Call it the largest focus group in entrepreneurial development. The Growing Entrepreneurial Communities Summit (#GrowingEship), held on May 4 and 5, 2016, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, explored innovative ways to build stronger local economies through entrepreneurship. It attracted more than 200 participants including representatives from academia, research facilities, foundations, economic developers, other practitioners and government, from across the country.
The structure of the summit—snapshot sessions followed by deep dive peer discussions coupled with long networking breaks—allowed attendees to share and learn from others’ experience and expertise.
Key takeaways and common themes included:
- Affinities between rural and urban entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs, regardless of geographic location, often feel isolated from resources. They crave connected and visible networks that help make resources, training, funding and other opportunities more visible and accessible
- Entrepreneurship development can’t be led by one organization. To move the needle and create sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems, organizations across the community have to work together and work with entrepreneurs of all types, Main Street and innovation led, microenterprises and second stage.
- Sometimes it’s about supporting something other than entrepreneurs. Taking a holistic view of your ecosystem allows you to address needs and barriers to entrepreneurship, from education to culture to density to Internet access to housing.
- It’s not easy to get communities to change. Be patient and persistent. Knowing your mission and your metrics—how you’ll measure your progress over time—can help you communicate your progress to your community and to stakeholders and build buy-in for sustainable efforts.
- We must invite everyone to the table. Diversity and inclusion were major themes of the summit. This work doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it must include a variety of voices that perhaps haven’t traditionally been invited into the conversation.
- Communities want to help entrepreneurs. The sheer number of attendees from such diverse backgrounds—rural and urban, foundations and research facilities, government and academia, thought leaders and practitioners—is testimony to the passion in communities and their proactive quest to help entrepreneurs succeed and build sustainable ecosystems.
Fostering Conversations and Collaborations
The innovative structure of the summit put conversations and networking in the foreground. The summit focused on four snapshot sessions, led by thought leaders and on-the-ground practitioners:
What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem? The first session was led by Don Macke of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship with on-the-ground practitioner experience from Jill Nichols of Rice County, Kansas, and Tammy Sweet of GrowFL.
Is your community ready to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem? Erik Pedersen of NetWork Kansas provided the conceptual overview for the second question. Practitioner insight came from Ines Polonius of Communities Unlimited and Bruce Seifer of University of Vermont.
How do you get started building an entrepreneurial ecosystem? Penny Lewandowski of the Edward Lowe Foundation introduced the third topic, with on-the-ground practitioner insight from Trisha Brasted of Wichita Technology Corporation and Emily Breedlove of Creative and Small Town Ventures, Asheville, North Carolina Entrepreneurship Initiative.
How do you measure an entrepreneurial ecosystem? Maria Meyers for SourceLink opened the final discussion. Dane Stangler of the Kauffman Foundation and Bill Sproull of the Richardson, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, provided practical examples.
The conceptual overviews and practitioner insights were followed by 45-minute small group roundtable conversations, moderated by staff from the host organizations. These deep dive peer discussions allowed attendees to ask questions, share best practices and learn from each other. Table facilitators—there were 26 tables of about 6 to 8 attendees—recorded notes for each table. Those “focus group” results will be shared with attendees after the conference and will guide and seed future conversations, best practices and white papers.
On day 2 of the summit, breakout Bar Camps allowed participants to explore topics beyond the set agenda. The 12 Bar Camps covered:
- assessing your community for readiness
- ·navigating the CDFI online portal
- measuring impact
- business succession planning
- inclusive entrepreneurship
- increasing entrepreneurial investment through angels
- workforce initiatives to support entrepreneurs
- community based funding for entrepreneurs
- youth entrepreneurship
- entrepreneurial culture
- how to tell the story of entrepreneurship in your region
- wealth building strategies for economic development
Review the Summit slide decks. Click on “Agenda” and then the individual speakers to download their presentations.
See the Summit in action in SourceLink’s Facebook album.
Follow the tweets of attendees in four Storify posts.