Around the world, there is a growing number of leaders working at a systems level to remove barriers to entrepreneurship, connect disconnected resources, and cultivate a more supportive environment for the makers, doers, and dreamers. Over more than two decades, these innovators and early adopters of ecosystem building approaches have developed promising ideas, programs, and pathways to foster more innovative, inclusive economies. As a result, there is a growing body of work and an emerging science regarding effective ecosystem building.
But entrepreneurs continue to face significant barriers...
Despite this momentum, data shows entrepreneurship is still on the decline, the wealth gap in our country is widening, and more people are feeling left behind. Ecosystem builders are working to reverse these trends by removing barriers to new and growing ventures, but the most significant challenges to entrepreneurial success are deeply entrenched, especially for entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. These barriers cannot be completely removed by individuals or even small teams of ecosystem builders. They will require much broader stakeholder engagement and collaboration to unearth completely.
Significant barriers for entrepreneurs:
- 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.
- An unsupportive culture that discourages risk and creates a difficult environment for new ideas and 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 to help create more conducive environments for entrepreneurial success.
...and ecosystem builders themselves face substantial challenges.
Removing barriers to entrepreneurship often requires ecosystem builders to work long hours on overwhelming to-do lists and engage in proverbial hand-to-hand combat with the status quo in their communities. However, these are not the only challenges they face.
Because ecosystem building is still an emerging approach to economic development, many practitioners are operating without data-driven practices or a support system of peers, resources, and institutional backing. With little public support or understanding, many practitioners are grappling with professional burnout as they work with small budgets and face skepticism of their work.
The most common barrier to ecosystem building identified by both practitioners and national resource providers (NRPs) across the field was the lack of collaboration between emerging ecosystem building approaches and longstanding economic development strategies. In fact, this divide was identified as the biggest threat to the ecosystem building field.
Conversations with ecosystem builders have also yielded a long list of professional supports they need to continue their work and achieve greater success:
- A roadmap and toolkit (or "app store") of validated methods and metrics for building thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems and measuring community impact.
- A strong network of peers and resource providers around the world to share knowledge and support.
- Training programs to strengthen skills and expertise in supporting entrepreneurs at all stages of business.
- Support for leading culture change, especially around the transformational work of building more inclusive economies.
- Resources and strategic partners to scale and expand ecosystem building initiatives to reach more entrepreneurs.