My experience at the ESHIP Summit

By Julia Casey, Center for Economic Development Entrepreneurship Specialist

An attendee of the ESHIP conference adds his hometown to a map of the world.

An attendee of the ESHIP conference adds his hometown to a map of the world.

TL:DR: The ESHIP Summit is crowdsourcing the definition and parameters for a new profession: Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builder.

What the heck is the ESHIP Summit?: The ESHIP Summit is a summit about entrepreneurial ecosystem building.  The premise is:

  • Entrepreneurship drives economic development. In the ways that economic development is measured currently (job creation, capital investment, etc.), becoming a startup hub is the best way to hit those metrics and develop economies. See the Alaska: State of Entrepreneurship Report

  • In order for entrepreneurs to succeed and places to become hotbeds for entrepreneurship, there needs to be an environment that supports or at the very least removes barriers for entrepreneurs. Thus, the concept of the entrepreneurial ecosystem was born.

  • Entrepreneurial ecosystem builders are the people that support and remove barriers. However, “ecosystem builder” is not a defined profession. The ESHIP Summit seeks to define and measure it.

The summit is actually intended to be a series of three gatherings during the course of three years. The summit goals are to discover, design, and develop the field of ecosystem building. One summit and the following year to accomplish each of these goals.

Who organized?: The Kauffman Foundation out of Kansas City is the key organizer of the summit.  The Kauffman Foundation is one of the foremost leaders in researching and supporting entrepreneurial ecosystems. Their intention is not so much to own this field but rather to catalyze the conversations to create it.  

Year 1 (2017, I wasn’t there): The first year kicked off the discovery phase at the summit. Afterward, participants returned home to do the discovery work. The goals that came from the conference were to co-create:

  1. An Inclusive Field: ensure ecosystem builders from diverse perspectives lead our field.

  2. A Collaborative Culture: strengthen the culture with our field.

  3. A Shared Vision: establish shared outcomes and a common lexicon for our work.

  4. Connected Networks: build field-wide communication channels to connect ecosystem builders across networks.

  5. Quantified Methods: define the methods and metrics of evidence-based ecosystem building.

  6. Universal Support: expand external stakeholder engagement in ecosystem building.

  7. Sustainable Work: develop professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders.

Year 2 (2018, I was there): This year was the design phase. We spent much of our time in breakout groups discussing way to refine the goals from Year 1 and put them into action. The breakout sessions consisted of multiple small groups sharing experiences and resources. Kauffman will be compiling all of them and sending them out. They asked each participant to commit to further designing the goals they are most interested in over the next year. We will see how that goes.

Year 3 (2019, I’m not a time traveller): They will be taking all the Year 2 work and creating a more finalized entrepreneurial ecosystem builder playbook.

The Humans of ESHIP: As with all conferences, the humans you meet are the best part. The crowd was a mix of educators, entrepreneurs, investors, economic developers, etc. from across the country and world, all working to build entrepreneurial ecosystems. ESHIP’s commitment to bringing in diverse perspectives will help create an equitable space within entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

My two cents:

  • One cent: Defining and measuring entrepreneurial ecosystems is valuable in order to create and grow them.  It also helps prove the economic impact of entrepreneurs and their businesses in order to remove barriers for them. ESHIP is taking the steps to figure out what that looks like.

  • One cent: I am not entirely sold on entrepreneurial ecosystem builder as a professional track. I do not think it should be a major that people come out of school with and become an assistant ecosystem builder.  Primarily, when we create positions like that, it is easy to use that person as a scapegoat for anything that the ecosystem is not and a hero for everything the ecosystem is. Either way, that person or group of people define an entire network. This type of system so rarely works (see all corporate ethics officers that have been blamed for company poor behavior). However, ecosystems do need people to devote time to them. Ecosystem building should be a part of most professions particularity for entrepreneurs, economic developers, and funders.

  • One cent (I get an extra because I am writing): The focus (sometimes borderline obsession) with entrepreneurial ecosystems seems to stem in part from the “bowling alone” phenomenon. People are looking for a community they can be a part of and get behind. Entrepreneurship is trendy. It can feel like a cool kids club. However, the entrepreneurial ecosystem evangelizing is a little much (I minored in theology. I recognize the signs). While there is a lot of value in entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems are not some cure-all for economic and social ills. Like any community, it lives and breathes by the people who choose to invest in it and each other. Ecosystem building should not be a spectator sport but a way for a community to have a stake in helping entrepreneurs succeed.

#StartupLife: It is much more difficult to be an entrepreneur in a vacuum.  Your community and contacts create opportunities and provide support.  Pay it forward and #GiveFirst.