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Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook 3.0 © 2019

Published in 2019, the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Playbook 3.0 shares some of the Summit community’s collective learning and progress following the 2018 ESHIP Summit. It builds on earlier learnings from the ESHIP Summit series and sets goals for collective efforts to explore and progress the ecosystem building field of practice.

Welcome to the Draft Playbook 3.0

Based on learning over the past year, we have updated the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Playbook. In this latest version – draft 3.0 – we share an update on our progress to date, build on our earlier work together, and set goals for the next phase of our effort.

Your work as a builder of ecosystems helps change lives. Entrepreneurship drives economies, but the success of entrepreneurs depends on those around them. That’s why we build ecosystems – or communities – for entrepreneurs. A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem requires more than entrepreneurs. Each month, three out of every 1,000 people in the United States will start a business. These three entrepreneurs take on a tremendous task and assume a great deal of risk. But the remaining 997 people constitute a community that plays a substantial role in the entrepreneurs’ success, as well. In fact, we depend on these 997 individuals – those who are not entrepreneurs – to support entrepreneurs. You and your communities make ecosystems work.

Since the first ESHIP Summit in 2017, we’ve advanced ecosystem building as a lever for supporting entrepreneurs and building stronger economies. We can summarize the steps we’ve taken on this journey in three words: discover, design, deliver.

At the first Summit, we began our discovery phase by listening to the specific needs of ecosystem builders. And at last year’s event, we discussed a design for building a more robust field for ecosystem builders. We documented our collective objectives in the list of seven ESHIP Goals that came out of the meeting, and we began to identify and lay the groundwork for initiatives that could advance those goals. Over the last year, more than 100 of you have been involved in designing and prioritizing 30 specific initiatives that you believe will help solve for the ESHIP Goals.

Now, it’s time for us to deliver on these plans. We will take steps to move closer to achieving the ESHIP Goals and to develop a robust professional field for ecosystem builders. This work will take time. And to do it effectively, we must collaborate. No one organization has all the solutions or all the resources necessary to achieve the ESHIP Goals. Together, however, we hold many of the answers to the most important questions ecosystem builders face. Only together can we build this new field.

We need your contributions in order to make the core aspects of ecosystem building easier to understand, adopt, support, and execute effectively. Ultimately, this process will make your own work more impactful and will improve the effectiveness of the field as a whole.

The Kauffman Foundation will continue to run alongside this growing community and support the development of solutions to the ESHIP Goals. As part of the process, we will create more tools for ecosystem builders and foster greater collaboration. We aim to make the work you do every day in your community more successful. And we seek to enlist more ecosystem builders so that entrepreneurs everywhere can access the help they need.

It’s time to activate your 997. We appreciate your collaboration and contributions thus far, and we are eager to begin this next phase together!

Victor Hwang Signature

Victor Hwang
Vice President, Entrepreneurship
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation


Year 1: The ESHIP Summit Discovery Report

Prepared July 2018

In June 2017, 450 early leaders in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, from 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and 10 other countries, met at the inaugural ESHIP Summit, the first of several convenings hosted by the Kauffman Foundation and 50+ national resource providers. Our mission: advance ecosystem building as a new approach to economic development to help more people and communities achieve economic independence through entrepreneurial success.

This Summit launched the first phase of our discover-design-deliver process. At the Summit, participants worked in small groups to unpack the most pressing challenges facing entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Following the Summit, the Foundation began a year of discovery to learn more about the current state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field. As part of this effort, we gathered information from the following sources:

  • 1,031 sticky notes from the 2017 Summit group discussions.
  • 350 responses to surveys regarding the most pressing issues in the field.
  • 55 ecosystem building events around the world.
  • 120 mayors and community economic development leaders at the Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship who are passionate about entrepreneur-led economies.
  • 53 phone interviews with national resource providers in the ecosystem building field.
  • 478 one-on-one discussions with ecosystem builders.

Over the course of the year, we heard the following consistent themes and insights regarding the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field:

The ecosystem building field shares an interest in leveraging the ecosystem building approach to support meaningful change for disconnected entrepreneurs, those who are underserved or lack the networks they need due to their race, gender, initial wealth status, geography, or other factors. The community identified important next steps along these lines, including:

  • Foster more diverse representation in leadership.
  • Capture, share, and learn from case studies on effective practices in inclusive ecosystem building.
  • Make inclusion training a common practice within the field of ecosystem building and economic development more broadly.
  • Enhance the visibility of existing ecosystem building resources that address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and develop new resources that fill critical gaps in our work.

The ecosystem building field is comprised of passionate leaders who are motivated to…

  • Build a more inclusive economy for the future by supporting entrepreneurs.
  • Expand the economic development system to make it more inclusive and supportive of entrepreneurs.
  • Make a significant impact in their communities.

The work of ecosystem building is not new, but it is also not yet widely understood or adopted.

  • Many innovators in the field began developing ideas and practices for ecosystem building approaches more than 20 years ago.
  • The field has not coalesced around a shared set of desired outcomes for ecosystem building, definitions for its key terms, or a research agenda to develop evidence-based approaches and metrics of community impact.
  • The tensions and competitive culture among ecosystem builders, established entrepreneur resource providers, and economic development leaders are creating additional barriers to supporting entrepreneurs.

Despite the recent sense of momentum around entrepreneurship and ecosystem building, the rate of entrepreneurship nationally has been in a long-term decline. Entrepreneurs continue to report facing significant barriers to starting and growing their ventures, including:

  • Exclusive and inaccessible networks of fellow entrepreneurs, partners, capital, customers, resources, and mentors to help them grow their ventures.
  • Insufficient entrepreneurial education and support to help with the technical aspects of setting up and growing businesses.
  • Lack of the community support that is needed to encourage the makers, dreamers, and doers, as well as the growth of companies at all stages.
  • Weak talent pipelines for growing businesses and lack of access to adequate talent pools, team building training, and succession planning support.
  • Little voice in policy decisions that affect the entrepreneurial environment.

The ecosystem building field is still emerging, and therefore many ecosystem builders are not yet well-connected to one another. There is consistent interest across the field in creating more:

  • Field-wide communication channels to connect ecosystem builders across their usual networks.
  • Real-time collaboration and sharing opportunities between practitioners and organizations who support them.
  • Collaborative research, policy advocacy, and community storytelling initiatives.

The Kauffman Foundation and the ESHIP Summit can play a unique role over the next few years, supporting efforts to:

  • Bring together diverse ecosystem building leaders – from across a multitude of sectors – who do not often meet.
  • Raise awareness of existing ecosystem building tools, resources, and field-wide needs.
  • Promote, facilitate, and support field-wide collaborations to address identified needs.
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Listen to the specific needs of ecosystem builders.

Year 2: The 2018 ESHIP Summit Design Report

In Year 2, we entered the second phase of our discover-design-deliver process. The knowledge we gained during the year of discovery shaped our work at the 2018 ESHIP Summit. At this conference, we focused on designing our collective approach to strengthening the ecosystem building field and advancing a more inclusive approach to the work.

This second ESHIP Summit took place on July 11-13, 2018. 620 leaders in the emerging field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building, from all 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and 10 other countries, convened in Kansas City. Many attendees from the 2017 Summit returned, and numerous new faces joined the group. These included more than 120 U.S. mayors and senior city officials from across the United States who were also participating in the 2018 Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship during the same week.

The aim of the second ESHIP Summit was to review the first year of work on discovering the current state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field and to launch a new year of work aimed at designing solutions to move the field forward. To guide the 2018 Summit and set an agenda for future work, the Kauffman Foundation synthesized the community’s input at the 2017 Summit and beyond to propose seven ESHIP Goals. These ESHIP Goals are a set of collective objectives to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field and to help our community prioritize, organize, and collaborate.

Much of the first day of the 2018 ESHIP Summit focused on exploring issues related to the challenge of creating an inclusive Field (ESHIP Goal #1). We heard stories from a wide range of perspectives and focused on how to create solutions that address diversity, equity, and inclusion in the work of entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Change Catalyst, a San Francisco-based organization, designed and led Summit attendees through a series of lively presentations and small group discussions on these important topics.

Summit attendees spent the second day of the 2018 Summit reviewing and refining the seven ESHIP Goals. In addition, they began to explore means to achieve these goals in small working groups. At the Summit, participants proposed 131 potential initiatives to address the ESHIP Goals.

Interested attendees continued their efforts after the end of the 2018 Summit. More than 110 people met regularly in small groups throughout the year. Building on the work that began at the event, they refined the seven ESHIP Goals, explored the numerous proposed initiatives, and designed new initiatives to address one or more of the ESHIP Goals. These individuals are from 42 different states and represent ecosystem builders of all stripes. They participated in more than 71 meetings across 8 working groups to refine the list of initiatives proposed at the 2018 Summit and prioritized that list into 30 key initiatives. They were guided by a group of volunteer ESHIP Goal Champions who were nominated by the ESHIP community for their demonstrated leadership, as well as two community managers who were supported by the Kauffman Foundation.

During the many discussions and debates over the course of the design year, the following themes emerged:

Interest in entrepreneurship and ecosystem building continues to grow.

  • More communities are using the words “entrepreneurship” and “ecosystem” in their economic and community development strategies.
  • Entrepreneurship is growing in popularity as a core economic development strategy, as communities see that they can go beyond the traditional “attraction and retention” approaches. This tension could be heard most recently in the debates about the Amazon HQ2 site selection process in 2018. A number of prominent voices called on cities to focus on “growing the next Amazon” instead of working to court the internet retailer with a large incentive package.
  • More leaders throughout the country are emerging from other sectors – from philanthropy to universities to government – to support entrepreneurs in their communities.

We must build on the foundation of established work in this area – both locally and at the field level.

  • There are already a wide range of existing ecosystem building tools and support organizations for ecosystem builders – but they are not always visible to or understood by ecosystem builders.
  • We must harness opportunities to integrate the emerging field of ecosystem builders with the work of key institutions, such as universities, economic development groups, foundations, large corporations, and government leaders. This integration will strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems and foster more robust and inclusive community and economic development practices overall.
  • As the field develops, it is important to acknowledge and work closely with grassroots leaders and community-driven groups that have been working to build ecosystems in their communities for many years, often with few resources and little support.

Early collaboration between different groups of ecosystem builders and resource providers is already paying dividends.

  • Grassroots ecosystem builders and ecosystem builders working in large institutions are starting to find ways to understand each other’s needs and work together better. A number of communities have demonstrated the value created for all when these two groups discover their shared interests and begin to collaborate.
  • Over the past year, the benefits of working together and coordinating efforts have become more clear, inspiring many to have greater confidence in the potential benefits of a more robust ecosystem building field.
  • Divides between these two groups, however, continue to be identified as the greatest threat to the field.

The ESHIP Goals have been well received by many ecosystem building practitioners and are yielding benefits.

  • The draft framework of the ESHIP Goals have offered a common language to coordinate efforts across the field – including different sectors, silos, and geographies.
  • We see more shared understanding, a new focus on the essential needs of the ecosystem field, and more collaboration. This is especially true among national resource providers (NRPs) who provide training, support, and funding to ecosystem builders across the emerging field.

The ESHIP Goals have also created some new challenges and difficulties.

  • Efforts to achieve these goals involve multiple parties and can become complex and messy at times. They are nested and interrelated, and the work cannot be done in isolation. Furthermore, it will take decades to achieve real results.
  • These goals require ecosystem builders to lift their focus from the local level to a broader, field-wide view. Most ecosystem builders concentrate their day-to-day work primarily in their local communities. However, the work developing a professional field and creating consensus around a unified approach for local efforts requires a wider perspective that considers the collective work across many communities. This broader focus opens the door for investments that will pay dividends down the road.
  • Scarce resources, uncertainties about the benefits of collaboration, and a lack of trust can make it difficult to bring diverse stakeholders within the ecosystem building community together.
  • In any entrepreneurial ecosystem, many efforts will be occurring simultaneously. Some will be collaborative efforts, some will be complementary, and there may be some conflict. Healthy competition is inevitable. We will need to learn to navigate this competition to ensure that it does not diminish our collaboration.

Mass collaboration, collective leadership, and a concern for the greater good are required to achieve the ESHIP Goals.

  • We will need the collaboration of many players in the field, including a wide range of local practitioners and organizations that have national and global reach and expertise. Just as a local community must come together to build an ecosystem, so we will need to collaborate on a large scale to build a field collectively.
  • We will need leaders who strive to connect with others and to identify long-term solutions for the whole community. We seek those who will look beyond their individual, short-term needs to be willing to address the gaps in the entire system.

At this year’s 2019 ESHIP Summit, we will showcase the community’s work from the design phase of the project: 30+ concrete initiatives that we can work on together to achieve the ESHIP Goals. Participants will provide input on the initiatives and work collaboratively to develop our next steps for the third phase of our discover-design-deliver process: delivering the ESHIP Goals.

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Outline goals and initiatives to build a more robust field for ecosystem builders.


The content of this book will become the first few chapters in a more comprehensive playbook for the emerging field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building.

Everything is a draft stamp

We are publishing this draft version of the playbook at the ESHIP Summit, not as the definitive answer to how to do our collective work, but to start a conversation about new and better ways to build entrepreneurial ecosystems everywhere.

We aim to co-create this book over time with you, the leaders and catalysts who work with grit, grace, and heart to help your community discover what is often a new way to co-create itself.

This draft playbook will lead us to a more comprehensive and easy-to-use toolkit aimed at helping communities everywhere unlock their entrepreneurial potential.

We are thrilled you have chosen to join us on this journey, and we hope you will not hesitate to share your ideas, suggestions, constructive criticism, and stories about what you’re learning along the way.

The Ecosystem Builders’ Declaration of Interdependence

We believe that there is a need for a new model for inclusive economic development, one that takes into account the whole system.

We know that to build these complex yet accessible systems, we must act in interdependent, inclusive, and equitable ways.

We understand that these living systems evolve in complex ways, and that without collectively-held intent, they cannot grow to their full natural potential.

We recognize that to surface this collectively-held intent, there is a new emerging role, profession, and community of practice that is required – that of the ecosystem builder.

We are mindful that as an emerging field, these ideas will be new to many people. We must practice grace, humility, and empathy as we work with each other to evolve these new ways of thinking.

We embrace that we are a large group of leaders and catalysts with diverse backgrounds, skills, experiences, expertise, motivations, and visions for the future.

We are encouraged that in a world of increasing complexity, it is the inclusion of these diverse perspectives that will allow us to innovate, design, and deliver sustainable solutions for our ever-evolving communities.

We, as a community of practice, are here to support the development of 1) each other; 2) each others’ communities; and 3) the principles, culture, tools, and metrics necessary to infuse entrepreneurship more deeply into our economics.

We acknowledge that change is difficult and requires sacrifice, and that growing healthy ecosystems often requires balancing the maximization of short-term outputs against a need to work with a long-term view. These challenges are essential – and important – to our success.

We pledge to pursue this vision together – to ensure that the makers, the doers, and the dreamers from all demographics of society have the opportunity to change their circumstances and to have a positive influence on themselves and the world.