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A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream meets Ecosystem Building at the EShip Opening Reception.

Starting Fires Everywhere: EShip Summit 2019

I attended the first EShip Summit in 2017. When I left Kansas City that year, I wrote like a mad woman for three days — I had learned and exposed myself to so many new ideas that I had to bring it all onto digital paper in order to process and implement. These are the highlights:

Even with 450 ecosystem builders and 80 mayors for the preceding Mayor’s Conference on Entrepreneurship, I realize that only a fraction of North America’s ecosystem builders attended EShip in person. I feel fortunate to have learned about it when I did; I know that very few of us have the opportunity to spend three days co-creating with ecosystem builders from across the U.S. and as I am scrolling through the Twitter feed from last week, I feel humbled and touched experiencing EShip all over through the eyes and hearts that beat for ecosystem building.

The Basics

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: An entrepreneurial ecosystem is its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. An ecosystem that allows for the fast flow of talent, information and resources helps entrepreneurs quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its separate parts.

Ecosystem Builder: Professional (or creators problem-solvers) who focus their work on building the system of support and resources for entrepreneurs in their communities or industries.

The EShip process: EShip was designed as a three-step process:

  • Year 1 DISCOVER: Listen to the specific needs of ecosystem builders
  • Year 2 DESIGN: Outline goals and initiatives to build a more robust field for ecosystem builders
  • Year 3+ DELIVER: Move closer to achieving the goals and develop a robust professional field for ecosystem builders.

EShip Goals

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Learn more about the EShip Goals

EShip Playbook: The outcome of three years of mass collaboration — both during Summits and through remote volunteer working groups in between, this is a draft of the third version of the playbook.

Not your typical conference

EShip is an experience like no other. Everyone who ever hosts a conference should attend EShip to see what is possible when you bring brilliant minds together that pursue the same mission; in our case professionalizing the field of ecosystem building.

Starting Fires. At EShip, you won’t get talked at. As an alternative to keynotes, EShip relies on firestarters — short and inspirational talks that set the mood and context for the day. And then you move on and get to work. Having an energetic MC like Andy Stoll work his magic on stage doesn’t hurt.

Design. Murals and storyboards are created in real-time as speakers and working groups are discussing and presenting outcomes of their work. From a mid-summer night’s dream at the 2019 opening reception to the conference lay-out, everything is designed with inspiration and mass collaboration in mind. Read more here.

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Facilitation. Let me tell you that facilitating groups of complete strangers in real-time is no small feat. Yet, partners like the Value Web and Mixtroz created a smooth transition for breakouts and small-group sessions among a whopping 450 participants.

The Arts. EShip never fails to include artists. Music, photography, art installations — you name it! Check out Jami Milne and her EShip portrait series showing ecosystem builders in their natural state; and just know that from live dance networking to choir singing and marching bands in the street, EShip will give your mind opportunities to switch off conference mode and recharge.

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Presentation. Instead of boring conference stalls at which both parties — exhibitor and visitor — stand around awkwardly trying to decide their level of interest in the other, EShip opened up a Science Fair to showcase unique programs and ideas we are working on and hosted a showcase to truly experience what some of that national resource providers (NRPs) are offering.

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The Startup Champions Network Showcase: The Life of an Ecosystem Builder. The world’s first life-size board game on ecosystem building. Including dinosaurs, naturally.

The Nitty Gritty Details. Working in the background were the ladies of The Wellington Experience seeing to our every need. From clipboards to providing easels to helping with set-up. The moment you wondered where you might get help, Katy, Ginna, Callie or one of their colleagues seemed to magically appear with a solution already in hand. And dang, if their outfits weren’t on point!

The Feel Good Factor

When I walked into EShip this year, I was giddy with excitement. I knew I would learn, I knew we would put each other to work. But most importantly, I knew that I had come to my professional home, that the people I was about to spend the next three days with were my allies and that I was encouraged to bring my true and genuine self to this event. I didn’t have a single boring or shallow conversation. I didn’t feel awkward once; instead I felt like I was surrounded by friends I just hadn’t met yet.

And this — together with all that makes EShip EShip — gave me an opportunity to be present and focus on what we were here to do: Revisit the EShip goals we had created over the last two years, grasp their individual initiatives and figure out how we would move forward over the next 14 months (EShip Summit 2020 is already in the books!).

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What makes EShip so unique is not only the thoughtful design, their mandate to purchase from local entrepreneurs and the incredible partners they work with to create an unforgettable not-conference. It is all that, sure, but most of all it is the ability of Kauffman’s instigators to make us feel like we belong, like our work matters, like we have a professional home. Thank you Andy, Victor, Cecilia, Christine, Philip and all those who I don’t know by name.

I get the sense that many of the attendees shared the feeling of being understood, encouraged and empowered to return to their communities with new approaches and a deeper understanding about how we 997 can support the 3 (out of 1,000) people who are starting a business in the US today.

Written by

Ecosystem builder for social change. Founder at Meet me over at for all things social enterprise!

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