We posed this question to entrepreneurship ecosystem builders at the Kauffman Foundation’s #ESHIPSummit as part of our “science fair project.”
The two-day ESHIPSummit, held in Kansas City, was a full-tilt smorgasbord of ideas, insights, collisions and true connections that brought together some 420+ ecosystem builders from 48 states and 22 countries.
Over the course of those two days, we ecosystem builders brainstormed, crafted, mapped and sketched what entrepreneurial ecosystems should and could be, taking the next important steps to expand the nationwide network of ecosystem builders—and to make entrepreneurship easier, everywhere, for everyone.
The “science fair” was just one of the ways this energetic group of ecosystem builders shared the projects, work and strategies that are helping build entrepreneurial ecosystems in cities, regions and states across the country and the globe.
Our project was a chance to visually present our methodology for building entrepreneurial infrastructures. (We’ve been doing this for the past 15 years and in communities nationwide.) Complete with abstract, hypothesis and materials used, our project board asked that important question—how do you support entrepreneurship?—and followed up with examples of how SourceLink communities nationwide are supporting, connecting and advancing entrepreneurship.
Make entrepreneurship easier by building a better infrastructure for entrepreneurs.
Our question—how do you support entrepreneurship?—was at the core of every conversation at the #ESHIPSummit. Capital, coworking, incubators, accelerators, mentor matching, the individual answers and approaches varied, but the common thread through all those answers: entrepreneurs need community.
Entrepreneurs need the space, time, connections and opportunity to thrive.
Why does entrepreneurship matter? The background research comes from the Kauffman Foundation itself. In 2010, the foundation reported that all net new jobs were created by new and young firms.
That economic powerhouse of a fact sparked an interest in supporting entrepreneurs. The problem: there hasn’t been a defined process, system or next steps for how to support entrepreneurs and how to make entrepreneurship easier.
Our project fills that gap, but not by building an ecosystem. That has to grow organically. What we did instead was help communities build a fertile foundation of mapped assets and networked resources—an entrepreneurial infrastructure—on which a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem can grow.
If you can build it in Kansas City, can you build it anywhere?
By the time the Kauffman research came out in support of the economic necessity of entrepreneurship, we at SourceLink already had five-plus years of entrepreneurial infrastucture building under our belts.
It all started with an experiment in America’s heartland: the bistate, 18-county region of Kansas City.
Founded by the Kauffman Foundation, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the U.S. Small Business Administration, KCSourceLink was launched in 2003 as a pilot project to build the first entrepreneurial infrastructure and . . .
· Connect business building resources
· Make them visible to entrepreneurs
· Build collaborations to fill gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem
Flash forward to 2011, and Kansas City, because of that infrastructure, was ready to make and act on a bold goal: to become America’s most entrepreneurial city.
And so we proposed an hypothesis, built on that first experiment in Kansas City (that since, we’ve replicated in more than 30 communities nationwide): If you move beyond collisions, can you build a sustainable infrastructure for entrepreneurial growth? Moreover, if you build it in Kansas City, can you transport it to other regions? (Spoilers: they answer is yes.)
Identify, Connect, Empower, Measure
We started next door in the state of Kansas. Then we moved to other cities and regions across the United States. Today, we’re in communities from Seattle to San Juan.
Our procedure was four-fold:
· Identify the entrepreneurial resources in the community and make them visible
· Connect the community through a central hub – a robust website, a one-stop hotline and a community calendar of events
· Empower the ecosystem by engaging, listening, responding and collaborating to solve problems and fill gaps
· Measure the impact, based on the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s stage of development
On the Ground with the Champions of Entrepreneurship
To date (and this number is constantly growing), we’ve
· mapped 12,000+ resources nationally
· helped make 325,000+ referrals to resources
· connected 2,000+ ecosystem builders to each other and to a network of best practices
But those big numbers only tell part of the story. Here’s how the on-the-ground champions have built on the entrepreneurial infrastructure in their communities.
IDENTIFY and map resources.
In Sacramento . . . SourceLink mapped the capital region’s entrepreneurial and startup resources.
CONNECT entrepreneurs and champions.
In Phoenix . . . Arizona State University categorized and connected business-building resources to make them more visible to entrepreneurs.
In Denver . . . the Commons on Champa connected resource partners to launch The Resource Navigator and discuss how to make the entrepreneurial journey easier.
EMPOWER the ecosystem.
In Albuquerque . . . the Molino Project equips its “business navigators” with Biz-Trakker® to better reach, engage and track underserved entrepreneurs.
In Baltimore . . . Baltimore SourceLink categorized and connected business-supporting resources to make them more visible to all entrepreneurs.
MEASURE the impact.
In Kansas City . . . KCBizCare, the city’s business concierge office, captures customer information, tracks their performance metrics and maintains contact information from their resource partners.
In Kansas City . . . Digital Sandbox KC uses Biz-Trakker to track the 480 jobs, $38.2 million in follow-on funding and $12 million in payroll its 85 early-stage startups have generated.
Across 13 cities . . . the National Urban League leverages Biz-Trakker to manage clients across its entrepreneurial centers and report on the NUL’s collective impact.
Be part of our project to make the entrepreneurship easier.
When you join SourceLink, you join a nationwide network of thought leaders, ecosystem builders and on-the-ground practitioners. From Seattle to San Juan, SourceLink friends and affiliates are all committed to strengthening local economies, growing opportunities and championing entrepreneurship. Join us—and let us connect you to entrepreneurial champions who are helping make entrepreneurship easier for everyone, everywhere.
Dara Macan is global director of business development for SourceLink. Having been an entrepreneur herself, Dara understands the difficulties associated with growing a business and how SourceLink can empower economic development agencies to “grow their own” for economic impact.