Increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and it is up to us (the people) to take advantage of it. Any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture. And, no, this is not just my opinion. 430 entrepreneurship advocates worldwide agree!
Given that I’ve long advocated that the key to strengthening our rural towns is a ‘whole of community conversation’ focussed on encouraging entrepreneurs, imagine my excitement when I was one of only two Australians invited to attend the inaugural E*SHIPSummit held in Kansas City on 21-23 June, 2017.
Put 430 diverse entrepreneurship advocates in the room and you will get very different perspectives on what is most important in an entrepreneur ecosystem. Like myself, a few were involved in broadly based programs, but most work in specialist roles that support start-ups or economic development.
Regardless, we could all agree on one thing. Actively encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs in every city and town is important and there is not just one way to do it; it has to be a multi-faceted and collaborative approach.
We all had a mission at the summit. To help the Kauffman Foundation articulate why entrepreneur ecosystems are important and provide practical examples of how they can be fostered.
The framework that has resulted from research and discussions to date is delightfully simple and I can’t wait for the extended version to share because this is already a fantastic tool for us all to use. I particularly fell in love with the graphic above because it aptly describes how an effective framework works and the value that every Pitchfest, start-up conference, and networking event contributes to developing a stronger ecosystem.
People are undoubtedly the centre of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and where they are able to connect they naturally contribute to an ecosystem. But how do we get them to connect? Sometimes it is through a program, an incubator, or networking events. And they naturally gravitate towards each other because of common interests. In a modern world of technology we can connect in the virtual world as well and I know many successful business people who develop ideas and partnerships through twitter hashtags, Facebook discussion groups and other mediums.
It is important to note that when we are talking about people we are including both the entrepreneurs and the people who support them – the very important champions and convenors. They are the enablers who help entrepreneurs in a variety of ways whether it be as advocates, mentors, investors, or customers. They are the people who influence policy that paves the way for ecosystems to develop.
Talent is another important factor. Nurturing the skills and talent required to drive the entrepreneurial business activities forward is essential. This is why business and educators need to work together so that talent supply and demand are efficiently matched. In a fast paced world where many future careers haven’t been invented yet agile and adaptable skill sets such as critical thinking and data analysis are far more valuable than a defined career qualification.
In developing the framework we also talked about the need for onramps, an open door providing opportunities to grow networks and encourage new diverse talent to join the conversation.
Intersections was another important part of the framework; places where people can meet to develop ideas and fill gaps or talents. Onramps and intersections are mostly aided by events bringing people together whether they be in person or in a virtual community.
As people gather together and collectively tell their story and articulate their dreams it makes it possible to articulate the community’s story and help shape your community’s future. Of course this will only be successful if we focus on the positive stories and leave the negatives ones behind.
There was no doubt that increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and new ways of operating. It is up to us to take advantage of it. In fact, with my novel Australian accent, I had the honour of informing the mostly USA delegates that America's old economic development model is officially dead!
The reality in this modern world of technology is that any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture. Collaboration, cooperation, and trust will inspire people to advance their ideas more quickly, help each other, and be open to new and wonderful ideas never dreamed of before.
Yes, the framework is incredibly important, and if you get that in place along with these seven design principles, then everything else will flow more easily.
#1Put entrepreneurs front and centre
#2 Foster conversations
#3 Enlist collaborators (everyone is invited!)
#4 Live the values
#5 Connect people (in every direction)
#6 Tell your community's authentic story
#7 Start and be patient
I am pleased to confirm that the Operation Next Gen program and its ‘whole of community conversation’ approachis on the right track when critiqued against these principles.
And now is probably a good point at which I should confess my bias. Perhaps not everyone agrees that small rural communities have the capacity to develop a successful ecosystem of note but I am determined to change that thinking. What the rest of the world and my city colleagues have to understand is that even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive. While we may not have the physical density of population, we have a vested interest - it is our future at stake. Rural towns more than make up for lack of density with passion and can access an extended virtual support community.
My sincere thanks goes to the Kauffman Foundation for honouring me with an invitation to the summit and accessing their incredible resources to further this conversation. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my expanded network of ecosystem builders here in Australia and the USA.