In June, CO.STARTERS’s founder Enoch Elwell joined 400 community leaders from across the country for the inaugural ESHIP Summit in Kansas City. The ESHIP Summit is a 3-day gathering organized by the Kauffman Foundation, a leading philanthropic investor in entrepreneurship in the United States. The Summit was designed to bring ecosystem builders from across the country together in an unprecedented way to discover how to better empower communities to serve local entrepreneurs.

What made this event unique?

According to Larkin Garbee, Chief Imagination Officer at 804RVA and leader of CO.STARTERS in Richmond, it was the broad audience the Summit brought together.

Larkin said that while big discussions in this field have happened in the past (through networks like the Startup Champions Network), the ESHIP Summit was historically the broadest range of partners and stakeholders brought together to collaborate on this common goal.

“It sparked meaningful conversations, bringing together leaders in economic development who have spent decades successfully using traditional methods and  grassroots organizers who believe today’s economic development models aren’t working,” CO.STARTERS founder Enoch Elwell agreed.

According to Rebekah Marr, co-founder of CO.STARTERS, what was different about the ESHIP event was how it got people working together. “Instead of hearing people present on what they were doing, we had an opportunity to collaborate with other attendees to try to solve real problems facing both our communities and our collective industry,” she reflected. “It also represented a shift to me in how we think about economic development. It’s not just about programs and success metrics of siloed organizations. It’s about creating integrated systems to help starters of all kinds thrive.”

By bringing together roughly 400 ecosystem builders to discuss the challenges that entrepreneurial ecosystems face, the intent was to arrive at a shared understanding of what the future of economic development is, how this is working itself out in communities, and to identify  realistic paths forward in creating this new future.

The final day of the Summit invited participants to take action on the ideas discussed. Enoch had the opportunity to work with the Kauffman event team to develop Friday’s workshop experience, alongside Amanda West, a founding director of Startup Champions Network and co-founder of Seed Here Studio. Their intent was to practice real-time collaboration to create concrete tools that could help in ecosystem building work. To do this, they presented critical challenges that had been identified leading up to and over the course of the Summit. Then, teams were asked to devise solutions, small steps that could be taken to immediately address these challenges. For example, one of the major challenges presented was inclusivity, a topic Kauffman has particular interest in helping address.

“Inclusivity. We couldn’t solve the inclusivity problem in four hours. So we asked the teams, ‘What is one small first step we can take to help address one part of the problem?’” Enoch said.

“It was great to see them highlight the importance of inclusion and diversity in ecosystem building, which is integral to the work of LAUNCH”, said Marco Perez, vice president of operations at LAUNCH Chattanooga and a member of the CO.STARTERS network.

What did this Summit mean for CO.STARTERS?

“When we first got started with CO.STARTERS, we wanted to do the best work we could in supporting healthy community growth through supporting entrepreneurs of all kinds. One metric of success in this goal was to one day be a contributor to the national and global conversation around what community focused economic development could look like,” said Enoch. “Now, CO.STARTERS is helping to guide this conversation in building entrepreneurial ecosystems. It is both a huge responsibility and opportunity, but I couldn’t be more excited that we get to play one small key role in accelerating this cultural movement of community-based economic development.”