Over the past decade, there has been an accelerated increase in awareness of the impact local entrepreneurs can have on improving the economic prosperity of a community or region. Entrepreneurial veterans such as Brad Feld and Steve Case are leading the charge with their thought leadership. Their respective books, “Startup Communities” and “The Third Wave,” provide a strong foundation for understanding technology-based startup ecosystems and the impact technology could have on our future world.

While there is a lot of media attention on technology startup ecosystems, the reality is that many communities in North America would better serve their citizens if they focused on their unique assets. For example, communities in rural Appalachia might consider developing an ecosystem that enables the launch and growth of businesses focused on outdoor tourism or food products.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

On the surface, the concept of developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem seems simple. In many communities, there is an assumption (often by elected officials) that if a chunk of public funding is allocated to opening an entrepreneurship center or providing a small seed fund for startups, then the ecosystem will somehow magically germinate and grow. The reality is that it takes time (often a decade or more) to develop local ecosystems, and there is a high risk of failure if community leaders do not work collaboratively to build a strongly meshed resource network that surrounds entrepreneurs and high-potential small businesses.

As noted by Brad Feld in Startup Communities, entrepreneurs must have a leadership role in the conversation. But every community has a unique resource map that includes a complex array of inputs such as workforce experience, access to higher education institutions, availability of experienced mentors, industry clusters, geography, creative arts resources, and more. For economically challenged communities, there is almost always a need for early financial support from a public-sector entity (local government or university in most cases) as well. Because there is no “cookie cutter” approach to developing a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, many communities mistakenly assume they should strive to be “the next Silicon Valley.” Instead, I encourage regional stakeholders to take the time to understand their unique community DNA and build an ecosystem around established assets and strengths.

Despite the inherent challenges in developing a community-based entrepreneurial ecosystem, I believe that these ecosystems can grow and thrive in any community if the right folks come together and understand their respective roles. InBIA’s mission is focused on creating global prosperity through community-based entrepreneurship. As part of our passion around our mission, InBIA started dedicating a full track of sessions focused on entrepreneurial ecosystem development at our International Conference on Business Incubation (#ICBI31). We have invited an incredible array of session leaders to share their stories, tools and resources. Here are a few highlights:

  • Enoch Elwell, Founder of Co.Starters, will share a model and case studies of vibrant rural ecosystems located in the Appalachian region
  • Maria Meyers, Executive Director of SourceLink, will share her experiences in mapping out ecosystem resources in communities across the United States
  • John Gavigan, Executive Director of 43North, will talk about this highly successful state-funded accelerator that is part of a thriving ecosystem in Buffalo, NY
  • Leslie Smith, Executive Director of EPICenter (Memphis) and formerly with TechTown Detroit, will lead a highly interactive Ecosystem Hackathon session

Finally, I am very excited to announce a half-day Preconference workshop on Sunday, March 26, that will provide participants the opportunity to create or refine their communities’ entrepreneurship roadmaps using newly-developed exercises and proven tools. Participants will be guided through the development of their own roadmaps, including stakeholder/asset mapping (community discovery), program vetting and deployment planning, and early assessment resources (community health check-up).

I am very excited about the quality and depth of experience and content that these folks, along with over 100 other speakers,  will be sharing in Seattle this year. I hope to see all of you there!

Author: Kirstie Chadwick

President & CEO, InBIA

Kirstie has over 25 years of experience at technology companies including Sun Microsystems, Mentor Graphics and Lockheed Martin. She has also held executive roles at five venture-backed technology startups, including her role as co-founder and CEO of DigitalOwl. She raised over $15M in venture capital for these companies, and is the former Executive Director of the Winter Park Angels – a 50+ member angel investment group.

In addition to her experiences as an entrepreneur and investor, Kirstie led the financing and management of Florida’s Igniting Innovation and Starter Studio Technology Accelerators, which together directly resulted over $50 million in follow-on capital by participating companies.

Kirstie is the recipient of the Orlando Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Award, the Working Woman Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, and the Dr. W. Judson King Entrepreneurship Memorial Award. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. in Computer Science from UCF, and holds an MBA from UCF.