Community builders, a long-term view of change

Laura Calmore
Nov 19, 2018 · 7 min read

We need more entrepreneur community* builders to support growth & create a sustainable ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive in.

Successful communities don’t need modern economies to thrive. The Global AI community we’ve created with Global Startup Weekend AI was a great experience and example of how it can be done, with the right people, in over 15 emerging & developed countries. We’re happy to share some tips and examples of the great work they’ve done for their local ecosystems. If you’re part of one of these cities, connect with them, and see how you can support what they’re doing, or join their community!

Entrepreneurs are the change and growth engine in societies.

We started the very first AI event edition in Paris 3 years ago as a way to bring researchers closer to the entrepreneurial community as a “missing” piece to the puzzle. We thought more applied AI projects would come out, and transferred to the market. After focusing on the local Parisian community for a year, the approach got some interest from international community builders who wanted to apply the model to their growing or nascent community. 2 years after, here we are, with 18 local communities, building their AI ecosystems, and being part of a big family. So if you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, challenge the status quo and drive for change, look into what it takes to be a startup community builder, it might be a good fit for you!

A community is a small or large social unit that has something in common, such as norms, values, or identity. Communities often share a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area or in virtual space through communication platforms. — Wikipedia

Only the things that you can understand can be developed, and only the things you mesure can be improved.

Communities lead to ecosystems and ecosystems lead to sustainability and growth.

An ecosystem is a community made up of living organisms and nonliving components such as air, water, and mineral soil. Ecosystems can be studied in two different ways. They can be thought of as interdependent collections, or as structured systems and communities governed by general rules. A startup ecosystem is formed by people, startups and entrepreneurs in their various stages and various types of organisations in a physical and/or virtual location, interacting as a system to create growth and support new startup creation. — Wikipedia

Entrepreneurs today are innovating the way they do business all over the world, bringing new services and products to market, rethinking models, creating value, economic growth, and jobs.

Most nascent communities have pieces of what it takes to create an ecosystem, but they are spread all over the place. This is where a community builder comes into action and puts pieces together, to enhance an ecosystem. They connect, empower and create a collaborative environment working to lift up the ecosystem to its full potential. They are the keystone to their ecosystem (biology states a keystone a species that bridges gaps in one ecosystem).

A startup needs the passion, the team, the investment, the time, the business model to mature and not only stay as an MVP. Right now we’re driving the community in Bolivia with volunteers, entrepreneurs, non-gov organisations and some banks. The government is inexistent, but so needed to support these new models. We hope to bring in more actors to support new models in our economy — @nica Irene, La Paz Bolivia Global AI community, organiser Startup Weekend AI

Read more of what Monica and the team are doing in La Paz, Bolivia.

Entrepreneurs thrive where they can quickly access big markets, human and venture capital.

Think of the impact! With the right structure in place, a country’s future economical growth and societal progress can derive from entrepreneurs, as startups create new industries and generate economic development not only locally, but more often on a global scale. It’s important to connect all these pieces to the puzzle, with a structure and the right tools.

We need to foster a more vibrant entrepreneurial global ecosystem, but we need community builders, like YOU! You don’t need to ask for permission to be an ecosystem builder, you just have to care enough for your community to start.

Things to know before becoming a community builder

Here’s a couple of things we got out from success & failures of building several, local & global communities. I hope it inspires you to keep up the great work you’re already doing, or start thinking of getting involved, or building a community.

  • It’s a marathon! Be aware that this might be very new for your city, or country. Culture change moves slower than you’d think, before it can move fast. You need to build in patience and commit for a long term before seeing benefits
  • A program that works in one city might not work in another. You need to try, fail and try again till you get your ecosystem/community model
  • A community is a horizontal social structure, meaning it doesn’t have a hierarchy, nor a traditional leader. So if you’re in it for the title, forget about it. This doesn’t mean you’re not a leader! Au contraire, community leaders lead in a different way than traditional CEOs.

Steps to become a community builder

Start, be patient.

“A Startup Community Needs a 20-year Time Horizon.” Bred Feld, Techstars Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

This couldn’t be said enough. A community is a long-term view of change, so don’t expect it to happen overnight. Silicon Valley became what they are today by building and engaging their community for over 60–70 years. So don’t give up after a couple of months when you see that nothing is happening, and persist.

You’re in it for the long term, remember?

We must say that, one of the keys of building a community is being open, brave and not be afraid of starting with little attendance, even with an empty room. Keep communicating clearly, positively; create difference and impact, and follow up! So, finding the right angle, finding a real niche that people are longing to learn about and share their information and experience is the first step, and then comes the communication. — patrick bosteels & Nesen Yucel, Stage-Co & Global SW AI community in Turkey


Facebook’s “Move Fast and Break Things” motto is still on their walls post its startup days, which means that strong values help drive a long term strategy to scale on. Your community would need its own culture and values. Like an invisible social contract, they will guide the behavior of your community. With the Global AI initiative, we thrive for “Give First”, “Drive for impact” and “Don’t leave anyone behind”, which we can also see in our community leaders around the world.

Diversity is by intention

Entrepreneurial ecosystems are horizontal social structures, meaning everyone is equal. You need to be inclusive of everyone and find a way to communicate, engage and drive for action. Diversity is by intention, the more diverse collaborations that occur between ecosystem players, the more entrepreneurs will benefit. Diversity is power.

Entrepreneurs don’t have an age, skin colour, sex, religion, nationality or neighborhood they come from. It’s not about titles. It’s not where entrepreneurs are coming from, but where you as a community want to go to.

A thriving ecosystem has a culture of openness and inclusion at its very core. Everyone is welcome, as everyone has something to contribute. It doesn’t matter whether they have entrepreneurial experience, idea or don’t know much about business, invite new people and organizations into the community, to find new ways for actors to connect, collaborate, co-create, share credit, and find mutually beneficial ways of working together. One of the key roles of a community builder is to unlock the value in everyone from the ecosystem.

Personal note: Of course that in every ecosystem there will badmouths and ill-intentioned people. Make sure you spot them and just go remind them the core values of your community actions. At strike three, just don’t invite them anymore.

Be the change

Cocky but true: be the change you want to see. You will be the invisible men and women, empowering others to act and move forward. You will be the connector inspiring others to engage with each other, reminding them of the community’s values, and you will drive for change. You can have an outsized impact on culture by modeling values and behaviors you set up. It is through our own behaviors that we show others how to behave. We need to model the values we wish to see.

Forget about trying to be a Silicon Valley-like ecosystem!

Understand that your city has its own unique characteristics that you need to build the right model for. You can learn from the success of Silicon Valley and other ecosystems but don’t copy-cat it.

Here’s one of CEE Changers main missions: empower every community to grow at this own model.

Start by evaluating your community (or the its non existence). Become “an expert” of all the players and activities, by mapping everything: actors by type, activity, industry, people, tools, events, universities, etc.

Mapping out your ecosystem will set you up for success, or failure. As you’re trying to build an infrastructure for the community, you need to understand how to build and organise everything around the players.

For entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs

The most critical principle of a startup community is that entrepreneurs must lead it, for the community will to be sustainable over time. — Brad Feld

A thriving ecosystem must be built by entrepreneurs and for an entrepreneur. As horizontal social structures, community leaders shouldn’t be “at the top”, “alone”, but should bring several leaders with them, entrepreneurs, as the inspiration of the community and its initiatives.

Put entrepreneurs in the center front of your community. They should be the most active participants and the ultimate beneficiaries of programs. That’s how you best understand their challenges and establish first step solutions for your ecosystem.

Startups fail. That’s where the community comes in hand; to pick entrepreneurs up, and integrate them into their next adventure. — Laura Calmore, President CEE Changers

CEE Changers

Connecting the CEE countries’ startup communities in order…

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