Across the nation and around the world, entrepreneurship ecosystems are quickly becoming the most essential element of regional economic development initiatives. The popularity of the ecosystem movement is fueled not only by the fact that startup activities create more net new jobs, but also because entrepreneurial endeavors enrich a region’s business culture and talent pool. But what is an entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Most of us are familiar with biological ecosystems comprised of geographic areas such as forests, tide pools, and wetlands; each consisting of diverse living and nonliving elements that are interdependently woven into a living and breathing vessel of life. Entrepreneurship ecosystems are similar in that they are made up of community elements that support regional new venture creation, innovation, self-employment, talent development, and economic resilience. At the core of any entrepreneurship ecosystem are its people and culture. This vital people/culture combination energizes the ongoing interrelating of an ecosystem’s components, thus forming a complex combination that results in a system where the whole is dramatically greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Entrepreneurship ecosystems can be difficult to understand and manage because they are complex and adaptive. Complex adaptive systems consist of a large variety of autonomous agents, each possessing adaptable and permeable boundaries, allowing each part to act, self-organize, and communicate autonomously with other parts of the ecosystem. As such, ecosystems tend to behave less formally or predictively. The behavior of an ecosystem emerges from a myriad of interdependent behaviors by its individual constituent agents, often as spontaneous adaptive responses. This seemingly random interactive behavior makes it even more necessary to understanding how ecosystems behave, in order to get the most out of the resources they provide.
Understanding ecosystems has never been more important as our communities shift dramatically away from an industrial era and into a network society. Disruption – as evidenced by the current pandemic – is becoming commonplace, with adaptability and resilience representing the currency of today’s business. Entrepreneurship ecosystems spawn these precious capabilities and serve as the foundation of regional prosperity and sustainability. Thriving ecosystems are ones that promote entrepreneurial spirit, and encourage the fast flow of the information, resources, and talent needed to start new ventures and grow existing small businesses. These ecosystems are comprised of twelve essential elements:
- Aspiring Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners (seeking new opportunities to grow and expand)
- Mentors, Coaches, and other Support Resource Partners (banks, accounting/legal services, marketing agencies, human resource services, incubators/accelerators, university entrepreneurship centers, makerspaces, advocacy organizations, government providers of business guidance, network of entrepreneurial peers)
- Policy Makers and Regulatory Agencies (business-friendly policies/regulations, tax incentives)
- Accessible Knowledge Resources (online access, local libraries, universities, subscriptions to online startup advice/info)
- Talent and Talent Development Institutions (Job Development programs, K-12 education systems, university entrepreneurship programs, diverse workforce with pre-university education, a university education, and entrepreneurship-specific training)
- Community Champions and Conveners (university centers, incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, collaboratories, entrepreneurship-related event facilitators)
- A Culture of Trust, Collaboration, and Initiative (tolerance for risk and failure, a preference for self-employment, a plethora of success stories and role models, a research and learning mindset, and a celebration of innovation)
- Common and Easily-Accessed Gathering Places (where people can interact, discover, and share ideas and resources)
- Supportive Regional Narrative (describing a culture built on entrepreneurial spirit, a cooperation mindset, an abundance of natural resources and beauty, and a family-friendly lifestyle)
- Regional Infrastructure & Transportation (roads, bridges, highways, traffic systems, airports, water ports, waterways, railways, rail stations, water, power, water treatment, telecommunications, broadband)
- Accessible Markets (revenue-paying customers, such as B2B companies, small to medium sized enterprises, government agencies, and foreign consumers)
- Funding and Finance Sources (friends, family, angel and private equity investors, venture capitalists, and access to debt)
Any list of the nation’s most flourishing entrepreneurship ecosystems will include well-known names such as Silicon Valley, Austin, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, and Boston’s Route 128; however, many emerging ecosystems are also flourishing and experiencing very high levels of success. These include places like Provo (Utah), Cape Coral (Florida), Norman (Oklahoma), and Birmingham (Alabama). Our North Louisiana Entrepreneurship Ecosystem is comprised of a diverse set of local and regional ecosystems, including both urban and rural communities. From Southern University’s KICK Incubator in Shreveport to the HUB in Vidalia’s Technology Center, from CLEDA’s BAD System in Alexandria to the Catalyst’s Shared Workspace in Monroe, and all points and parishes in between, our entrepreneurship ecosystem serves as a launch pad from which regional entrepreneurs may realize their true potential. In addition, North Louisiana’s welcoming and inclusive nature makes our ecosystem attractive to out-of-region entrepreneurs, providing tremendous growth opportunities for both entrepreneurs, and small business owners alike.
The Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) has partnered with LSU-Shreveport to conduct a comprehensive three-year study of North Louisiana’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. Preliminary results suggest our region has tremendous upside potential and opportunity. Look for the final analysis and results published later this year.
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Michael Meeks, PhD/LSU-Shreveport