(INVISIBLE) ECOSYSTEM BUILDERS NEEDED!!!
Pensacola (FL), like many communities, has the elements on an entrepreneurial ecosystem but despite a lot of talk among the participants, the ecosystem remains disconnected, siloed, and fragmented with no cohesion. The myriad of silos in Pensacola each doing their own thing include:
One Million Cups ® – Entrepreneur engagement platform
Co-Lab – Incubator
Co-Works Annex – Cowork space
Pensacola Socialdesk – Cowork space
Florida’s Great Northwest Entrepreneurship & Innovation Council – Regional connectivity meeting
FloridaWest – Pensacola’s Economic Development Agency
Pensacola Chamber of Commerce
Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce
Studer Community Institute – Skills builder for employees and businesses
Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Support Group – Local silos discussing collaboration
Small Business Development Center
University of West Florida College of Business
University of West Florida Innovation Center
Military and Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) at the University of West Florida.
Meetings involved with and among these silos are largely consumed about talk (not conversations) without any action or results. MVRC is the exception as it has assisted entrepreneurs to create 17 new companies in the last two years by implementing the Florida Veterans Entrepreneurship Program. MVRC succeeds because it puts the Entrepreneur front and center and backs him/her up with a strong stable of experienced volunteer mentors that have been entrepreneurs themselves.
Recently, I came across an article from the Kauffman Foundation entitled We Need Ecosystem Builders that struck home. This article lays out seven design principles for building entrepreneurial ecosystems:
Put entrepreneurs front and center
Enlist collaborators. Everyone is invited.
Live the values.
Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in.
Tell the community’s authentic story.
Start, be patient.
MVRC is successful because it focuses on the first principle above while adopting most of the other principle as support. Elsewhere in Pensacola, these principles are largely not being followed but rather the focus is on whose name goes on the Marquee! My belief is that invisible leaders are most effective in building a system as it allows everyone involved to take credit.
On three occasions in the last six months, I have led grant application as a vehicle to initiate and foster inclusive collaboration and a vibrant ecosystem focused on the entrepreneurs we were trying to help. The money was not as important as the collaborative approach that involved up to twelve entities in the approach. During the proposal process, I found an eagerness to collaborate when there is an opportunity for a meaningful role to play rather than just be a pawn in a “chest beating” leader’s plan. However, I also found a general reluctance to be visibly up front (a fear of failure?). My hope is that Pensacola’s invisible ecosystem builders will coalesce and drive a community wide focus on entrepreneurial development.