EshipSeries: Making and breaking startup ecosystems — An exercise in the arts and crafts

Anika Horn
Jun 30, 2017 · 4 min read

Once we had dreamed up the ideal startup ecosystem, our next job was to build a model representing the ideal startup ecosystem. You heard it. Glue, plastic soldiers, crayons and feathers. We used it all. See what we came up with when six ecosystem builders from across the country (#Group3) come together to figure out what makes and breaks a productive startup ecosystem.


  1. A culture of connectedness, co-creation, diversity, collaboration, support and active engagement, embracing failure.
  2. Resources: People & talent, capital, mentorship, programming, education, outlets for storytelling, space for experimentation.
  3. Infrastructure: Visibility and mapping of resources and partners along the pipeline


  1. Selfishness: Ego and parasitic behavior
  2. Reluctance to Change: lack of self-reflection and -criticism, reluctance to invite and engage new players, unwillingness to test new ideas, condemnation of “failure”
  3. Opaqueness: Myths and misconceptions about startups, the ecosystem and players themselves; telling a bad story about the ecosystem
The finished product: on-ramps, detours, balloons of cash and pit stops.

Modeling the Ideal Ecosystem

Our model was built along a road with several on-ramps originating from within diverse communities, loops for iteration and detours, as well as off-ramps for exiting, for slow-moving traffic and for closing down a startup. The EXIT ramp loops back into the community with a balloon of cash. Naturally.

Along the road we positioned mentors, investors, ecosystems builders and a skilled pit crew to help startups built, iterate, pivot, and work while warding off intruders trying to break the system.

Above all towered a gigantic circuit of constant feedback and iteration. Naturally.

This modeling exercise really broke it down to the essential and tangible elements of a productive and efficient ecosystem of the future. To read more about how we got here, check out Startup Ecosystems of the Future.

Group 3 hard at work

Builder. Activator. Architect: The Role of an Ecosystem Builder

To create an ecosystem of the future, the role of any actor in the network — from mentor to investor to entrepreneur him- or herself — is as important as that of the person connecting them all: the ecosystem builder. To facilitate the functioning of an ecosystem that is community-centered and impact driven from a mindset of abundance (see Ecosystems of the Future) he or she plays a crucial role in connecting people and resources, serving as an access point and guide to the ecosystem and helping those who take action. In other words. the ecosystem builder of the future creates opportunities to engage, educate, and empower those who have a genuine interest in investing in the startup ecosystem.

He or she is a relationship builder, an activator, facilitator, community architect and storyteller.

All while taking care of her- or himself by valuing their own time and efforts.

Assessing progress: Metrics

How do we assess the success of this ideas ecosystem model? How do we know that this is the right track, the best alternative for our respective ecosystems?

As Brad Feld stated, ecosystem building requires a long-term orientation to ensure not only individuals but entire generations are encouraged and empowered to engage in the process. We can keep track of this development through assessing

  • The number of ideas pitched at relevant events,
  • The number of startup events and according attendance rates, as well as
  • The overall activity in the startup community in terms of events, online engagement, in-person conversations and as reflected by the press.

Assessing the level of diversity is likely to require traditional models of demographic research through event registrations, participant information and so on.

Tracking an increase of the entrepreneurial mindset in individuals is a lot harder. We could deploy proxy-measures such as

  • The number of experiments run in startup spaces as well as
  • The number of applicants and participants in events like Startup Weekend and other idea-stage support programs.

We must be fully aware, however, that an entrepreneurial mindset manifests itself not only in startup spaces so we must look beyond traditional measures. Schools and universities might be a good starting point to assess the level of entrepreneurial mindset of students across disciplines.

Most importantly, changing mindsets — like anything in startup ecosystem building — is a long-term play.

So don’t expect any immediate skyrocketing improvements. In fact, be weary of such vanity metrics.

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