7 goals, 30 initiatives for entrepreneur ecosystems — preparing for the Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP Summit 2019

If you are supporting entrepreneurs in your region, you likely have goals you are trying to achieve. Your goals are part of a broad strategy for your nation, state, or local area, and include specific initiatives to focus your community’s attention.

To help you with your entrepreneur support goals, the Kauffman Foundation has been crowdsourcing feedback over the past three years into goals to support ecosystems around the world. These goals are contained in the Ecosystem Building Playbook that began as a discovery at the 2017 ESHIP Summit. The goals were further designed following the 2018 ESHIP Summit. In the 2019 ESHIP Summit, work will be done to deliver on these goals.

I am fortunate to be able to attend and participate in the 2019 Summit. As I prepare to fly to Kansas City from Australia, I reflect on the goals and initiatives, explore how they can be applied to global ecosystems, and share to hear your input and add value to as many as possible.

The journey to ESHIP 2019

All of the money in the world cannot solve problems unless we work together. And if we work together, there is no problem in the world that can stop us, as we seek to develop people to their highest potential. — Ewing Marion Kauffman

Established in the mid-1960s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Kauffman Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and is among the largest private foundations in the United States with an asset base of approximately $2 billion. The Foundation is a world leader in education and entrepreneurial research and support. Needless to say, I am a big fan of their work.

I was fortunate to visit the Foundation as part of my 2017 North American tour, and later attended the inaugural 2017 ESHIP Summit. Their work on developing approaches to measurement and understanding the rules of how ecosystems operate, or the “Rainforest”, have been foundational in my own work in connecting innovation ecosystems with regional community resilience.

At the recent 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain, Kauffman Foundation’s Andy Stoll shared more about the seven ESHIP rules designed to further fortify the entrepreneurial ecosystem field. In a recent newsletter, Andy described the goals as

A framework to structure our drive toward mainstream adoption of ecosystem building and strengthen the effectiveness of individual ecosystem builders everywhere.

Entrepreneur ecosystems are complex. It helps to simplify and focus our attention and collectively get behind shared outcomes. Much of my work is focused on developing common frameworks, be it shared principles for ecosystem support services, common approaches to measurement and ecosystem mapping, to physically mapping the ecosystem of a nation. The ESHIP goals are a good addition to the ecosystem development framework, acting as a strategy for entrepreneur support leaders around the world.

The ESHIP Goals

The seven ESHIP goals are focused with 30 initiatives. You can read through the goals in detail on the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook site.

I created the graphic above simply because creating maps and infographs helps me understand enough to share with others. I discuss the goals in brief below and reflect how they might apply for regional ecosystems builders in Australia and align with work I am doing.

I welcome your feedback on how these goals relate to your region and if there is anything you feel I can bring back that will add value to your work.

Goal 1: Inclusive Field

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

Leadership in innovation ecosystems takes a specific form. It is facilitative, collaborative, and entrepreneur-led. It is based on principles of #givefirst and trust, welcomes diversity, and shared outcomes.

While these leadership characteristics can be naturally forming, they are not the default approaches to leadership. Our human tendency to self-interest and the bias embedded in society can result in leadership approaches that are counter-intuitive to having a collective impact or providing opportunity for all aspects of society.

The three initiatives in Goal 1 provide a support network to facilitate inclusive and collaborative leadership:

  • Supporting diverse leadership and boards: A first step in ecosystem building leadership is ensuring that a leadership and governance structure is available to providing mentoring, governance, and support. As these are formed, it is also a matter of ensuring that there is leadership representation from all aspects of the community, including gender, nationality and ethnicity, physical ability, age, industry sector, and geographic region.

Goal 2: Collaborative Culture

As ecosystem builders, we know that innovation thrives in a culture built on trust, and People + Culture = Everything.

Even within seemingly collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems, a struggle over scarce resources can result in fight or flight responses, silos, and protectionist behaviour. It is only through focusing on each party’s unique strengths and working together towards shared outcomes that collective impact can occur.

Three initiatives to realise the goal of a Collaborative Culture include:

  • Regional ESHIP Summits: When I returned from the 2017 summit, I was keen to have an Australian innovation ecosystem builders summit. This remains my intent, and I will share more in June for plans for 2020. This will align with the great work being done by others including each state-based conferences (eg., Startcon, Qode, Southstart, Futurefest, Pivot Summit, Pausefest, West Tech Fest), as well as conferences focused on regions and ecosystem builders (8point8, FutureAUS).

Goal 3: Shared Vision

Strong collaboration will require alignment on our desired outcomes for ecosystem building and a common terminology for this work.

Developing a common language and vision is critical to aligning activity. The Australian innovation ecosystem is relatively new, with the majority of actors emerging in the past 18 months. The first few years could be seen as raising awareness, as regions begin to understand concepts such as innovation hubs, accelerators, hackathons, and startups. We are now seeing a focus into specialisation in regions, industry, technology, and global collaboration.

There is an opportunity for a national approach to developing a shared vision and common language. These are the focus of the four initiatives in the Shared Vision goal:

  • Shared mission, vision, values, and outcomes: These shared outcomes occur at multiple levels across a local government region, state, and national approach, and across industry sectors, and community sectors.

Goal 4: Connected Networks

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.

The value of the ecosystem is in the speed, trust, and value of the connections. Australia has unique challenges and opportunities due to distance and density. Connecting similar actors such as all regional innovation hubs or government innovation policy makers is critical to leverage shared lessons. Connecting regions overall to global opportunities is also important, and the work described to me by one leader as creating global sister precincts. Boundary spanning activity includes work by Bridge Hub for agriculture in Israel, the Australia China Health Accelerator, and the work QUT CEA is doing with creative tech and Asia.

The six initiatives for connected networks include:

  • Ecosystem building toolkit: There is a need for a common toolkit. There are some good lists of curated resources by the likes of Garry Visiontay, Artesian, and other’s referenced on the Startup Status map. Launchvic developed a startup guide for local government with KPMG, which is also a good resource. I look forward to adding and continuing to consolidate an approach for Australia.

Goal 5: Practical Metrics and Methods

The ecosystem building process can be nonlinear and multidimensional, and there is a need for measurements that are responsive to complexity and change.

Measuring the impact of innovation ecosystem is a challenge. Traditional data sets such as government reporting and census information can be slow. It is difficult to directly attribute desired economic indicators such as jobs and investment to policy decisions within a short timespan of an election cycle. New forms of data collection are needed.

This has been a dominant personal focus of mine, and there are others in Australia doing exceptional work in this area. Initiatives in the ESHIP goals related to the Practical Metrics and Methods goal include:

  • Metrics community of practice: This is in progress in Australia, and one of the reasons why I publish as I do to identify those at government, private program, university, and related groups such as the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research who are passionate about entrepreneur metrics. We need to create greater opportunities for common peer learning, connected with global outcomes such as those coming out of the Aspen Institute, Kauffman Foundation, NESTA in Europe, and Startup Nation in Israel. Those focusing on measurement from government and private programs can work together to more rapidly advance the national narrative. A project is underway to develop an aligned approach with bottom up support and top-down drive for outcomes.

Goal 6: Universal Support

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.

A common challenge I hear as I travel across Australia including my recent tour in regional Queensland is getting people to understand each other’s perspectives. Innovation hubs and startup groups can feel unsupported by the chamber of commerce and local government. Local business groups and peak and economic development bodies can feel threatened or view startup activity as a waste of time and resources.

We are talking about mass social change and dealing with fear-based responses. One side may see an urgency from technology disruption and loss of jobs, while the other side sits in an established risk-averse industry and familiar approaches to doing local business. The solution is not to bring either side over to the other, but to create a middle ground around a shared narrative of economic and community development. We are seeing this with the establishment of backbone organisations and programs such as regional MIT REAP implementations.

Initiatives related to the Universal Support goal include:

  • Make the Case templates: Beyond templates, I feel there needs to be deeper education for ecosystem builders on all sides around economic development and community development principles. We need to provide materials and curriculum for ecosystem builders and communities that move beyond cliche terms and stand-alone activities such as disconnected pitch events. We can do better to provide data-backed cases on which everyone in a region can agree.

Goal 7: Sustainable Work

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.

Ecosystem building is a long play. Research demonstrates that startup activity can have a negative impact in the first few years. It is only after 5 years that the benefit of general startup activity may be realised, and that is if there is already a productivity base to work with. There are many factors that may mean that it can be up to a decade before real value is realised. This is often beyond the patience of a single leader, local support organisation, or government election cycle.

Initiatives in the Sustainable Work goal include:

  • Sustainable funding models catalogue: A question that comes up in most presentations I give on ecosystem building is how to make the ecosystem sustainable. With the rapid expansion of the Australian innovation ecosystem, we have also seen a retraction in other areas as providers cease operation due to not being financially viable. We need a shared understanding on revenue streams and accounting models for those who fund ecosystem building activities, including government, corporates, universities, venture capital, and independent citizens or community groups.

What’s next

I fly out in a few hours and will be testing the perspectives above with a few hundred other ecosystem builders in Kansas City. I welcome your questions and feedback as I travel and aim to bring as much back as possible to align the ESHIP goals with those of the Australian entrepreneur ecosystem.