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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

From Idea to Impact: Accelerating Communities of Kingdom-Minded Entrepreneurs

During our October Webinars this week Mats Tunehag had the privilege of interviewing six BAM leaders in a series of three Fireside Chats, on the themes of each day: Start-up BAM, Fruitful BAM and Long BAM.

On day two, on the theme of Fruitful BAM, Mats interviewed Matthew Rohrs and Yvonne Otieno. Yvonne is an award winning entrepreneur and CEO of Miyonga Fresh Greens in Kenya. Matthew is the CEO of Sinapis Group, a Kingdom-minded business accelerator and entrepreneur academy operating in eight countries.

Here are some excerpts from their Fireside Chat Interview:

Mats: Matthew, Sinapis is 10 years old this year, congratulations. So tell us, how do you integrate faith into your programs?

Matthew: Sinapis is an entrepreneurship training and acceleration organization. We have a variety of programs to help entrepreneurs build capacity. Then over time we build vibrant long-term alumni communities where entrepreneurs can do business with one another, solve problems together, grow in their faith, and grow in their application of what it means to lead a Kingdom business.

The name Sinapis is the Latin word for mustard seed. So when we think about that gospel story of how the smallest seed in the garden grows to become one of the largest plants and the birds of the air come and perch in the branches, we think that is an interesting picture of the kind of impact that a gifted Kingdom-minded entrepreneur can have. They start out with a small seed of an idea, and that company then grows and grows. As that company begins to have more influence, this image of the birds perching in the branches is a beautiful picture of what happens with their employees. The impact that a company can have on the employees and then their dependents and others in the community…

On the question of how we integrate faith into what we do. At the programmatic level, we gently, respectfully, but very intentionally integrate God’s truth into our programs. We’re very open to share with people that there’s biblical content and we want to talk to you if you are not a follower of Christ, what would it mean to consider following Him? And if you are a follower of Christ, how do you step in, with passion, to this beautiful calling to the marketplace?

We think our alumni communities are actually the greatest opportunity for long-term spiritual investment, to walk with entrepreneurs over time, just like Yvonne. We help them and support them in the integration of their faith into the business, but also the continued growth of the company as their challenges become more complex.

Mats: Yvonne, you are one of those mustard seeds! How did going through the program change you and the impact on your various stakeholders?

Read more

Going Upstream to Bring Justice: Not For Sale

Stephen Goode has been involved internationally in relief and development work for over 35 years. For the past 6 years he has served on the Board of Not For Sale. We asked him how Not For Sale is responding to the challenge of human trafficking and why they have made business a central part of their strategy.

Much of the activity around ‘business solutions to human trafficking’ has been on the side of restoration and providing jobs for those being rescued from slavery. Why has Not For Sale more recently started focusing on business solutions for the prevention of human trafficking?

Slavery exists today on a scale like no other time in history. The Global Slavery Index reports there are 35.8 million people enslaved today and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate that USD 150 Billion is made in illegal profits annually. The vulnerability of at-risk individuals and communities continue as key elements of modern day slavery. Traffickers come in to individuals and villages, promising any and everything and the slavery cycle of exploitation multiplies. Read more

Moving into the Neighbourhood: Up Close and Personal with Freedom Business

Discovering Freedom

For more than 14 years I’ve had the privilege of living out life with women who have been given the choice of freedom.

It seems this freedom business thing does work. It provides hope where there was hopelessness, a choice when there was no choice at all – the chance of a new life that leads to freedom.

A life journeying with women discovering freedom, what can I say? There’s nothing else like it in all the world and, to be honest, I’ve discovered my freedom is tied up with theirs too.

However, there have moments in my life when I’ve realised I’m a bit slow to pick things up.

For a number of years I thought the way to more freedom was growing one business as big as it could get, until I ran a few numbers around in my head.

Sonagacchi, our neighbourhood, potentially home to 10,000 women trapped in prostitution would simply not be transformed by Freeset, and the other amazing freedom businesses in the area, growing as big as they could.

Between us we employ around 3% of the total women there which means there’s a big number to go – around 9,700 at least.

You see, I still believe in a God who wants justice. The one who came to set the oppressed free. I still believe he wants to do this today and that this massive problem is not too big for him. I believe he weeps for the women of our community as he weeps for many communities like ours around the world. I believe he calls those of us claiming to be his followers to be involved in his kind of justice in his world. Read more

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