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.

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 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.

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.
  • Creating a database of diverse speakers: Speakers play a critical role in signaling what leadership looks like. The tech community is notorious for panels full of middle-aged men, or “manels”, although leadership in most sectors remains male-dominated and would have a similar issue. In Bahrain recently I pulled a female leader from the audience for the panel when found myself facilitating a manel. Other demographic characteristics are similar. It would not be much effort for local, state, and national conferences to collaborate on a shared speaker database to ensure there is representation.
  • Develop a fellowship of ecosystem builders from underrepresented groups: Ecosystem building itself is underrepresented. Creating a national Australian body, connected to a global fellowship, would have value. This is something to be explored further.

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).
  • Ecosystem leader training program: A train-the-trainer model is critical for the scalability of Australia’s ecosystem. More programs are moving to this model, which is encouraging. Similar to the conference, I will share more in June on a program in development to help support regional leaders.
  • Training and tools: There are a number of ecosystem building frameworks that have emerged, including programs from Techstars and MIT, as well as a growing body of work around Collective Impact frameworks. Part of what I hope to achieve is learn from others, particularly in regional areas, and bring these tools back to Australia to accelerate our development.

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.
  • Living dictionary: We need a common definition of shared terms across states, programs, and sectors. There remains a lack of consistency on the basics, such as: Startup, Ecosystem, Entrepreneur, Innovation, Technology, and Industry sector.
  • Ecosystem builder pledge: This initiative aims to develop a common pledge for ecosystem builders. How translatable this is to the Australian context remains to be seen, and what a shared perspective would look like in the country. The expansion of ShEO and the great work of Julie Trell in bringing people together as the Australia Country Lead provides a case for Australians getting behind a shared vision and adopting a common pledge for a cause.
  • Wikipedia entries: While this initiative is specific to an entry on Wikipedia, this can also be seen as providing thought leadership to a national approach to entrepreneur ecosystem building. This is something in which Australia can play a role.

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.
  • Common ecosystem events calendar: Maintaining a central source of ecosystem events is a challenge. Each region and state are working on a combined list, and many of us are working on a shared approach. I expect we will be closer to a solution in 12 months. I look forward to bringing back an understanding of what is happening in other regions.
  • New communication channels: This includes creating new channels (journals, meetups, newsletters, online platforms, podcasts, publications, story sharing channels, and working groups) as well as coordinating activity among channels and building sustainability into the channels. There is a growing list of podcasts and media channels. We can do better to ensure alignment and a shared voice.
  • Provider network: Similar to other initiatives, the establishment of a shared network of providers. The map at Startup Status is a start at this, by simply identifying who the actors are. Other directories such as Techboard and Decode Systems provide value in identifying who’s who and connecting them, while platforms like Coventured connect actors around common challenges. More will be shared on connections in June.
  • Standards body: There is a need for a national standards body related to entrepreneurial activity. StartupAus is an excellent advocacy body, which requires more support. In addition and in collaboration with, there is a need for a central standards and data body to collectively support more effective state and local activity.

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.
  • Ecosystem building repository: We need a shared global repository, locally customised. One of my take-aways when I attended the Global Entrepreneurship Congress was that everyone experiences shared challenges, and the solutions need to be locally adapted for the complexity and culture of the region.
  • Ecosystem research centre: The national Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research Conference is an excellent opportunity to bring together researchers from Australia and globally. As I mentioned in my write-up from the recent conference, there is a great opportunity to expand the conference to better connect research with practitioners and policy makers.

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.
  • Global awareness campaigns: By coming together as a nation, we can help each region be more individually competitive and showcase the collective entrepreneurial capability and activity of Australia. The work with the Global Entrepreneurship Network plays an important role, as well as the various boundary-spanning missions such as the Startup Catalyst program.
  • Ecosystem building integrated into existing conferences: There is value in both having a dedicated ecosystem builder’s conference, as well as integrating ecosystem building activities into existing startup and economic development conferences. The analogy I often use is that of a conference for education just for teachers, while other conferences can focus on students. Ecosystem practitioners need conferences to help refine their skills and develop their craft, both in existing events as well as stand-alone.
  • Public policy playbooks: Government agencies are looking for best practice, locally adaptable approaches for all aspects of ecosystem development. Should government build, own, or sponsor a physical hub? Does government fund startups? How to build the local investor network? What is the role of existing actors such as the Chamber of Commerce? Doe they employ a local champion or outsource? These are all questions to be answered in a shared playbook.
  • Activate local foundations in support of entrepreneurship: The Australian context is different to that of the US, in that there is not the same level of foundation funding available. That said, there are opportunities to align entrepreneurial activity with the goals of those established in the social sector.

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.
  • Ecosystem builder job board and job description catalogue: In the early days of the innovation ecosystem, roles were undefined as people made up business models on the fly. While this could be exciting, it is also limiting in finding people who could do the work. The model has matured to where there is definition around roles such as Community Manager, Entrepreneur in Residence, Accelerator Program Director, and Hackathon Facilitator. The quality of delivery will increase and standardise as roles become more defined.
  • Ecosystem building training and certification: Work in this area is largely community-driven, such as the process to become a Techstars Startup Weekend facilitator and the Startup OnRamp train-the-trainer approach. While unlikely — and unnecessary — to become a degreed course, there is a need for stand-alone action-based training. Areas include community development and delivering programs such as hackathons and accelerators.
  • Entrepreneur-Led Economic Development Certification: Education helps bridge the gap between traditional economic development groups and entrepreneurs. The previously-mentioned Startup Onramp pre-accelerator facilitator training program is one approach. More like this and focusing on other aspects of the ecosystem such as investment can add value.
  • Peer support networks: There is value in a national Australian coordinated approach. There are various Slack channels that have self-formed with leaders. It can be difficult to maintain these and many fall away when the person leading them moves to another role.
  • Ecosystem building book list: A global crowd-sources list, often shared in part by local ecosystem builders.

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.

American & Australian, playing in the cross-section of people, business and digital, with a passion for discovering how we all tick