Entrepreneurial ecosystems: Why they matter and how to build them

Do you realize your true potential as an entrepreneur?

Sure, you’re starting and running a business — and that’s no easy feat.

But as an entrepreneur, you’re also in a position to make big things happen in your community, whether for other entrepreneurs or the people that live in and visit the place you call home.

To realize the most significant change (and impact), you need an ecosystem of similarly focused people who can help get things done.  And that’s why conferences like the annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship are so important.

Before we tell you a little more about the Mayors Conference, let’s first take a look at what sort of change you can make.

How Entrepreneurs Can Help Their Communities

There are two key ways that you, as an entrepreneur, can have a lasting impact on your community.

Make it easier for other entrepreneurs to get started: What does the entrepreneurial landscape look like in your city? Is it flourishing? Or is there an opportunity to make entrepreneurship more widespread and help more people realize their dreams of being a business owner?

Thinking about entrepreneurship on a larger scale can be intimidating. But take a step back and look at your own journey. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? What resources or people did you find helpful? Where did you get stuck? Your firsthand experience is incredibly valuable when it comes to identifying both opportunities and areas for improvement.

Let’s say, for example, you decided to launch a retail business and you wanted a brick-and-mortar location. How easy was it to find and purchase the space? What sort of permits, licenses or other applicable documentation did you need from the city? Was this a fairly simple process to navigate, or was it wrought with complexities?

That’s the sort of thinking that will help expand entrepreneurship in your community. And if you do identify possible challenges at the municipal level, those can be a prime starting point. To explore options for overcoming challenges — such as making the permitting or licensing process more transparent and easier to follow — you’d want to talk to people in those departments, plus get feedback from other entrepreneurs. That’s how you start building an ecosystem. Then, with that information — and the skills and roles represented in the ecosystem — you can start to formulate an action plan.

Solve pervasive problems in your community: Entrepreneurs are becoming an increasingly valuable resource when it comes to problem-solving. After all, who better than entrepreneurs to efficiently solve problems? That’s Entrepreneurship 101!

In our hometown of Kansas City, we’re seeing innovative technology startups and improved data analysis focused around long-running problems that include community health services, graffiti tracking and removal, and pothole prediction. The City of Kansas City just weeks ago issued an RFP for a Comprehensive Smart City Partnership that’s focused on improving delivery of basic city services, digital access and resident health.

This is another example of a situation in which an ecosystem-based approach can be valuable and effective. Rather than isolating a discussion of a problem and possible solutions within one municipal department or among a group of concerned citizens, an ecosystem includes these voices and others. There’s more expertise to be tapped, more perspectives to be considered, and an increased likelihood that a tangible, effective solution will emerge. That solution doesn’t always need to be created by an entrepreneur, but there’s no doubt that entrepreneurs can be key members of an ecosystem.

That, of course, begs the question: how do you build such an ecosystem?

Where Ecosystem Building Happens

Think of the range of people that conferences bring together: different roles, different skills, different geography, different perspectives. That’s why conferences are an especially popular starting point for ecosystem building, including the upcoming Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship.

The Kauffman Foundation started this annual conference in 2013 to bring mayors, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship experts together to discuss ways to promote startup activity and encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship in their cities.

Over the years, the immense amount of knowledge shared at these conferences has helped build an invaluable resource: the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook. The work that made this playbook possible also validated the importance of ecosystems and how they can impact a city’s long-term growth and economic success.

“These conversations reaffirmed our commitment to advancing entrepreneurial ecosystems as a model for economic development,” according to the playbook’s preface. “That model focuses on how the whole of a community is far greater than the sum of its parts. It means starting with what a community has and connecting the pieces. More than ever, we believe ecosystem building can transform communities of varying sizes, demographic and socioeconomic contexts, and geographies, and create more sustainable economies everywhere.”

Attending a conference like the Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship is an incredible opportunity to not only understand ecosystems, but also become part of one. If you can’t attend, don’t fret. Explore resources like our playbook, then keep your eyes peeled for other conferences or opportunities that can help you lead the way when it comes to your own community’s ecosystem building.

You may not have realized that, as an entrepreneur, you’re uniquely positioned to not only take charge of your future, but also help determine what’s ahead for your city and neighbors. It’s a hefty responsibility, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. You dreamed big for your own business and made it happen. Now, it’s time to do the same for the place you call home.

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“The conference is an opportunity for me to think proactively and out of the box with other mayors and entrepreneurs who are sincerely interested in advancing entrepreneurism and the wellbeing of people and places in our communities.” – Mayor Holly C. Brinda – Elyria, Ohio

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