Scaling BAM Companies for Impact: Models of Partnership and Ecosystem Building

During our November Webinars last week for the BAM Global Congress Pre-Series, Mats Tunehag had the privilege of interviewing eight BAM leaders in a series of three Fireside Chats, on the theme of building ecosystems and networks that will help BAM companies launch and thrive.

As part of this series, Mats interviewed Tom, Dwight and Joanna, here are some excerpts from their Fireside Chat Interview:

Mats: Joanna, in your experience, through starting a BAM accelerator and running your own business, what are some key lessons you’ve learned when it comes to building an ecosystem or support system for growing a BAM business?

Joanna: First of all, do not discourage someone from being part of your ecosystem, even if you don’t think it’s what you need right now. It’s about building relationships with different parts of this ecosystem for the long term. Secondly, learn and teach. We have to learn from others, and we also have to pass on what we know with the relationships and partnerships we are developing.

Mats: Dwight you’ve been doing BAM for several decades now, tell us about the nature of your companies?

Dwight: We are committed to establishing businesses, typically technology based businesses with 50-500 employees, in unreached cities in Asia. We are committed to seeing strategic, but reasonable, great commission results in unreached cities of more than a million people and less than 2% Christian. Typically we see house bible studies started and growing beyond that, but each location is different… If we don’t see both the financial returns and the great commission stuff happening, we will exit from a business.

Mats: You’ve talked before about the importance of strategic alliances and partnerships with mission agencies for business growth and gospel impact, please tell us more about the benefits of these partnerships as part of the ecosystem around your companies.

Dwight: We’ve learned a lot, we are now in our 31st year of doing intentional BAM! In our size of company, we’ve found it’s a very unusual leader that can hold both business management skill sets and keeping staff accountable for spiritual growth. We actively seek for all of the Christian non-national leaders in our companies to have spiritual accountability relationships with groups, like mission agencies, that will take an active interest to oversee them. Also we want them to infuse the operations, to bring influence. When you are running an intentional, international business it is very competitive, you are working long-hours, especially for start-ups. We need those partner groups to come in and give some support, give some management and to measure us, to make sure our great commission goals are aggressive enough, but contextualised so that they are not too aggressive. We have relationships like that with 20+ Christian great commission-focused groups or agencies. None of them are financially invested in the business, but we want them to be people-invested. As well as keeping our leaders individually accountable, they champion priorities for each location from a discipleship, church planting or evangelism perspective. We have a written great commission plan and contracts with each organisation. Just like having a 3 or 5 year business plan, we have those for our great commission goals, if you are not intentional and don’t aim for it, you won’t hit it. These are places that are tough to reach with the gospel and require focus on both financial and great commission goals.

Mats: Tom, you’ve learned a number of things through doing BAM in the Middle East, tell us about that and what you have discovered about the importance of building Kingdom-centred ecosystems.

Tom: I came to business from a different route, through ministry. I did seminary and then started a couple of businesses and found that I loved it. I saw the redemptive possibilities of business, especially as you relate to people on a core level, where their identity is, where their dignity is, where their livelihood is. When you do ministry around that core identity you are really connecting with people in a powerful way. In the context I was in, we couldn’t hire the people we wanted to reach in the way that other BAM businesses do, because the people were already far wealthier than us. We could partner with them and invite them for coffee, business leader to business leader, but couldn’t really have the impact on the community we wanted to.

The idea of growing entrepreneurial ecosystems stemmed from wanting to have a broader influence in our community and also to build the redemptive capacity that SME sized businesses can have to solve local problems in the community. Who knows more about local problems than local people? If we are able to come around locals to help them start businesses, they own it. Ownership then creates a capacity for people to take care of their own solutions…. We help BAM practitioners pull entrepreneurs together in their location and help 5-20 new local businesses launch. A community is then formed – a catalytic network of business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and all the people that come around to help entrepreneurs thrive. If the Kingdom is at the centre of that, the influence can grow, with community and spiritual transformation both happening. Instead of just saying to other business leaders, ‘Do you want to have a cup of coffee?’ we can say, ‘Hey, could we get together and talk about how to work together to change this city for good?’.

Want to watch the whole of this interview on video?

Discover more about what Joanna, Tom and Dwight consider their key learnings from doing business as mission, in three different continents and from very different backgrounds and experiences

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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