EshipSeries: Eship Summit — A Lesson on Big Picture Thinking and Self-Reflectedness

What I’m bringing back to Richmond, VA, from the Eship Summit is less actionable than usual(objectives, timeline and plan of attack in hand). But the Summit was not your usual conference, so why should the take-away be?

Everyone attends these type of conferences with different expectations. The greatest benefit to me was to step away from the daily grind to look at the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve.

Let me explain: My greatest criticism of bad ecosystem players is their lack of self-awareness, -reflection and -criticism.

What troubles me about a number of players in our local ecosystem is

  1. Their uninspired commitment of doing the same thing they have always done (and why should that change goddammit?), #onetrickpony
  2. They are reluctant to change because their approach is the only thing they know, and they want to stay in their position at all costs, #powerplay
  3. They don’t question what else is out there, what new approaches others have developed since the year 2000, hence, however they do it is as good as it’s going to get, #ostrich

I venture to assume that less than a quarter of local actors stay up-to-speed with the latest research, best practices and new data in their field to ensure that what they deliver and how they do it is the best that is currently out there. And I get it, pulling your head of the sand means leaving your comfort zone; it means you may realize you have lost relevance; you may even feel threatened by the new kids on the block who have done their homework and come at things with a new approach (help, innovation!). And I think that’s human, it’s a natural fear of having lost touch. I experienced this first hand last year: A social enterprise accelerator — which has great programming in place! — was considering opening up shop in Richmond and my first instinct was defense.

I had to constantly remind myself that this was not about taking something away from us, but actually adding tremendous value to the ecosystem.
Steve Case at Eship Summit, copyright by Nation Swell

The answer to staying relevant is to make an effort to be informed and curious to learn, to adjust your course and study up on what’s happening outside your city to provide the best possible value to local entrepreneurs and the ecosystem at large. That’s what the Eship Summit did for me. It gave me an insight into other approaches to programming and ecosystem building, approaches I could learn from, bring back to Richmond and implement to help us locally move forward. Eship Summit reminded me to put founders front and center of our efforts, irrespective of bad ecosystem players, to seek collaboration with those who are willing and to stay on track for what is best for local founders.

Secondly, I was once more reminded of the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and others about our work and local ecosystems. Being in the local weeds day in and day out, it is easy to get frustrated with certain people, their decisions and developments in other organizations that have a direct effect on our work yet are outside of our control. Yes, it can bring you down but there is more to the story. We have small success and victories that might not be visible to an outsider but that make your day and remind us of why we are here.

Telling ourselves a bad story about our ecosystem by only focusing on the negative is a dangerous road to go down.

Will I be following up with people who I met at Eship Summit? Probably not.

Did I learn a whole lot about ecosystem building? Absolutely.

I gained clarity on what we are talking about when we say ecosystem building, expanded my vocabulary to help me articulate why this stuff matters and gave me a sense for what is possible (yay 2025!). Most importantly, Eship challenged me to stay critical:

How do we know that what we are doing is the best for our community, and the best that is currently available?
Keeping perspective at Eship Summit, end of day 1

Learn more about my work at www.anikahorn.com