This guest post was written by Tiffany Henry, Instructional Designer, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, for the Ecosystem Building Leadership Project.

When you think of an ecosystem builder, what traits come to mind? Perhaps helpful, collaborative, or trustworthy. Or maybe systems thinker, inclusive, or authentic describes an entrepreneurship ecosystem builder. Do you think of your own traits or do you think of others?

The Ecosystem Building Leadership Project (EBLP) defines an entrepreneurship ecosystem as “a network of people supporting entrepreneurs and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully.” But who exactly makes up this network and how do these individuals go about their work?

These are the types of questions that a small subgroup have been asking since they first met at the Ecosystem Building Leadership Project convening in September 2022. A team of seven were first presented with the following framing question:

“Imagine a learning infrastructure supporting the entrepreneurship ecosystem building field widely seen as both efficient and innovative. What would that look like?”

Through discussion many considerations arose around how individuals identify as ecosystem builders, and how people new to the field can develop in their profession. The team concluded there was an opportunity to create a learning pathway program for people to incrementally grow in their craft while connecting them to the many great resources already available in the EBLP community. The plan was to leverage existing training materials and connect growing ecosystem builders to the resources that will best meet their needs. The plan was divided into three stages:

  1. Compile a Knowledge Clearinghouse: Collecting, organizing and centralizing a set of essential learning resources to increase the competency of entrepreneurship ecosystem builders.
  2. Develop a Skills-based Learning and Competency Model with a Level-1 pathway: Leveraging the EBLP community of entrepreneurship ecosystem builders to define a competency model that identifies critical skills to attain competency in entrepreneurship ecosystem builders.
  3. Create Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builder Learning Pathways: Using the outputs of the knowledge clearinghouse and skills-based learning and competency model projects to define learning pathways to assist entrepreneurship ecosystem builders in attaining levels (levels 1-3) of competency.

Utilizing the large network of practitioners, the team set off to compile a Knowledge Clearinghouse of trainings and educational assets that support ecosystem building. The team collected collateral from IEDC, Forward Cities, InBIA, Co.Starters, and other organizations experienced in ecosystem building. In addition, members from the EBLP network shared job descriptions for entrepreneurship ecosystem builders or related positions. The documents were analyzed for characteristic themes and commonalities. Beyond identifying specific tasks for entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, the group wanted to know the core traits of entrepreneurship ecosystem building. After an initial review, the team agreed that 14 traits were consistent throughout the training materials as descriptive of an entrepreneurship ecosystem builder. They include:

  1. Inclusive
  2. Empathic
  3. Patient
  4. Adaptable
  5. Generous
  6. Authentic
  7. Strategic Connector
  8. Storyteller
  9. Persistent
  10. Trustworthy
  11. Humble
  12. Collaborative
  13. Abundance Mindset
  14. Community Focus

To seek validation of these traits and utilize the breadth of experience of the EBLP Community, a survey has been distributed to the network that has received 38 responses to date. Respondents are asked to rate if they agree that these traits are important to the field of entrepreneurship ecosystem building and to rate how much the trait describes them. The following traits have been rated as the most important for entrepreneurship ecosystem builders so far:

1. Strategic Connector (9)

2. Community Focus (4)

3. Authentic (3)

4. Trustworthy (3)

5. Abundance Mindset (3)

6. Collaborative (3)

Ecosystem Builders are also asked what traits are missing from the list. The top responses include:

  1. Systems thinker (3)
  2. Visionary (stand on its own – think big picture and excite people about rowing in the same direction) – (2)
  3. Creativity (open new and out of the box thinking) – (2)
  4. Experience (starting/running a business, prior successes or prior experience in an ESO) – (2)

To see the full survey responses click here.

The next stage in the process is to identify a learning pathway for ecosystem builders to strengthen or develop these traits by linking them to available training programs. However, before the team begins that stage, about 60 more survey responses are needed to verify the data. That is where you come in. Our team is requesting your help, please take the 3 minute survey here.

Once the team has the data necessary to confirm the most common traits of ecosystem builders, the learning pathway development stage will begin. If you would like to learn more, email a member of Team 2C:

Also, if you are new to EBLP and want to learn more about this and other projects to advance the field, please find more information here and join our online community.