If you were to get your tribe together, who would be in the room? At the recent inaugural two-day ESHIP Summit in Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation’s Andy Stoll asked me if I had found my tribe. My answer was unequivocally “Yes”.

The ESHIP Summit focused on ecosystem builders – those involved in creating, building, and supporting entrepreneurial programs, institutions, cultures, and communities. This is not at the exclusion of the startups and founders themselves. Indeed, a notion of #FounderFirst is prevalent in innovation ecosystems. However, for those who spend the majority of their time supporting entrepreneurs, there is a need to step back and improve skills to do their craft better, create relationships and expand networks with their local and global counterparts, and contribute to the codification of their functions as a profession.

While I feel fortunate to have joined the conversation in Kansas City, I believe similar national events needs to be held around the world. In the interest of joining a conversation about what this might look like for Australia, I share my reflections on: Who was in the room, what we did, and main take-aways.

Who is in the room

Over the course of the Summit, we were put into working groups made up of a cross section of an ecosystem. At any given time you could reach out and collaborate with someone in areas of investment, accelerator, physical space, policy maker, philanthropy, and education to address challenges and define opportunities for entrepreneur activity.

The Summit provides a great benchmark for similar events to consider who might need to be in the room. Given this is my assessment of what people did from reviewing the 400 or so attendees who registered in the conference app, some usual caveats on any level of second hand analysis:

  • This is only an interpretation based on a 5-minute look at what each of the over 400 participants nominated as their primary organisation in the conference app.
  • The graph is not one-to-one, meaning an individual often represents multiple functions. An Accelerator or Foundation may also offer Finance, a University may have a dedicated Space, and Government may be a focused on entrepreneurial Research / Policy department.
  • There can be a blur between who you are and what you do. You are a Foundation who provides Finance through grants, or you are a Finance VC who runs an Accelerator.
  • The location is based on an assessment on both impact and presence. A local accelerator may have a global reach. A co-working space with three locations remains a local impact.
  • The categories should be self-explanatory. There are a couple of catch-alls in collaborations / association and support agency / tools which I expect could be refined further.
  • At a glance, it may appear that entrepreneurs and corporates are underrepresented. This makes sense within the context of the event being the building of ecosystems versus delivery of outcomes from those ecosystems. Separate events exist to support entrepreneurs and engage corporations in innovation.

The people in the room are those involved in the transformative work of ecosystem development, as compared to transactional activities in that ecosystem. Investors in the room were creating and educating angel investor networks, as compared to those looking for projects in which to invest. Accelerator program leaders were involved in program development, versus looking for entrepreneurs to add to their programs.

The Summit provides an opportunity for those building the ecosystem to rapidly collaborate and build networks to better support those who benefit from the outcomes of the ecosystem.

Six lessons

Everyone who attends will take different lessons based on their unique perspectives. Already there are some great reviews and reflections from Clay & MilkSourceLinkNationSwellGalvanize, Austin’s Joshua Baer, Virginia’s Anika Horn, Oregon’s Julie Harrelson, and Startup Sacramento’s Laura Good. I expect more to come as we collectively develop the ecosystem playbook.

The flow of the Summit covered three areas of: head – providing information and frameworks for critical thinking, heart – inspiring through emotional calls for diversity and social change, and hands – activities for practical application and development of models. Woven into the agenda were constant interactions and workshops to form new networks, develop strong relationships, and create opportunities for random collisions. The program overall was supported by professional facilitators from The Value Web who captured outputs from the sessions and guided participants through the exercises.

New lessons from the Summit will continue to emerge as I share and receive feedback from other ecosystem leaders in my network. The six conversations below seem to come up more often.

1. Healthy connections and relationships are key

The Summit structure and content was designed for building of relationships and establishment of a culture of trust. We saw this in workshops made up of diverse teams, content such as Carol Sanford’s presentation on seven principles of the regenerative systems, and meals designed to foster sharing.

The health of an ecosystem is dependent upon the relationships between and within each part of the ecosystem. These relationships form channels where each part shares specialist resources, provides feedback to improve the overall health, and continuously creates new pathways into new ecosystems. These relationships are based on trust and “Give First” principles to minimise defensive scarcity thinking that inhibits flow of knowledge and capital.

2. All elements of the ecosystem are required

All parts of the ecosystem were represented, and no single part highlighted over or diminished from another. Collaboration was encouraged from the outset when Kauffman Foundation Vice President of Entrepreneurship and author Victor Hwang provided our mandate to build a community of practice, codify the work, and create the playbook for ecosystem development based on shared principles. David McConville provided first principles with an overview of the evolution from top-down society structures towards bottom-up ecosystem approaches.

No single part of the ecosystem can represent the whole. An innovation hub cannot operate without commercial partners and investment. Universities creating new talent will simply support other regions or pump out job seekers into traditional professions if local entrepreneurs are unable to access external networks. Investors will shift their focus elsewhere if the policy levers and culture do not support deal flow across the startup stages.

3. Make a difference in humanity

Melissa Bradley of Project 500 challenged us to define the ROI of diversity and inclusion, while Paulo Gregory reinforced that ecosystems support diversity and inclusion not through revolution, but evolution. This was again reiterated on a panel session with Steve CaseJulie Lenzer, and Brad Feld, with the notion that revolutions happen in evolutionary ways.

These principles align with my personal reason for being. Economic activity is beneficial for a region, but it is also morally neutral. If we are not intentional about supporting all segments of humanity, then innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities will most benefit those who already have access, leaving entire segments of the community behind.

4. Having the regional conversation

The diverse delegate representation included those from major city centres, dominant hubs of startup activity, and remote and regional communities. Brad Feld commented on the urban/ rural divide, acknowledging that the Boulder community can do a better job of extending to the rest of the state. Many of the conversations with other leaders focused on how to support entrepreneurial networks in regional areas with lower density of necessary ecosystem resources.

The regional challenge is evident at all scales, whether you are comparing remote Queensland to the city centre of Brisbane, or the nation of Australia to Silicon Valley. Physical presence and natural collisions are critical, as evidenced by the fact that I flew to Kansas City for a two-day conference. But using my presence in the conference as an example, we need to better facilitate boundary spanners who create knowledge, relationship, and capital flows. We also need better underlying systems to support the global virtual ecosystem and provide greater access beyond the captive network of the individual.

5. It takes work and time

Brad Feld reflects on his time in Boulder that you need a long view, that it takes a bunch of people over a long period of time. I was reminded of this last night I attended the five-year anniversary of River City Labs, the initial startup community and innovation hub in Brisbane where I got my introduction to the startup community in 2012. Ipswich City Council CEO Jim Lindsay reiterates the long view perspective every meeting I have with him when we discuss our local Ipswich City Council innovation hub Fire Station 101.

It can be tempting to want results tomorrow, to wake up and be the next Silicon Valley, or some other overnight success that took years to create. We forget the part of the change that is community development, that the change is complex and involves hearts, minds and embedded thinking. It can be tempting to think we can copy and paste another model, or that we might be able to buy an ecosystem. This was a great conversation I had with Mark Rowland, who was involved in the Las Vegas project where $350 million was invested in an attempt to create an ecosystem.

What we can do, however, is share lessons globally, establish first principles, and codify the work of ecosystem development. Our hope is to expedite the creation and development of healthy ecosystems as much as possible for a better regional and global humanity.

6. A need to measure

Lake any operation, we need to measure what matters. This is my personal focus at the moment as I work to measure the ecosystem of the state of Queensland. I am interested in emerging frameworks that not only measure, but offer actionable prescriptions to improve ecosystems based on the results. Two promising systems include Union out of 1776 and BizTrakker out of SourceLink. I look forward to their continued development and more systems emerging as we gain collective clarity on ecosystem development best practices.

A call for an Australian ESHIP Summit

While I look forward to maintaining connections with those I met and returning again in 2018, the experience needs to be shared. We need a similar event for local ecosystem builders in Australia, with regional representation and impact, national participation, and global influence and access.

A few groups are working towards a gathering of ecosystem leaders and I look forward to seeing what emerges later this year. If you are one of these or build ecosystems and are are looking for your tribe, please connect and / or comment below. I look forward to collectively ramping up the difference we can make.

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