We asked. You delivered.


Your ideas and insights over the past year have contributed to a more substantial Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook. Thank you. This version – draft 2.0 – incorporates all we learned from you. We hope it provides a framework for people who seek to grow entrepreneurship in their communities, by providing more specific ideas, guidance, and insights on how to create more inclusive, dynamic, and diverse ecosystems.

Over the past year, we conducted hundreds of discovery discussions to understand the needs of entrepreneurs and those who champion entrepreneurs. This work confirmed many ideas in the first draft of this Playbook. More importantly, it gave us deeper insights into the needs of ecosystem builders and the challenges of ecosystem building.

These conversations reaffirmed our commitment to advancing entrepreneurial ecosystems as a model for economic development. That model focuses on how the whole of a community is far greater than the sum of its parts. It means starting with what a community has and connecting the pieces. More than ever, we believe ecosystem building can transform communities of varying sizes, demographic and socioeconomic contexts, and geographies, and create more sustainable economies everywhere.

We also learned, however, that people building ecosystems can’t succeed on their own. The challenges of this work are significant. Doing it well requires a comprehensive approach, including sophisticated research, interlinked networks, collective learning, and institutional support.

Unfortunately, the emerging field of ecosystem building does not yet have all the necessary professional resources in place. We still lack consensus around some core aspects of the work, including shared outcomes, common metrics, proven methods, and key definitions. As a result, a growing number of ecosystem builders struggle with small budgets, overwhelming workloads, and skepticism in their communities. We see troubling levels of burnout among many practitioners.

Going forward, we must properly equip ecosystem builders as professionals to tackle the challenges they face. The Kauffman Foundation can help, but we can’t do it without you. Together, we can assist practitioners and providers to build professional networks; share knowledge, practices, and stories; build new resources; and generate support for ecosystem building nationwide. This is ultimately about lifting you, the individuals doing the work on the ground and in the trenches.

Our approach – empowering the builders of entrepreneurial ecosystems – will drive the ESHIP Summit initiative in coming years. At the annual ESHIP Summits and during the times in between, we will:

  • Connect individuals who are building ecosystems;
  • Bring in underrepresented, underserved, and underestimated populations;
  • Support the sharing of tools, metrics, frameworks, models, and practices and the development of new resources;
  • Validate ecosystem building as an approach to economic development; and
  • Facilitate easier implementation on the ground in more communities.

Together, we can professionalize the practice of building entrepreneurial ecosystems. We can drive adoption of a new entrepreneur-centric approach to economic development. The effort will take time, and it will require extraordinary collaboration by all of us. And remember, we are still at the beginning. But succeed we must. In the balance are the silent hopes of countless entrepreneurs, yearning to turn their dreams into economic realities and contribute to our shared prosperity.

We are grateful to all of you doing this essential work. We’ve got your backs. And it’s an honor to serve alongside you. Now, let’s get to work!

Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. #eshipsummit

Victor Hwang
Vice President, Entrepreneurship
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Year 1: The ESHIP Summit Discovery Report


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.

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 ESHIP Summit Partners, a group of 50+ national resource providers in the ecosystem building field; and
  • 478 one-on-one discussions with ecosystem builders.

The following are the most consistent themes and insights we heard across all the discussions this past year regarding the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field:

Theme 1: Across the field, there is shared hope to leverage the ecosystem building approach to create meaningful change for disconnected entrepreneurs. More diverse representation in leadership, case studies on effective practices, inclusion training, and resource development are critical next steps for this effort.

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

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

Theme 2: The work of ecosystem building is not new, but it is also not yet widely understood or adopted.

  • Many innovators of 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.

Theme 3: Despite the sense of momentum around entrepreneurship and ecosystem building, the rate of entrepreneurship nationally is on the 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;
  • Unsupportive communities that discourage the makers, dreamers, and doers – and 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; and
  • Little voice in policy decisions that affect the entrepreneurial environment.

Theme 4: The ecosystem building field is still emerging, and therefore not yet well-connected. 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; and
  • Collaborative research, policy advocacy, and community storytelling initiatives.

Theme 5: The Kauffman Foundation and the ESHIP Summit can play a unique role over the next few years, supporting efforts to:

  • Convene the field 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; and
  • Promote, facilitate, and support field-wide collaborations to address identified needs.

At the 2018 ESHIP Summit, we will reconvene participants from the first event and bring in new contributors. We will reflect on the discussions over the last year and design our collective action to fortify the ecosystem building field and advance a more inclusive approach to the work. Chapter 4 of this Playbook puts forth a shared path for the work ahead.


This book is the first few chapters in what will become a more comprehensive playbook for the emerging field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building.

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

The Ecosystem Playbook is a work in progress. #eshipsummit Kauffman Foundation

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 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.