In 2017, we shared 3 ways to empower your entrepreneurial community. While those tips are still relevant, the pandemic and heightened awareness about the importance of building equitable and inclusive ecosystems has surfaced new challenges. Here are some additional recommendations for empowering your network in 2022.
1. Make your ecosystem inclusive.
Racial wealth disparity is a major barrier to thriving communities and economic growth. Median Black household wealth in the United States is projected to hit zero by 2053—despite the fact that by that time, racial minorities will likely comprise the majority of the nation’s population.
Creating inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems can help close the wealth gap, as entrepreneurship offers one of the greatest opportunities for personal wealth building. However, it’s important to consider what barriers entrepreneurs of color face that may keep them from being able to benefit from investment and support resources. On the podcast Breaking Down Barriers, Dell Gines, senior community development advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, explained:
“You can’t say you’re an ecosystem builder if you’re not an inclusive ecosystem builder. Because true inclusivity in your ecosystem means that you’re allocating resources to those with the most entrepreneurial talent so that you can create the greatest return […]. If I’m giving a white person more resources simply because they’re white even if they’re an inferior entrepreneur to the Latina that’s starting a firm, my ecosystem is not functioning well or efficiently.”
Who is missing from your network? Consider how you can partner with trusted organizations in your community to reach underrepresented groups who need customized support. As ecosystem builders, it is our responsibility not only to make resources visible and accessible, but to actively build bridges between diverse entrepreneurs and the organizations that serve them. Identifying and filling these cultural competency gaps benefits your entire community, and it is an essential component of continued economic and social progress.
These resources can help you get started:
- IEDC’s Playbook for Equitable Economic Development
- NLC’s municipal action guide The Future of Cities: A Roadmap to Inclusive Entrepreneurship
- Living Cities’ Cities and Businesses of Color: A Guide to Economic Growth
- Culturally competent consulting service provider ThirdEye Network
2. Make your ecosystem adaptable.
In the same way we encourage entrepreneurs to fail quickly and pivot, entrepreneurial ecosystem builders should continually evaluate factors that affect the ecosystem and work with resource partners to adapt. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how to adapt. Think outside the box when addressing external events that impact your community, and be flexible to adjust your plans as the situation continues to change.
Colmena66 continues to adapt to the needs of entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico, developing new and innovative ways to market their platform and meet small business owners where they are. Since launching in 2016, their network has withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and a global pandemic and emerged stronger due to their resilience and ability to pivot in an ever-changing environment. By regularly talking to their entrepreneurs and resource partners, they’ve come to understand what the network needs most, and their platform now features an e-commerce online tool, a digital Covid-19 resource directory, virtual events, webinars and educational content for their Spanish-speaking audience, and engaging social media platforms that allow other avenues for entrepreneurs to reach them. Colmena66 captures data on entrepreneurial activity across the network in SourceLink’s CRM solution and the team shares these insights in their annual impact reports. This helps Colmena66 celebrate the network’s successes as well as identify gaps that allow them to secure additional funding to continue their work.
The input of stakeholders and entrepreneurs is crucial to an ecosystem’s ability to adapt. Eyes and ears on the ground can provide real-time feedback of how your efforts are working and what support entrepreneurs are finding most valuable. For example, knowing that online interaction continues to be a primary mode of engagement, IASourceLink leverages a chatbot to reduce wait times and takes some of the burden of pointing people to resources off of their small team. The chatbot, Sprout, asks entrepreneurs a series of questions in order to quickly point them to the best-fit resources for their need. Access to valuable data helps the IASourceLink team make key decisions based on engagement with the platform.
3. Make your ecosystem sustainable.
If your goal is lasting economic impact, don’t just think in the short term. Identify what you want to change and what success will look like, then determine what steps are needed to reach your community’s specific goals. Many of our affiliates develop annual impact reports as a way to illustrate entrepreneurial activity and celebrate forward momentum.
In 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce had a bold vision: to make Kansas City America’s most entrepreneurial city. The community rallied behind this goal, and KCSourceLink began working in partnership with key stakeholders and a resource network of over 240 organizations to track and measure collective progress. They share findings in their annual We Create KC report, a year-over-year review of the state of entrepreneurship and economic growth in the region. Benchmarking and measuring progress in this way allows them to continue to secure funding, build on their impact and remain sustainable.
We know that creating sustainable ecosystems is hard work, but you don’t have to go it alone. Another important key to sustainability is collaboration, and our SourceLink affiliates find tremendous value in having access to an open exchange of ideas across the national network. Just ask Amy Kuhlers, program manager of one of our longest-running statewide affiliates, IASourceLink:
“I’m a big fan of borrowing great ideas from others. In our website redesign, we worked with the SourceLink team to pull inspiration from other affiliates. It’s great to be able to pick up best practices from other organizations in the SourceLink network.”
Lean on experts and talk to fellow ecosystem builders about their successes and lessons learned. And don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate the successes of your partners and entrepreneurs along the way.
A network of empowered and committed communities
At SourceLink, we help communities build and empower entrepreneurial ecosystems. If you would like to learn more about supporting entrepreneurs in your community, start a conversation by reaching out to [email protected].