City of Knoxville

Interested in more information on how to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem?

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