At the beginning of October, I attended a three-day program at Babson College
led by the illustrious Dr. Dan Isenberg (@danisen
), professor of entrepreneurship practice and founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project.
As you can imagine, the program materials and facilitators were fantastic; however, the quality of the program was really enhanced by the conversations with other attendees. In the room were entrepreneurship thought leaders from Europe, North and South America, Africa and the Middle East. It was a rare and epic opportunity to share perspectives as we reviewed ecosystem case studies from around the world.
Among the many epiphanies I brought home with me to U.S.SourceLink HQ (thankfully epiphanies don’t take up much room in a carry on), here’s one that really resonated with the challenges we all face in fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems: Best practices can't be replicated.
Let me explain.
Many of us seek out best practices to see what new solutions can bring to our community. The problem with looking at best practices is we often confuse their lovely and glorious outcomes with the process which forms them.
This can lead to a fallacy with looking at “best practices”: they can lead you to believe that if you chase the best practice “outcome” you will get the same result.
We “buy” the outcome. We want the outcome—when what we should really do is sign on for the process. This isn’t to say that we can’t or shouldn’t look at best practices. Instead, we need to be extremely cautious in doing so. We need to focus more on the process that leads to creating the outcome. Instead of “what came out of it?” we need to focus on “how did they do it?”
In my experience at U.S.SourceLink, community champions are often excited to implement “something” that will help improve entrepreneurship and clamor for “things.” However, their challenges are not always “hardware” problems (more incubators! more mentors! more microloans!) but “software” problems—relationships and collaborations.
Think of your entrepreneurial ecosystem as a hospital for small business and the need for strong communication and coordination becomes obvious. Imagine the outcome if all departments within the hospital worked in isolation; surgery not knowing when the emergency room was sending patients over, patients showing up to post-op before rooms ready, or the not-so-gourmet restaurant delivering room service to empty rooms. It would be a mess. Would you expect adding nurses or fancy equipment to fix these problems?
It has to start with a strong foundation of people and processes. Of strong communication within the “care ecosystem” and understanding who your hospital serves, what it does well, and where it needs to improve. Once those people and processes are in place, then you can start adding the fancy and seeing the results.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems work much the same way. You can’t drop a program into a mysterious landscape. Knowing your entrepreneurs, knowing your assets, knowing what programs you already have to serve them and what you need, lets you build the best processes that will help the best practices fit and thrive.