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  • Alexis Snelling

7 Goals for Sustainable Innovation Ecosystems

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

We must solve for 7 ESHIP Goals…

These seven goals will serve as the foundation for our collective action and build the tenants of the ecosystem building field. Goal 1: Inclusive Field Ensure ecosystem builders with diverse perspectives lead our field. Goal 2: Collaborative Culture Cultivate a culture of trust and collaboration within our field. Goal 3: Shared Vision Establish shared outcomes and a common lexicon for our work. Goal 4: Connected Networks Foster coordination and collaboration efforts to connect ecosystem builders across networks. Goal 5: Practical Metrics and Methods Identify and develop better metrics and methods for ecosystem building. Goal 6: Universal Support Expand external stakeholder understanding of and support for ecosystem building. Goal 7: Sustainable Work Develop professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders. …by working together. Achieving these goals will strengthen our profession and accelerate its adoption in more communities – removing more barriers for entrepreneurs throughout the world. The ESHIP community has identified some proposed initiatives that can help solve for the ESHIP Goals. These prioritized initiatives represent concrete steps we can work on together.


Goal 1: Inclusive Field

Ensure ecosystem builders with diverse perspectives lead our field. Ecosystem builders have a unique opportunity to reverse the growing wealth gap in our country, and to cultivate and integrate approaches that more effectively remove barriers for significant portions of our population. As professional change agents, system thinkers, and resource providers, ecosystem builders are well positioned to see the hidden structural barriers that perpetuate disconnection, segregation, and isolation – and to remove them.

However, we need diverse voices to lead us toward understanding and removing barriers for all entrepreneurs. Our leadership must include ecosystem builders from all walks of life, all parts of communities, and all kinds of regions, both nationally and globally. In order to empower and create equitable access for entrepreneurs who have been systemically excluded, ecosystem building must also include intentional efforts to level the playing field, to honor the need for belonging within entrepreneurial communities, and to have the (sometimes) hard conversations required for meaningful and lasting change.

Only with a diverse group of leaders can we develop and distribute the insights and effective practices that are needed to support more entrepreneurs with a wide range of perspectives and to help more ecosystem builders lead inclusive change efforts in their own organizations and communities. With a truly open and inclusive ecosystem building field, we can model the change we want to see in the world, disrupt the status quo, and help build a resilient and cohesive economic system that allows us all to realize our full potential. Goal 1: Initiatives Prioritized by the community 1.1 Diverse NRP Leadership – Support the network of ESHIP national resource providers (NRPs) in ensuring that their leadership and boards are intentionally diverse and inclusive. 1.2 Ecosystem Builders Speakers Bureau – Create a diverse and inclusive database of speakers from across the ecosystem building field. 1.3 Ecosystem Builder Fellowship – Develop a cohort fellowship program for ecosystem builders who come from groups that are often underrepresented in entrepreneurship. National Resource Providers (NRPs): Organizations that provide training, support programs, and funding to entrepreneurial ecosystem builders across the U.S. and beyond.


Goal 2: Collaborative Culture

Cultivate a culture of trust and collaboration within our field. As ecosystem builders, we know that innovation thrives in a culture built on trust, and People + Culture = Everything.

Cultural divides, however, are already emerging within our field. These divides begin with concerns about resource scarcity and lead to skepticism and disconnection, preventing us from working together to advance stronger ecosystem building practices. We must see beyond our own ideas, organizations, sectors, and communities. And we need to reach out to support and partner with others who share our dedication to helping entrepreneurs.

Together, we can expand the ecosystem building community, foster more trust, create open dialogue, and share resources. These efforts will establish a more collaborative culture throughout the field – they will help us all break down silos, achieve our shared goals, and remove more barriers facing entrepreneurs. Goal 2: Initiatives Prioritized by the community 2.1 Regional ESHIP Summits – Create a toolkit to support regional events that are similar to the ESHIP Summit and that bring ecosystem builders together to encourage regional collaboration. The toolkit may include best practices, templates, and funding models, among other tools. 2.2 Field Ambassador Training Program – Start a program that identifies, trains, and enables individuals to link their communities to the global ecosystem building field. 2.3 Training and Tools for Building Collaborative Culture – Develop training programs and toolkits for ecosystem builders to learn better ways to foster a collaborative culture in their work.


Goal 3: Shared Vision

Establish shared outcomes and a common lexicon for our work. As practitioners of ecosystem builders, we are developing a new profession. In this endeavor, many of us are creating new concepts and vocabulary and discovering new applications and possibilities for our work. While we share similar aspirations to help entrepreneurs, we often find collaboration with each other challenging because our desired outcomes and our terminologies are nuanced and different. Even key terms, such as “entrepreneur,” “early-stage,” “small business,” and “ecosystem building,” have different meanings for different people and organizations within our field.

Strong collaboration will require alignment on our desired outcomes for ecosystem building and a common terminology for this work. We must build consensus on these cornerstones of our profession to facilitate communication and collaboration within the field and make ecosystem building practices more accessible to the broader community. Goal 3: Initiatives Prioritized by the community 3.1 Field-Wide Mission, Vision, Values, and Outcomes – Create and build alignment around these foundational aspects of the emerging field. 3.2 Living Dictionary for the Field – Build and curate a living dictionary of common terminology and definitions used across the field to encourage broader consensus and adoption. 3.3 Universal Ecosystem Builder Pledge – Develop a unifying pledge that includes core tenets of the emerging field and can be adopted widely. 3.4 Updated Wikipedia Entries – Collectively contribute to, and build consensus around, key aspects of our field to update the Wikipedia entry on “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Create Wikipedia entries for “entrepreneurial ecosystem building” and “entrepreneurial ecosystem builder,” as well.


Goal 4: Connected Networks

Foster coordination and collaboration efforts to connect ecosystem builders across networks.

More collaboration within the field will require more communication across our networks.

A number of national resource providers (NRPs) are building strong networks of ecosystem builders, most often organized vertically around core ecosystem functions, such as acceleration, community building, coworking, economic and community development, incubation, investing, or tech transfer. in addition to connecting vertically with peers, ecosystem builders and NPRs need to connect more horizontally – and even diagonally – across the field to leverage the full range of perspectives, insights, and opportunities available.

To create more and better information sharing, relationship building, and real-time partnership formation between the various ecosystem builder networks, we must pave the way with field-wide communication channels and other infrastructure for coordination and collaboration. Goal 4: initiatives Prioritized by the community 4.1 Ecosystem Building Toolkit – Create an open access directory of resources to support those building entrepreneurial ecosystems that is available to the entire field. 4.2 Ecosystem Building Events Calendar – Develop a common and shared calendar of educational conferences, events, and trainings related to ecosystem building. 4.3 New Communication Channels – Create new forums – such as journals, meetups, newsletters, online platforms, podcasts, publications, story sharing channels, and working groups – to increase communication across and between ecosystem builders and their many networks. 4.4 Ecosystem Building Storytelling Clearinghouse – Initiate an online, crowdsourced clearinghouse for ecosystem building stories and information sharing. (This initiative also has applications across all ESHIP Goals.) 4.5 NRP Network – Create a robust network of national and global resource providers for ecosystem builders to encourage coordination, collaboration, and communication. 4.6 Field Governing or Standards Bodies – Establish one or more intermediary organizations to develop shared governance approaches and standards for the field of ecosystem building.


Goal 5: Practical Metrics and Methods

Identify and develop better metrics and methods for ecosystem building. There are many metrics and methods in use in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, but they are not all widely adopted. In fact, many approaches are still emerging. Identifying effective practices for ecosystem building requires robust data, rigorous analysis, and room for experimentation. The ecosystem building process can be nonlinear and multidimensional, and there is a need for measurements that are responsive to complexity and change.

To advance metrics and methods for this field, we need more dialogue and stronger feedback loops between researchers and ecosystem builders. Collaborative research focused on developing the field of ecosystem building would allow the field to identify the principles and practices that are most effective for fostering successful entrepreneurship. Goal 5: Initiatives Prioritized by the community 5.1 Metrics Community of Practice – Create peer learning opportunities and a catalog of knowledge to help further identify, explore, and develop new metrics for measuring ecosystem health effectively. 5.2 Repository of Ecosystem Building Practices and Case Studies – Develop an accessible repository of ecosystem building practices, processes, and case studies. 5.3 Ecosystem Research Conference – Hold a regular conference to bring together and foster collaboration between practitioners and researchers interested in measuring and tracking entrepreneurial ecosystems.


Goal 6: Universal Support

Expand external stakeholder understanding of and support for ecosystem building. A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is championed by leaders throughout the community.

However, many potential advocates – including leaders of government, business, educational institutions, major nonprofits, media, and the broader population – do not understand the value of entrepreneurship to society, the limitations of our current economic development model, or the barriers to economic opportunity that large portions of our population face. Even fewer have been exposed to entrepreneurial ecosystems and the value they offer. We need to bring this understanding to public advocates from across the regional, national, and global landscape to facilitate their engagement with more entrepreneurs and ecosystems. To gain their support and participation, we must develop a stronger narrative and a more consistent engagement strategy that communicates the value of entrepreneurship and ecosystem building in terms that resonate with more external stakeholders

Goal 6 Initiatives Prioritized by the community 6.1 “Make the Case” Messaging Templates – Create common messaging, talking points, and templates regarding the importance of entrepreneurship and ecosystem building to make the case for entrepreneurship and for ecosystem building as an emerging economic development practice. 6.2 Global Awareness Campaigns – Develop marketing or public relations campaigns to champion the importance of entrepreneurship and ecosystem building in communities everywhere. 6.3 Ecosystem Building Programming for Existing Conferences – Elevate ecosystem building as a field and profession by adding programming related to ecosystem building to planned conferences. 6.4 Public Policy Playbooks – Develop a playbook of policy practices (local, state, and federal) that support entrepreneurial ecosystems. 6.5 Activate Local Foundations in Support of Entrepreneurship – Develop programs to activate local foundations’ support for entrepreneurship and ecosystem building activities.


Goal 7: Sustainable Work

Develop professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders. Entrepreneurial ecosystem building requires perseverance. The work is arduous and often ambiguous, and it can take 20 years to see concrete results. Many practitioners – including grassroots organizers and change agents within large institutions – operate without adequate training, funding, or recognition of their work as a professional endeavor. In this void, they must often rely on their instincts, personal support systems, and ad hoc revenue streams. While dedication powers many of them to continue, practitioners across the field are burning out.

To sustain the work of ecosystem building, we must equip our practitioners for the long haul with a professional job description, training programs, ongoing peer support, and sustainable funding models. Together, we can ensure that ecosystem builders from all types of organizations have the professional recognition and resources they need to nurture this work and give it the time it requires to achieve results.

Goal 7 Initiatives Prioritized by the community 7.1 Sustainable Funding Models Catalog – Identify and create a catalog of methods for generating revenue and funding for ecosystem building activities. 7.2 Ecosystem Builder Job Board and Job Description Catalog – Develop a job board for open ecosystem building positions and a job description catalog. 7.3 Ecosystem Building Training and Certification – Create ecosystem building training, certification, and accreditation programs for communities, organizations, and individuals. 7.4 Entrepreneur-Led Economic Development Certification – Initiate a certification and professional development course for economic developers who wish to better support entrepreneurship in their communities. 7.5 Peer Support Networks – Foster and champion new and existing peer support networks and professional associations for ecosystem builders in various sectors and industries. 7.6 Ecosystem Building Book List – Start a crowdsourced and curated list of books and educational materials that are available to ecosystem builders.


The ESHIP Goals at the Local Level

There is a synergy between the local and national work on these goals. While the ESHIP Summit and Goals focus on fostering the emergence of the field as a whole on a national and global scale, many of these initiatives will also have an impact at the local level. By implementing some of these initiatives in your own community, you can improve the ecosystem in your area at the same time that you move the ESHIP Goals forward in the broader community. As each of these elements becomes stronger locally, the broader field becomes more robust as well. This dual focus needs to happen whenever a field professionalizes. While practitioners must pay attention to their own practices to create individual, localized success, simultaneously working at a higher level to foster a professional field will confer greater credibility on their practices and provide them with the community they need. Historically, for example, doctors began to organize in order to help professionalize the field of medicine. In addition to maintaining their individual practices and addressing their own local needs, they had important conversations with the broader community of doctors about partnerships, standards, and shared learning, among many other topics, in order for the medical field to come together. How can I get involved? Our founder, Ewing Kauffman, believed that everyone has a fundamental right to turn an idea into an economic reality. It doesn’t matter who people are or where they are from. Everyone should face zero barriers in the way. We live those beliefs every day at the Kauffman Foundation. That’s why we’re calling on every entrepreneur – and everyone who fights for entrepreneurs – to help clear the path for the makers, the doers, the dreamers. Please join in. We welcome anyone who is interested in developing the emerging field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building to join our growing community. We need diverse voices from many walks of life to ensure that mass collaboration succeeds. Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • If you’d like to get updates on the Kauffman Foundation’s Ecosystem Development programs and upcoming events, subscribe to our newsletter.

  • Share your ideas, insights, and stories for future versions of this playbook with us in the comments throughout the site. We envision this playbook as an ongoing synthesis of all the great work being done by ecosystem builders in the field everywhere.

  • If you're ready to upgrade or select your best software tools to lead your community with a wholistic approach that follows the Kauffman Foundation ESHIP Goals, please reach out to our team to request a discovery call and demo.

Thank you for everything you do. What you do matters. Know that you are making a real difference.


This playbook was produced by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Writers: Evan Absher, Philip Gaskin, Lauren Higgins, Victor Hwang, Arnobio Morelix, Andy Stoll, and Amanda West. Editor: Alyse Freilich. Illustrator: Nathan Wright. Print Layout Designer: David Kimmis. Production Manager: Lacey Graverson. Digital Playbook Designers: Kim Farley and Kayla Smalley. Special thanks to Lauren Aleshire, Kim Wallace Carlson, Sameeksha Desai, Jessica Looze, and Kathryn Widrig. With contributions from Hassan Bazzi, Jeff Bennett, Melissa Bradley, Jacqui Dietrich, Enoch Elwell, Mike Fleisch, Carlos Estrada, Tiffany Henry, Fay Horwitt, Christine Lai, John Joseph, Avary Kent, Norris Krueger, Tyler LeCompte, Eric Renz-Whitemore, Maleika Robinson, Louisa Shepherd, Katy Stanton, George Tsiatis, Cecilia Wessinger, Rob Williams, and Beth Zimmer. This playbook is published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, utilizing content and data from multiple sources and external contributors. Every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information contained in this report, and the content is believed to be correct as of the publication date.

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