Helping Entrepreneurs Thrive: The Power of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

If you have been in the entrepreneurial world for very long, you have likely heard the words “Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” pop up more and more in the last few years. And for good reason! Ecosystem theory has begun to change the way we think about entrepreneurship in general with the Kauffman Foundation, CoStarters, InBia, and others leading the way in the US. Ecosystem thinking is also transforming the way we do BAM, in that the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems is understood more and more as a powerful way to foster local business ownership, impact economic development, and expand the influence of the Kingdom in the marketplace of local communities around the world.

So, what is an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem?

Generally an ecosystem is an interconnected, interdependent network of elements, living and nonliving, that make up a supportive environment for a particular type of creature or entity. The word “ecosystem” is a biological term, originally used to describe the environment of a type of animal (or group of animals) that enables it to thrive. So a prairie could be an ecosystem for foxes because it provides other foxes, prey like mice, food for the prey like seeds, water, predators that inspire defensive behaviors, a favorable temperature, sunlight, a place to live, etc..

Outside of biology, the word ecosystem has been very fluid in its meaning. It can apply to a lot of different kinds of networks, such as networks of similar organizations, political environments, or ministry connections. Even the term “entrepreneurial ecosystems” is sometimes used to describe global networks across particular industries, networks of BAM practitioners, or networks of entrepreneurs in a local context.

For our purposes, and the purposes of this discussion, we will use the term “entrepreneurial ecosystem” to refer to the local networks of entrepreneurs, business leaders, local investors, and mentors in a single community or local area. For most entrepreneurs, most of the emotional support, resources, and customers come from such a local environment. It is the elements in that local environment that, when interconnected and supportive of entrepreneurs, allow entrepreneurs to thrive. Elements of that ecosystem can include resources like knowledge capital, other entrepreneurs, established businesses, places to operate like co-working spaces, markets, and even cultural attitudes.

“Building” an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

So if entrepreneurial ecosystems are our focus, we may rightly ask how one “builds” an ecosystem? In reality, ecosystems are never really created. Every community has some kind of environment or “ecosystem” for entrepreneurs, just not always one that is conducive for thriving. Debilitating competition from big business, resistance from banks and other lenders to lend, lack of knowledge resources on how to start a business, and a culture against risk-taking or profit-making can all conspire to make entrepreneurship difficult. As a result, a potential entrepreneur, even if he/she had a great idea, may never attempt to start a business, not because they lack ideas, but because they don’t know how, don’t know how to find resources, and (perhaps worst of all) feel all alone. When conditions fail to support entrepreneurs in an area, great ideas die untried, and solvable problems remain unsolved.  Read more

An Abundance of Counselors: Practical Steps to Set Up an Advisory Board

We are revisiting some of the classic material from The BAM Review blog on governance, accountability and the support that a BAM practitioner needs around them to thrive.

 

Dear BAM Mentor,

I keep hearing that having an Advisory Board is good idea for a BAM company. How is an advisory board different from other kinds of boards and how should I go about setting one up?

~ Needing Advice

Dear Needing Advice,

The question arises as to the purpose and practicality of an Advisory Board for a small business or a startup. I have had advisory boards for several of the businesses I’ve launched and served on advisory boards for others. Needless to say, I am a big fan.

King Solomon put it like this:

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”  Proverbs 11:14

“…for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.”  Proverbs 24:6

The basic premise of an Advisory Board is that, rather than try to figure out everything on your own, you can enlist the wisdom, perspective and experience of others to help you “wage your war.” In addition to advice there is also a healthy element of accountability – something many entrepreneurs don’t want, but something all of them need. Read more

Iterations Through Feedback: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the topic of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 5: Iterations Through Feedback

In my last post, we explored the benefits of a small start with a focus on providing value to the customer. This allows you to get your product or service into the hands of your customers quickly and begin collecting feedback. Today, we will discuss what type of feedback you are looking for and what to do with it once you have it.

Capturing Customer Feedback

Once you have the product into your customer’s hands, you will need to to create a system that allows you to learn from your customer. This will allow you to capture their feedback and make improvements to your business, product, or service. In every successful business, learning to meet customer needs is a top priority.

Find a way to hear stories about how your offering is helping to solve your customers’ problems. How is it meeting a need? How are they using it on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis? Ask the questions that will get people to tell you those stories. This is most effective through face-to-face interaction, where you can learn through what they say, and how they say it. If face-to-face isn’t an option, phone or video call is a solid second option. Make sure you are asking open ended questions that are allowing them to tell their stories about how your business is changing their life.  Read more

Starting Small: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the topic of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 4: Starting Small

In my last post, I focused on the importance of living out your Kingdom values by loving and serving your customers. This allows you to sustain and grow your customer base as you deepen your relationship with those you serve. However, before you can get customers, you need a product or service for them to buy. The sooner you can get your product or service to them, the closer you are to making money and creating a sustainable business.

Dream Big, Start Small, Grow Smartly

Earlier in this series, in the post titled It Starts With You, I talked about the big dreams that motivate and inspire us. Often times our big dreams cause us to do too much or take on too much too fast. This can be overwhelming and result in a failure to do anything well. Or, it can put a large financial burden on our business too quickly. Neither of these is helpful as you are seeking to create sustainability.

Dream big, but start small.

To be good stewards of what God has given you, I encourage you to find the quickest and easiest way to get your product or service in front of your customer, while continuing to communicate the unique benefit you offer. This means you may not be able to offer everything you envision to your customer at first. By simplifying your long term vision to focus on the first step in achieving your dream, you will define a way forward that looks much more manageable. This allows you to serve your customer NOW, instead of someday, and helps you make the customer an important part your startup journey.  Read more

Understanding Your Customer: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the topic of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 3: Understanding Your Customer

As a current or future business owner, your customer is critical to your success. While we may believe that our customer exists to buy our products or service, the reality is that we exist to serve our customers. I appreciate how CO.STARTERS intensely focuses on knowing and serving your customer. This customer-centric view aligns with Christ-honoring Kingdom values. Jesus calls us to love, care for, and serve our neighbor, or customers, in the same manner that we desire to be served. In order to serve our customers well, keep them coming back, and increasing in number, we must deeply listen to and understand their needs and desires.

What’s inside your customer?

Traditional customer research focuses on demographics including age, gender, location, income, etc. While these are important, it is vital to understand the the factors that lie beneath the surface. What are their interests, passions, skills, beliefs, and values? For example, if you have a product or service for dog lovers, your customer will cover a wide-range of demographics, but it is important to realize they share a common trait, a love for dogs.  Read more

It Starts With You: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the topic of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 2: Success Starts With You

Why would a series on starting and growing your business begin with a whole post dedicated to you? A good product or service is all it takes, right? While it is important to have a good product or service, the most important factor in the success or failure of your business is YOU.

Most businesses don’t fail because of poor products or fierce competition. They fail when finances are mismanaged, passion is lacking, and expectations are unrealistic. By starting with an in-depth look at yourself – including your passions, strengths, weaknesses, expectations, and financial literacy – you can take the critical first steps to launching a successful business.

Identify and Test Your Assumptions

We all have an idea of what our successful business will look like in the future. At this point, that picture might be a little blurry if your business is only a concept. However, getting a clearer picture of that vision is important for your success. It is going to provide you with a general target for how you grow your business.  Read more

Get Started Growing: Maximizing Startup Success

by Stu Minshew

On the theme of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we’ve invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. Previously we’ve covered ‘breaking through your growth ceiling’ for an established business. But what if you are a startup? What if you have a business idea and want to know how to maximize your success from the get-go? We asked entrepreneur and CO.STARTERS trainer Stu Minshew to share what he’s learned about maximizing startup success in this five part mini-series.

Part 1: Get Started Growing

Starting and growing a business is a calling from the Lord. If you ask anyone who has done it, they will tell you how exhilarating it can be, but also how it sometimes seems overwhelming and impossible. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, it always requires hustle and flexibility, but taking a few simple actions can equip you to overcome obstacles to starting and growing your business to a level of sustainability.

During this series, we will explore these steps, but before we get to those, we need to discuss a few foundational points.

Foundational Point 1: Startups & Small Businesses Have Different Needs

In 2016, The Bureau of Labor in the United States shows that about 50% of businesses make it five years, while only about 30% make it past the ten year mark. If this is the reality, then starting a business doesn’t look like such a good idea.  Read more

Punching Through Your Growth Ceiling

by Chris Cloud

Continuing on the theme of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we have invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. Business consultant Chris Cloud shares this mini-series on how to break through your growth ceiling.

 

In the first post we discussed what a growth ceiling is, and how to identify whether or not you are at one. In these second post we’ll cover proven strategies for growing past your ceiling.

The following advice has been gleaned from years of studying how people break past their growth ceiling, from personal experience, and from helping dozens of executive teams identify and break through their ceilings.

Working ON the business, not just IN it

Warren Buffet says his managers should spend 80% of their time working on becoming better leaders and thinking about how they will grow their business. How much time do you spend focused on growing in these areas? Most missional small business owners spend next to zero amount of time working ON the business or on their leadership, because they are too overwhelmed working IN the business. We have to find a way to rise above, if we are ever going to break past our growth ceilings.

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training. – Archilochus

Reminder: There’s hidden grace available if we’re willing to step out.

Isolate the Problem

Once you have committed time to work ON the business, the first step is to isolate the specific area where you are plateauing.  Read more

Have You Reached a Growth Ceiling?

by Chris Cloud

Continuing on the theme of ‘maximizing BAM success factors’ we have invited guest authors to highlight what they consider key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. Business consultant Chris Cloud shares this mini-series on how to break through your growth ceiling.

 

A former client of mine, a venture capitalist, said he noticed an interesting trend. Each company his firm invested in, their leader would have a personal ceiling where he/she couldn’t grow the company past a certain point. For some it was $3 million in annual revenue, for others it was $300 million, but every single leader had a growth ceiling. That company never grew past a certain level until they brought in an entirely new management team.

From what I’ve observed, each growth phase of a company requires a different way of thinking, so most people can’t adopt new ways of thinking easily as the business or organization grows. All kinds of added responsibilities, dealing with high level investors, more employees, different market strategies, it all requires a different skill set.  Read more

Identifying and Maximizing BAM Success Factors Part 2

By Paul Harrington

In this new series on ‘BAM Success Factors’ we invite guest authors to share what they consider the key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. To open up the series, Paul Harrington gives us an overview of the most important BAM success factors he has identified through research. Read Part 1 here.

BAM Success Factors Part 2: Interpersonal and Relational Considerations

In the first part of the two-part series on the factors that determine success for BAM practitioners, we looked at the professional and technical characteristics that research shows help determine the likelihood that a BAM practitioner will meet the goals which were established for the enterprise. Many of the factors that indicate future professional success for BAM practitioners are similar to those for small business owners and include:

  • Training and/or experience in operating small or medium-sized businesses,
  • Technical and professional capabilities
  • Cross-cultural norms and skills in the context where the BAM enterprise will operate,
  • Spiritual skills both in and outside of the cultural context of the BAM enterprise, and,
  • Mentoring, support resources and capital.

There are a separate set of interpersonal/relational factors which also affect the likelihood of success for BAM practitioners. Most of these factors are shared with expatriate workers as well as missionaries and other non-profit or religious workers. Multinational companies generally spend much more on sending and supporting their workers than religious or non-profit organizations, although many of the same risk and success factors have been identified with both groups of organizations.  Read more