Hands, Head, and Heart: Professional Development Opportunities for those in Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development and Ecosystem Building

When I started this work almost 20 years ago, very few entrepreneurship-led economic development, much less ecosystem building, resources or institutions existed for early practitioners to be able to tap into. Today, the environment is so much more robust, and frankly, exciting! From international associations picking up the mantle of entrepreneurship-led economic development to grassroots communities empowering individual practitioners doing the hard work of building collaborative networks to advance entrepreneurship in ways that I could never have dreamed. 

Part of the challenge in our field, beyond the fact it continues to rapidly emerge, evolve, and transform, is that to do the work properly requires so much more than any one industry association or established trade group can provide. Many of us are practicing systems thinking, participative leadership, community organizing, empathic understanding, and exercising all kinds of patience coupled with active listening. Often our work involves challenging old systems and ways of harmful action (intentional and not), with new inclusive, diverse, and equitable ways of achieving business and community development results. This knowledge is not easily learned by reading a book, but rather more often observed/inspired, refined, and tailored through our unique backgrounds and community assets, then passed from practitioner to practitioner (if fortunate enough to be passed at all!).  

I thought I would take a moment to share three tremendous resources for those like me who may be hungry for community connections, to build capacity, and hone their own knowledge in our emerging field of ecosystem building, or entrepreneurship-led economic development (whichever flavor you choose to join this party from- I’m glad to have you).  

Just like the holistic community development from which many of us approach our work, I’ve decided to borrow the head, heart, and hands model popular from the industry adjacent area of social work.  

Use your Head: International Economic Development Council (IEDC) 

IEDC’s 2023 Annual Conference in Dallas, TX. Pictured: Krista Markley (SourceLink), Rebecca Moudry (Fairfax CORE), Rob Williams (SourceLink), Amy Asselbaye (City and County of Honolulu), Denisse Rodríguez-Colón (Colmena66), and Nathan Ohle (IEDC).

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) provides comprehensive education, certification, and support to the global field of economic development. IEDC has always recognized the importance of business and innovation to healthy economies. Recently, IEDC has taken a major step forward in equipping those working within economic development with tailored knowledge to excel in entrepreneurship-led economic development via the Entrepreneurship Development Professional credential.  

Other resources available to IEDC members include trainings, conferences and courses on topics like Accelerating Growth Through Entrepreneurship-led Economic Development, Business Retention and Expansion, and Neighborhood Development Strategies. During my tenure being involved with IEDC, I have picked up so much from the courses, networking and conference events, not the least of which are the professional career relationships I have been fortunate to cultivate. This group will equip you in meaningful ways to “use your head,” when it comes to strategy, execution, buy-in and sustainable funding. 

Use your Heart: Startup Champions Network (SCN) 

When it comes to boots-on-the-ground practitioners and community, you will find no greater institution of support than through the Startup Champions Network. Paraphrasing from my dear friend and early founder of SCN, Andy Stoll, SCN is the place for individuals involved in grassroots ecosystem building to find and get connected with one another. It’s a place to learn through practice how to be better champions of entrepreneurship, be inspired by how those in different communities have approached it, and most importantly, make space and time to celebrate and learn from peer community successes and tribulations (Roses & Thorns). When it comes to the relationships you forge here, this group will “carry your heart” in doing the work the right way. 

Use your Hands: International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) 

By becoming an InBIA member, you have remarkable access to a community that is extremely accessible and forward-thinking, with practitioners who are ok using the term ecosystem building, because in fact, they are helping to shape it on the front line for our field. InBIA is the go-to resource for those interested in doing ecosystem building and in learning how to advance startup communities, growth entrepreneurs, and maximize transformative economic impact through entrepreneurship incubation, acceleration and collective community action. They do everything from helping organizations understand how to start, grow, and benchmark incubator and accelerator programs to equipping those interested in effective entrepreneurship organizing. InBIA knows how to deliver that technical assistance and peer support so we can “use our hands” to realize tremendous impact. 

Bonus: Ecosystem Building Leadership Project 

The Ecosystem Building Leadership Project aims to be a collection of people in our industry working to mature and better define the shape of our field. It is an initiative that I encourage you to get involved in, first by creating an account on their social media platform, then engaging in the opportunities to learn, lead and co-create. 

Chat with a SourceLink Network Builder, Network Navigator, Network Communicator 

We know business owners often learn best from their peers. Guess what? So do we as practitioners! Our emerging field is a community sport, so we hope you will decide to jump in with one, or better, all four of the aforementioned organizations. I’d be remiss however, if I also didn’t ask you to think about chatting within own SourceLink network, where we have 100+ on-the-ground practitioners leading their communities on all sorts of pioneering entrepreneurship and small business initiatives. To a person, I know each of our affiliate leaders would love to connect with you; hear what you are excited about with entrepreneurship in your community; give counsel on what may be troubling you right now; and/or impart the many lessons they have learned along their own. Give Pola Firestone on my team a hello along with an ask, and she will personally introduce you to just the right affiliate of ours to give you counsel or share what our own team has learned to help light your way forward. 

Happy learning, connecting, and most importantly, doing. 

 Rob Williams