9 #ESHIPSummit Takeaways from Ecosystem Builders


I’ll say it flat out: I’m inspired.

Last week, we had the honor to partner and spend two days among the movers and shakers of entrepreneurship ecosystem building at the Kauffman Foundation’s #ESHIPSummit.

And it was catalytic.

While sharing ideas with fellow ecosystem builders is not new to us at SourceLink—we’ve been bringing together our entrepreneurial communities for annual summits for more than five years—being among a crowd of 420+ ecosystem builders from 48 states and 22 countries was, well, there’s no other word but awesome.

The two-day summit held in Kansas City was a full-tilt smorgasbord of ideas, insights, collisions and true connection. From backcasting to art projects to brainstorming, we worked with an energetic group of ecosystem builders to share projects, strategies, create the future of entrepreneurial ecosystem building and take the next important steps to make entrepreneurship easier, everywhere, for everyone.

(Head over to our Facebook page to see our #ESHIPSummit Album and just a few of the folks we met.)



Here are a few more insights and actions from the #ESHIPSummit, curated from our SourceLink staff, strategic partners and community leaders.

“This is a movement—and we are all players.”

From our Albuquerque community lead, Eric Renz-Whitmore: “It feels like we’ve reached a new phase in thinking about how we can help grow healthier entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country. It’s world-changing work that requires collaboration with lots of people with very different experiences, skills and viewpoints. Having met so many of these inspiring people who’ve achieved so much, it now feels like improving more people’s lives on a grand scale is possible – and that’s really exciting.”

Amy Kuhlers from IASourceLink felt encouraged just by being in a room of 400+ people who “get” what we do. She added these golden thoughts: “I came away from the conference feeling like one small piece of a large puzzle – BUT I felt like a piece.  Sometimes in the startup world it feels like all attention is on a certain ‘type’ of community, and I’ve felt a bit like I’m lost on an island.  But by being with so many people fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems in so many different ways, I left the conference feeling like I was part of the whole.  Community is great.”

What he and she said. All day.

“Ecosystem builders are the catalytic converters in their communities.”

Entrepreneurs have the power to change communities—and transform economies. Kansas City Mayor Sly James recognizes this and supports it. Check out a clip of his address to the #ESHIPSummit crowd below.


Entrepreneurship is an economic development strategy.”

This is huge, and best summed up by Don Macke of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship: “Recognition by the Kauffman Foundation that ecosystem development represents a priority is huge.  This step by the Foundation builds on the pioneering work of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, SourceLink, NetWork Kansas, the Edward Lowe Foundation and the Center.”

“The vision of the leadership of the Kauffman Foundation to embrace a role as convener within the ecosystem field is so welcome.  For too long there has been a convener gap in this field.  No one is better suited to play the convener role than Kauffman.”


“When we get to the table, we should save room to invite someone else.”

A strong current throughout the #ESHIPSummit: how do you include more people and ideas in the conversations around entrepreneurship?

Melissa Bradley of Project 500 and Paulo Harris of Cohado both gave inspiring firestarters (re: quick presentations on ecosystem topics meant to get attendees thinking and talking) about why we need to pull up more chairs to the entrepreneurial table.

The next step: sharing how communities are expanding the table and pulling up more chairs.


“Recognize your unconscious biases…question everything.”

It’s important to understand the world view you bring to any conversation—and the bias that travels with your experience. In his firestarter, David McConville of the Buckminster Fuller Institute reminded #ESHIPSummit attendees of how world views (think pre-Copernicus earth-centric views of the universe) shape our attitudes and actions. Question everything, step outside of your world view, listen to experiences and question your assumptions.


“Encourage funders to think of startups as ‘for-profit’ philanthropy.”

Love this thought that came from the Brad Feld, Steve Case and Julie Lenzer firestarter on the last day of the conference. Activating wealthy investors is sometimes a struggle, but thinking of entrepreneurship as for-profit philanthropy, as an investment in our people, ideas and economies, can be a way to leap that hurdle and encourage people to invest in their entrepreneurs and their communities.


“Ignite the lights.”

Christina Long of NetWork Kansas came away with this insight: “I’m really fascinated by a quote that came up in our group as we discussed leadership among people in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Rather than trying to find people to carry the torch of this work, we need to ignite the lights of leadership within many people.

“The idea that there should not be a top-down approach to this work was also very fascinating, especially as we consider the statement that ‘someone needs to own this work’ in order for it to advance. Yes, there needs to be ownership, but collective ownership is the goal!” 

“Kansas City is a new model of entrepreneurship.”

Back in 1987, economic gardening was one of the first initiatives to put entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in the dialogue around economic development—and it started in Littleton, Colorado.  The back story (courtesy of Penny Lewandowski and the Edward Lowe Foundation): Missile manufacturer Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) cut its workforce in half, which resulted in 7,500 lost jobs in Littleton and 1 million square feet of vacant real estate. In response, Chris Gibbons, Littleton’s director of business and industry affairs, began to implement his version of Economic Gardening, working with local companies to create new jobs in lieu of recruiting, incentives or tax rebates. Over the next two decades Littleton more than doubled jobs (a time when its population only increased by 23 percent) and tripled sales tax revenue.

Kansas City, the host to the first #ESHIPSummit, is picking up the narrative. In 2003, it organized and mapped its resources and created an accessible and visible gateway into entrepreneurship with KCSourceLink. With that foundation and the collaborations that come from a cohesive network of on-the-ground ecosystem builders, Kansas City has made great strides, including increasing capital pools by 290 (to nearly $1 billion) for early-stage entrepreneurs. See the full story at www.wecreatekc.com.


“Continue the conversation.”

Amy Kuhlers of IASourceLink put this well: “There isn’t going to be a single ‘right way’ to create ecosystems, but there is always at least one common denominator – connecting.  Victor Hwang got it right when he said ‘The best way to empower entrepreneurs is to surround them with people that can help.’”



Sarah Mote Marketing Director of SourceLink 

Sarah Mote is the marketing director at SourceLink. Sarah brings her experience as an entrepreneur, storyteller and content strategist to help shape the story of SourceLink and that of our affiliate communities.