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