Entrepreneurial ecosystems don’t spring up overnight. They require cultivation by champions who advocate for entrepreneurship, connect key players, develop talent and resources, measure progress, and catalyze growth. In this post, I’ll share five ways an economic developer can play a vital role in building a vibrant business community in their region and become a true ecosystem convener.
By vocally supporting entrepreneurs, facilitating collaborations, training the next generation, tracking metrics, and empowering business leaders, you can transform your city into a hub of innovation that attracts investment and fuels economic expansion. Read on to learn specific strategies for telling compelling stories about your ecosystem’s potential, organizing impactful events, identifying funding opportunities, embracing continuous improvement, and fostering diversity and inclusion. Ready to become an ecosystem convener? Let’s dive in!
1. Become a Champion and Storyteller
- Advocate for entrepreneurship: On a local level, be a vocal supporter of entrepreneurs within your community. Go beyond your immediate community and lobby for policies that support startups and small businesses. Understand how proposed policies could affect small businesses, both positively and negatively. Identify opportunities to leverage supportive policies.
- Share success stories: Highlight the achievements of local entrepreneurs through case studies, testimonials, and media coverage. Showcase the positive impact they have on the community.
- Craft a compelling narrative: Develop a clear and convincing story about the potential of your ecosystem to attract and nurture high-growth businesses.
2. Build Bridges and Networks
- Connect stakeholders: Facilitate introductions and collaborations between entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, service providers, and other key players in the ecosystem. Being an ecosystem convener means spending purposeful time convening.
- Organize events: Host workshops, pitch competitions, networking sessions, and conferences to bring people together and spark interactions.
- Foster a culture of collaboration: Competition is bound to happen between ecosystems as they are applying to the same grants or wooing the same businesses, but working together pushes us all forward. Encourage partnerships and mutual support among ecosystem members.
3. Cultivate Talent and Resources
- Support education and training programs: Collaborate with educational institutions and organizations to provide relevant training and skills development for aspiring entrepreneurs. Universities often become the backbone of ecosystems, but don’t overlook the contribution community colleges, high schools, and trade schools can have.
- Identify and leverage resources: Map out and promote available resources like funding, business accelerators, coworking spaces, and mentorship programs. Step 0 of empowering entrepreneurs is removing any barriers to finding the resources and support already available.
- Attract and retain talent: Implement initiatives to attract talented individuals and families to your community, building a vibrant workforce for startups.
4. Measure and Adapt
- Track key metrics: Monitor the progress of your ecosystem with relevant data points like startup formation rates, job creation, venture capital investment, and innovation outputs.
- Evaluate programs and initiatives: Regularly assess the effectiveness of your efforts and identify areas for improvement. Be data-driven in your approach.
- Embrace continuous learning: Stay updated on best practices in ecosystem development and adapt your strategies to evolving needs and trends. Signing up for industry newsletters is a great way to quickly stay up to date. You can subscribe to EIC’s newsletter here. A few others I recommend are IEDC and the Econ Dev Show podcast.
5. Play a Catalytic Role, Not a Directive Role
- Empower entrepreneurs: Avoid trying to control or dictate the direction of the ecosystem. Instead, empower entrepreneurs to lead the way and shape their own ventures.
- Provide support, not solutions: Offer resources and guidance, but don’t micromanage businesses. Allow entrepreneurs to make their own decisions and learn from their experiences.
- Celebrate diversity and inclusion: Foster an ecosystem that welcomes people from all backgrounds and fosters diverse perspectives and approaches.
Bonus Tip: Be authentic and passionate! Your genuine enthusiasm for entrepreneurship will be contagious and inspire others to get involved in building the ecosystem.
By focusing on these key areas, an economic developer can effectively bridge the gap between policy, resources, and entrepreneurs, transforming their community into a thriving hub of innovation and economic growth and becoming a true ecosystem convener.