Spring Cleaning for Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Developers

Spring cleaning isn’t just for closets and cobwebs. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are dynamic, and as they evolve, regular reevaluation—or “spring cleaning”—becomes essential to foster innovation, optimize resources, enhance competitiveness, and ensure sustained growth.  

Regular reevaluation is not merely about decluttering; it allows ecosystems to stay in sync with the changing business landscape and ensure their infrastructure remains relevant and effective for supporting entrepreneurs and stakeholders. 

“Each year we conduct surveys targeted at both entrepreneurs and resource partners. The data is analyzed and then published in the Status Report of Puerto Rico’s Entrepreneurial Community. These surveys serve as a cornerstone for assessing the current state of the ecosystem, identifying gaps, and areas of opportunity,” said Denisse Rodriguez-Colon, executive director of Colmena66, a regional referral network that links Puerto Rico area entrepreneurs and business owners to local and regional resource partners.  

Rodriguez-Colon’s sentiment captures the essence of why ecosystem leaders must stay vigilant, continually scanning their environments for shifts that necessitate adaptation. 

Specifically, reevaluation allows ecosystems to: 

  • Identify Opportunities. An ecosystem that can listen, is an ecosystem that can respond.  Not only are opportunities uncovered by asking constituents to provide input, but the mere act of listening engenders trust and the ability to quickly respond when opportunities arise, like when new federal funding programs become available. 
  • Foster Innovation. Innovation thrives in environments that are dynamic and responsive. By reassessing and adjusting an ecosystem’s components, its leaders can introduce new support mechanisms, programs and collaborations that foster greater collaboration and impact among stakeholders. 
  • Enhance Competitiveness. A well-maintained ecosystem provides fertile ground for startups to flourish. Regular reevaluation ensures the ecosystem remains competitive, offering the best support and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. 

How to Strategically Reevaluate Your Ecosystem 

Reevaluating an entrepreneurial ecosystem is a multifaceted process. Let’s take a closer look at each component of the strategic process. 

Assess the Current State. Begin with a comprehensive inventory of the ecosystem’s components. Then evaluate their effectiveness and alignment with your overall goals. 

In Iowa, IASourceLink updates two critical databases annually: the Resource Navigator in January and the Business License Information Center (BLIC) in July. This ensures that partners relying on IASourceLink for information get accurate and current data.  

In the case of the Resource Navigator, IASourceLink sends a series of personal emails to each contact in the Navigator, thanking them for their partnership and providing instructions on updating their records.  

Keeping The Resource Navigator updated is significant because the directory is used by partners (economic development organizations, city staff, government agencies, educational institutions, business owners, and others) who rely on IASourceLink to provide the correct information they are seeking.  

“Our process is not part of a cookie-cutter approach,” said Amy Kuhlers, IASourceLink’s program manager. “IASourceLink has gone through several sizable changes since its inception in 2012. Just like the businesses we work with, we have to continue to evolve to stay relevant in the future.” 

While AI tools promise to make updates like this faster, they often lack the intimate touch that is required when building collaborative communities. SourceLink technology tools help automate and make the process seamless, while working best hand-in-hand with ecosystem builders (network navigators) who give it the necessary human touch. 

Gather Feedback from Stakeholders. Diverse perspectives from stakeholders provide invaluable insights into the ecosystem’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.  

Currently, KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink in Missouri are engaged in a comprehensive reevaluation of their regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. To bring multiple perspectives to the table, they have formed advisory committees of knowledgeable individuals from various areas of the region. The committees serve as a strategic think tanks, contributing valuable insights and guidance to the process. 

To ensure a regional perspective, KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink have also actively sourced reports and research from various sources around the region. Their approach reflects a commitment to leveraging a broad range of information to inform their strategies. 

KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink are also hosting more than 20 focus groups to gather firsthand testimonials and insights from key stakeholders, including partners, community members, and local businesses. This direct engagement provides a dynamic understanding of the current state of entrepreneurship in the region, capturing real-time experiences, challenges, and opportunities. 

This multifaceted approach (i.e., advisory committee, regional research, and extensive focus groups) underscores leadership’s commitment to ensuring their understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is thorough, current, and reflective of diverse community perspectives. This approach positions them with the data needed to develop a framework for charting the best way forward for the regional ecosystem.  

Analyze Market Trends and Future Needs. Understanding the trajectory of market trends and anticipating future needs is crucial for keeping the ecosystem agile.  

“Our impact investment center averages around 70 calls a month from entrepreneurs that have various ranges of business-related needs,” shared Tiffany Nixon, director of Impact Investment Services at NetWork Kansas, a statewide network of nonprofit resources that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners start up and grow. “As we conduct our research to make referrals to the entrepreneurs, our job is to make sure the resources we are providing are up-to-date and can assist with their needs.”  

Nixon explained that through their NetWork Kansas E-Community partnership, they have regional coaches that have built close relationships with 73 community point contacts that have helped NetWork Kansas gain awareness of their communities’ needs and resources.  

“When our NetWork Kansas team members are out in the community and meet a new partner, they make sure to let our staff know so we can get them added to the network and ensure we know what services they are offering,” she said. 

Prioritize Inclusion and Diversity. You cannot build an effective and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem without inclusion and diversity as a central tenant.  

NetWork Kansas highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in ecosystem reevaluation through initiatives like the Empower Fund, which targets socially disadvantaged populations by ensuring minority-owned firms that may not qualify for traditional lending have equitable access to capital. The initiative started as a pilot in three communities in 2021 and has expanded due to its success.  

“This [Empower Fund] has opened doors for opportunities to deepen our partnerships, resources to entrepreneurs and economic growth in the community,” said Nixon. “This initiative not only addresses financial barriers but also underscores the ecosystem’s adaptability to the emerging needs of our diverse entrepreneurial community.” 

“As ecosystem builders, we are expected to lead the way when unexpected events occur that shed light on systematic disadvantages in the entrepreneurial community,” said Colmena66’s Rodriguez-Colon. “After the call for social justice from the Black Lives Matter movement, we decided to take a look into what we could do as an ecosystem to highlight and support Black-owned businesses.” 

These examples of ecosystems’ focus on inclusivity not only enriches the ecosystems with a diversity of ideas and perspectives but also opens doors for underrepresented entrepreneurs to thrive. 

Data for Strategic Decision Making. The strategic reevaluation process extends beyond personal interactions, delving into the realm of data analysis for informed decision-making. Data-driven decisions can significantly enhance the effectiveness of ecosystem strategies.  

KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink have adopted a data-centric approach by annually leveraging insights from their engagements with Resource Partners, tracking requests for support through their hotlines, and conducting research to create insightful ecosystem-level reports that share the story of the work occurring in the KCSourceLink network (e.g. We Create KC) 

“By synthesizing data from various touchpoints, we identify collaborative opportunities that strengthen our service offerings to the community,” said Chante Keller, a network navigator at KCSourceLink.  

This methodical analysis ensures the ecosystem remains responsive to the needs of its constituents. 

Foster Collaboration and Synergies. Creating partnerships and fostering synergies among ecosystem members can unlock new opportunities and resources. 

Central Florida’s BizLink Orange, operating under the National Entrepreneur Center (NEC), demonstrates the power of stakeholder engagement and collaboration. Uniting 19 diverse Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESOs) under one roof has helped BizLink Orange cultivate a rich community of resources.  

By continuously engaging with these organizations and monitoring their activity, BizLink Orange ensures the ecosystem remains healthy and active. Their strategy includes reassessing partnerships with entrepreneurial support organizations to ensure their understanding of their offerings are current, identify new programs and services, and hosting resource panels to introduce diverse entrepreneurial support organizations ranging from libraries to incubator programs to entrepreneurs.  

“The NEC and BizLink Orange are not just resources for entrepreneurs. We are a trustworthy resource connector for entrepreneurial support organizations, governments, educational organizations, and more,” said program manager Katy Cook. “I joined BizLink Orange six months after it launched and realized that many organizations did not know each other. BizLink Orange’s first event was a gathering encouraging them to learn about how they can work together.” 

The Impact of Regular Ecosystem Checkups 

Regular checkups can lead to significant changes within an ecosystem, driving innovation, enhancing resource allocation, and fostering economic growth.  

Colmena66’s creation of TuCaminoEmpresarial, a comprehensive resource map, demonstrates the tangible outcomes of such reevaluations. The new tool has revolutionized the way entrepreneurs navigate Colmena66’s ecosystem, making it more accessible and understandable. A second version focusing on agribusiness underscores how “spring cleaning” targeted a need. Similarly, the development of the LevantaTuNegocio platform in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria demonstrates the ecosystem’s agility in responding to emerging needs—it offers a centralized data source for disaster recovery assistance.  

BizLink Orange’s diligent reevaluations have fortified Central Florida’s entrepreneurial community, ensuring the NEC remains a reliable hub for entrepreneurs. Through regular engagement and the reassessment of partnerships, BizLink Orange has maintained an up-to-date dynamic network of entrepreneurship support organizations. Their efforts to keep resource information accurate and reflective of the community have been crucial in building trust among entrepreneurs. The introduction of a Nonprofit Guide, in collaboration with local specialists, filled a critical gap in the ecosystem, demonstrating the tangible benefits of staying attuned to the community’s evolving needs. 

IASourceLink’s comprehensive updates of the Resource Navigator and BLIC have substantially impacted Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This commitment to accuracy and currentness in their databases has fortified the reliability of IASourceLink as a cornerstone for trusted information and personalized guidance.  

KCSourceLink’s approach to ecosystem reevaluation, particularly through the formation of an advisory committee and hosting focus groups, underscores the organization’s commitment to a comprehensive data-driven understanding of community needs.  

Finally, Network Kansas’ Empower Fund has significantly broadened access to capital, marking a substantial step toward economic inclusivity.  


The necessity of “spring cleaning” for economic developers engaged in entrepreneurship-led ecosystem building cannot be overstated. It is not just a periodic cleanup, but a strategic imperative for the vitality and sustainability of a local entrepreneurial ecosystem. By embracing continuous improvement and structured reevaluation, ecosystems can foster more innovation, growth, and sustained success.