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The economy needs ecosystem builders

The 2018 ESHIP Summit: Building Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Watch: "The 2018 ESHIP Summit: Building Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems" | 1:36

Entrepreneurs may be the Black Panthers, Kamala Khans, and Captain Americas of the economy, but their successes rely heavily on the people who work to make entrepreneurship thrive.

Right now, entrepreneurship is sexy. It gets covers of Forbes. Its heroes’ tales are told on movie sets in Hollywood. It shows up in jeans and flip flops to disrupt the business suits.

And if you believe all that, you don’t know entrepreneurship. And, you might know even less about the environment it takes to encourage entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is work. And often goes unnoticed because it doesn’t have to be sexy to create jobs.

Its heroes are often heroines. And it doesn’t always look like Captain America. It looks like Black Panther, America Chavez, and Kamala Khan.

But entrepreneurship is the hero of our economy. That’s a fact.

Entrepreneurs and young businesses create nearly all net new jobs in America, and 20 percent of gross job creation.

Yet, entrepreneurship has been in generational decline – new firms represented as much as 16 percent of all firms in the late 1970s, but declined to 8 percent between 2005 and 2010.

So, how do we revive American entrepreneurship to create a new, grassroots economic model with entrepreneurs at its heart?

We don’t know. Well, we have a pretty good idea – we need ecosystem builders. We need people to help build communities that make entrepreneurship accessible and inclusive – that attempt to put Zero Barriers in the way of innovators and job creators.

We need ecosystem builders

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s second-annual ESHIP Summit kicked off Wednesday. The Summit brought together ecosystem builders, policymakers and entrepreneurs from across the country and around the world, to begin to codify this wide-open field we call ecosystem building, and to work together to figure out how to make entrepreneurship flourish in America.

This is no easy task. What are the best practices for ecosystem builders and entrepreneurs? How do they work with city leaders and policy makers? Can we work together to create a shared vision and inclusive field? How can we learn from each other?

The start to these answers is exemplified in the continued draft of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook written by ecosystem builders. Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, kicked off the summit with seven tenets for ecosystem building that resulted from the work of last year’s attendees and were further developed during sessions this year.

7 goals for ecosystem building

1. Inclusive field

Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, encouraged attendees to foster diverse and inclusive conversations in their communities. “We need to make sure that all voices that we are bringing into this process are inclusive,” Hwang said.

Current economic development approaches largely exclude significant portions of the population. As professional change agents, system thinkers, and resource providers, ecosystem builders are well-positioned to see the hidden structural barriers that perpetuate disconnection, segregation, and isolation – and to remove them.

Paulo Gregory Harris, founder and president of Cohado, said the intention behind the summit regarding inclusivity creates one of the most diverse groups he’s seen in a mass collaboration like this. “This is the most comprehensive collection of collaborative folks trying to work together,” Harris said.

2. Collaborative culture

We need to create a collaborative culture; we need to break down our differences in process and practice. “We need to ask ourselves how we break down the silos across the field,” Hwang said.

One example of this was holding the 2018 Mayors Conference in tandem with the ESHIP Summit to foster collaboration between policymakers and the entrepreneurial infrastructure.

3. Shared Vision

“Where are we going to go?” Hwang asked. “Let’s align on how we are going to get there as one unit.”

Emerald Anderson, thrive program coordinator at Women’s Economics Ventures, said that’s what her community is missing. “In our particular community, there is a really big divide between what the local government is doing and what organizations like us are doing and then entrepreneurs themselves and their needs,” she said. “I think it’s really trying to figure out where those connections are and how to plug people in.”

4. Connected networks

As a community, we need to create communication channels to connect ecosystem builders across networks. “We can build what we have from a siloed community and from a pragmatic community into one where people can access the ideas and resources quickly and do the work more effectively,” Hwang said.

5. Quantify Methods

The science behind entrepreneurial ecosystem building is emerging, but the field is still in its early stages and remains short on evidence-based methodologies and metrics for success.

Hwang said we need to validate ecosystem building by understanding how we quantify and define methods and metrics of evidence-based ecosystem building. “We need to be able to know how we know it’s working,” Hwang said.

6. Universal support

Hwang encouraged attendees to get outside resources to support ecosystem building. Every month, three out of 1,000 people decide to start new business. Hwang says we need to find ways to get the other 997 involved. The general public and key external stakeholders need to understand the value and role of entrepreneurial ecosystems.

7. Sustainable work

Hwang believes ecosystem builders must be equipped for the long haul with a professional job description, training programs, ongoing peer support, and sustainable funding models. Ecosystem builders from all types of organizations should have the professional recognition and resources they need to nurture this work and give it the time it requires to achieve results.