The rise of the rest.

The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook - Kauffman Foundation

Communities like Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, Boulder and Austin took decades to become robust entrepreneurial ecosystems. However, such ecosystems can grow anywhere today. In the modern economy, every community has the opportunity to become a thriving ecosystem. In fact, many already have.

Ecosystem Playbook

Defining an ecosystem.

Ecosystem Playbook

The essence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. The ecosystem allows for the fast flow of talent, information and resources so that entrepreneurs can quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Elements of an Ecosystem:

Entrepreneurs who aspire to start and grow new businesses, and the people who support entrepreneurs.

Talent that can help companies grow.

People and institutions with knowledge and resources to help entrepreneurs.

Individuals and institutions that champion entrepreneurs and the ecosystem.

Onramps (or access points) to the ecosystem so that anyone and everyone can participate.

Intersections that facilitate the interaction of people, ideas and resources.

Stories that people tell about themselves and their ecosystem.

Culture that is rich in social capital—collaboration, cooperation, trust, reciprocity and a focus on the common good.

Here's a simple formula: People + Culture = EVERYTHING.

Ecosystem Playbook

A community of entrepreneurs...

People are at the center of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. They are its fundamental building blocks. All the ideas, incubators and capital in the world will not create anything valuable without talented people putting them to good use.

Ecosystem Playbook

...and the people who support them.

Entrepreneurship is a community sport. Building companies requires people throughout the community helping in a wide variety of roles. They include:

Ecosystem Playbook

People may move in and out of the community over time, shift between roles or even play several roles at the same time.

Ecosystem Playbook

Talent that helps companies grow.

Ecosystem Playbook

Some of the nation's most successful entrepreneurial ecosystems are also talent magnets and incubators. Ecosystem building requires attracting, retaining and cultivating talented people—including entrepreneurs, but also potential employers and other supporting partners. Strong ecosystems tend to have substantial cross-linkages between schools, universities and the private sector so that talent supply and demand are efficiently matched.

Knowledge and resources to help entrepreneurs.

Ecosystem Playbook

Strong ecosystems allow entrepreneurs to quickly find knowledge and resources they need to succeed. The knowledge and resources required by entrepreneurs are diverse. Knowledge may include answers to process-stopping questions ("How do I get my export license?"); points of friction ("How do I get my team to function better?"); or simple inquiries. This knowledge may reside in other entrepreneurs, other people (such as mentors or professionals), or institutions (such as universities, libraries or accelerators). Resources are the assets entrepreneurs need, such as capital, potential hires, office space, professional services or raw materials.

Connections among individuals and institutions allow knowledge and resources to flow to entrepreneurs quickly.

Champions and conveners.

Ecosystem Playbook

Champions and conveners promote entrepreneurs, organize the ecosystem and build awareness. They advocate for local entrepreneurs and their companies, bring them together in collaboration, challenge them to grow and push everyone forward. They are the catalysts, connectors, cheerleaders, co-creators and changemakers.

Champions and conveners wear many different hats. They could be the organizer of a Startup Weekend, the reporter covering local entrepreneurs, the lawyer that introduces clients to others, the early adopter who first buys from new businesses or restaurants, or the chamber leader who shines a spotlight on new businesses. Most importantly, they work relentlessly to help entrepreneurs and companies with little direct benefit for themselves.


Ecosystem Playbook

Onramps make ecosystems more open. They grow networks by bringing in more talent, thus fostering diversity and allowing for serendipitous interactions that lead to new ideas.

In a biological ecosystem like a coral reef, diversity creates resilience. Similarly, entrepreneurial ecosystems thrive when there is greater diversity. In order to achieve this diversity, we need new entrants to be able to find the community. Healthy ecosystems have visible and welcoming onramps that make the ecosystem easy to access for anyone. These onramps may come in the form of events like 1 Million Cups; organizations like accelerators, small business development centers (SBDCs) or career development centers; or online communities like websites or social media groups.

...and intersections.

Ecosystem Playbook

Collisions between people, ideas and resources often allow entrepreneurs to find missing pieces of the puzzles they are trying to solve. Ecosystems must "engineer serendipity" between disparate elements of the network by creating intersections where such collisions can happen.

Intersections may be institutions, such as coworking spaces, research parks or coffee shops that are regularly frequented by entrepreneurs and their supporters. Or they may be events, such as pitch competitions, conferences or meetups. Intersections may also take place online, such as through a Slack channel or Twitter hashtag that convenes a virtual community.

The community's story.

Ecosystem Playbook

The collective story that people tell themselves—and the rest of the world—powerfully shapes an ecosystem's future. It frames what is possible. In Silicon Valley, this story is about the generations of legendary entrepreneurs who were misfits determined to disrupt the status quo. This story inspires new aspiring misfits to arrive in the Valley every day. Some communities, however, tell themselves negative stories. They bemoan the native entrepreneurs who left, the brain drain of young people, or the catastrophic failure of a company many years ago that still serves as a cautionary tale. These negative stories become self-fulfilling and inhibit new entrepreneurs.

The best community stories are authentic and true.

A collaborative culture that is rich in social capital.

Ecosystem Playbook

Culture makes the ecosystem come alive. We find culture in a community's energy, its attitude toward collaboration and competition, and its enthusiasm for entrepreneurship.

A strong ecosystem culture is like rocket fuel for entrepreneurial growth. But an ecosystem will struggle without a culture of collaboration, cooperation and trust that inspires people to move quickly, help each other and be open to novel ideas.

A community's culture can be cultivated, tended and nurtured. It is by no means static. People engage in culture change naturally—through the conversations they have, the questions they ask and the behaviors they model.

"'Social capital' refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit."

We need ecosystem builders.

Ecosystem Builder - Kauffman Foundation

Many communities have the elements of an ecosystem, but they remain nascent or disconnected. Their networks may be small, siloed or fragmented. And their cultures may lack vibrancy, trust and social cohesion.

When such gaps exist, leaders must consider the whole ecosystem and enhance each of its elements. In recent years, these individuals have come to be called "ecosystem builders." Ecosystem builders connect, empower and collaborate with others to build the whole system. They are system entrepreneurs, working to lift up the whole community to achieve its potential. They play multiple roles, including system architect, champion, advocate, convener, cajoler, traffic cop, air traffic controller and storyteller.

Like entrepreneurs, ecosystem builders come in many forms.

Ecosystem Builder - Kauffman Foundation

Really, anyone can be an ecosystem builder—if they care enough.

An ecosystem builder's job.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems, at their heart, are based on human relationships. Ecosystem builders are creating an invisible infrastructure in their communities to support entrepreneurs. It's not like traditional infrastructure. It's not about physical spaces, fancy buildings, pools of capital or big institutions. Instead, ecosystem builders focus on building consistent, collaborative human engagement. It's about process, not product. Context, not content. The journey, not the destination.