Startup Community Building

The Kauffman Foundation continues to lead our county’s thinking and development of programs that are growing our entrepreneurial ecosystems.  Their “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook” is out in a 2.0 version and can be found in an online format at

I recently received the playbook in a printed version and am offering the following thoughts about the current playbook and ecosystem building in general that I’ve shared with the team working on the Playbook and others through many conversations over the last few years.

  • Why does Entrepreneurship matter? All the book’s reasons are good, but I’m really interested in the idea that it is the creativity and passion of innovation and entrepreneurship (I/E) that will define how humans matter in the future machine/automation age.  Machines will take over the routine, unsafe and mundane; and if we are not careful, we will let the world become a homogenized and harmonized efficient machine, and our diversity will disappear to the benefits of standardized code/solutions optimized by machine learning algorithms.  It is in the pursuit of innovation and entrepreneurship that I see where diversity, imagination, creativity and disruption live on and live in a healthy and necessary tension with the machines and an optimized algorithmic world.  We must develop our I/E ecosystem to raise to a new level the humans who can and must be a valuable contribution in a new age of machines.
  • The “Startup Community Alchemy” ecosystem map the Seed Here Studio in Cedar Rapids Iowa is worth studying. Check out Andy Stoll’s post and presentation, “Fostering a more entrepreneurial city“.
  • Any ecosystem needs to have investors as the third leg in a triad of entrepreneurs and innovators.  See
  • Ecosystem building needs to have a stronger focus on leveraging current community assets and addressing opportunities in the core of the economy rather than just focusing on high tech dreams.  The Innovation to Launch framework I developed while at Alaska Pacific University recognized the hole in our approaches. That hole being the middle ground of innovation and risk bounded by the traditional sole proprietor/life style coffee shop/retail store entrepreneurship and the disruptive new market/tech companies.  In the middle is the heart of entrepreneurship and I’d suggest the decline in entrepreneurship the Playbook notes is a symptom of the collective hyper focus on new disruptive technology, while and forgetting the middle.  When I was in Serbia it was crystal clear that if you were not focused on VR/AR, Block Chain, Airbnd/Uber etc… that is Information and Communications Technology or “ICT”, then you were not an entrepreneur!  WOW.  Here in Anchorage I still see the divides between our ecosystems… there is the existing company ecosystem (chamber of commerce, rotary etc), the Kaufman/TechStars ecosystem (1MC, Startup Weekend/Week/Digest), the minority community ecosystem and here, a women entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  • I’m a fan of the Michigan work that recognized the above point and realized that without the core economy, startups were leaving when they needed the first major round of financing… so they increased their value to the existing ecosystem and worked on how the entrepreneurship world and existing world can work together.
  • I found that if I asked how the existing companies could help the startups, I got very little engagement. If I turned that question around and asked how startups can help the existing companies and economy, the question takes off… I’m working in this area that I’m calling “Open Innovation” I’ve seen it in some programs and places I’ve visited and it’s a powerful linkage between the startup ecosystem and the existing companies that need the innovation tools and risk-taking approach. And; startups need the lessons, customer experience, etc. of the established businesses.
  • I’m finding a “full stack” approach to innovation works better. “Entrepreneurship” deselects too many people, yet a “challenge” will attract them. I’m decoupling innovation from entrepreneurship and encouraging programs that link together like you see in the below “stack” of programs.  We’ve also linked program together using this model to create the “Year of Innovation“, a yearlong cycle of events that link and connect ideas,  entrepreneurs and support the iterative approach to innovation and startups.
Innovation to Launch - "Full Stack" programs and the Blue example
Innovation to Launch – “Full Stack” programs and the Blue example

Continuing on the “full stack” point, I’m also working now on “Impact Innovation“. This is an approach that seeks to connect community challenges – opportunities – local solutions – global ventures.  This four-step pathway is making sense with programs we are building in our new “blue (ocean) economy”.  It is another ways of saying that our “problems” are really “challenges” and the spending we are going to put in to the problems should be considered  the investment in the opportunities and solutions. Here is another version of this work as we implemented the idea as the Alaska Community Challenge to support solving problems using students and faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

  • Finally, the playbook almost touches on the most important two lesson’s I’ve learned about ecosystem building. First, it is all about iterations and connecting people, events and ideas… over and over… 1 Million Cups is a great intro, then a TechStars Startup Weekend, then an Innovation Summit pitch, then a Business Plan  pitch, then something with the investors… etc… every event has to be connected to what’s coming next to build on the idea, build the team, build the support and investment readiness of the venture. I’ve seen too much of silo event thinking, and NO event is good enough to think it is the beginning and end for anyone building an idea or business.

The other major area of work I’m researching is how startup company culture and org development drive success. This is not directly startup community building, but as we assess the results of our startups and try to maintain the enthusiasm and support in the community, blaming failure of a startup on funding runway or product-market fit is an excuse that ignores the real issue of decision making and organization development. So, my key ecosystem thoughts for the playbook are:

  • private investors matter,
  • iterations are essential,
  • lean and traditional entrepreneurship can work together but need to be connected (innovation to launch framework)
  • leveraging assets and the existing economy create stronger opportunities, (open innovation)
  • invest in community challenges to create valuable local solutions, (Impact Innovation)
  • and it is really a “village” that raises a startup…

To the Kauffman Foundation, thanks for all the work you are doing, and sharing your Playbook with everyone.



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