More than half of our CO.STARTERS national team (8 out of 15!) just returned from the third annual ESHIP Summit in Kansas City a few weeks ago. ESHIP (short for “entrepreneurship”) is the Kauffman Foundation’s annual gathering of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders and marks a significant high point for CO.STARTERS and our activity each year.

Looking Back

The ESHIP Summit began in 2017 with a year of discovery, where we collectively became more aware of each other, the common opportunities and problems we faced, and the wealth of experience and emerging resources reflected across this budding network. The second year provided an opportunity to further design our future together, taking steps to align our efforts using the ESHIP Goals as our organizing model, and the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook as our guide. This year’s Summit marked a shift into implementation, with participants making commitments to deliver project initiatives that move us closer to achieving the ESHIP Goals.

Throughout this entire process, it has been incredibly inspiring to see hundreds of national leaders put so much time, energy, and passion into accelerating the evolution of the economic development field. Knowing this work is powered by so many selfless contributions from the wider community inspires us to do our own part to contribute to the cause.

Our Top Twelve

CO.STARTERS has been privileged to play a key role in supporting all three ESHIP Summits, from strategy to design to implementation—and this year was no exception. Each summit has been a fresh whirlwind of activity—seeing old friends and making new ones, sharing projects and getting input on new ideas. When we got home and caught our breath, we realized we’d hosted, participated in, or launched a full dozen things. Together, these 12 highlights present an interesting cross-section of our work and a glimpse into CO.STARTERS activities and values.

1. Marketplace MVP

After announcing our leadership role in the project at last year’s ESHIP Summit, we unveiled an early version of the online resource discovery platform for ecosystem builders for attendees to use and test. Our Programs team, Rebekah Marr and Carrie Lawson, co-hosted the Activation Zone space alongside Kauffman’s Lauren Higgins sharing the latest version of the Ecosystem Building Playbook. The Playbook (a guide) and the Marketplace (a platform) are works in progress that together are intended to become a comprehensive toolkit for ecosystem builders. The platform prototype has been a collaboration of CO.STARTERS with Kauffman, SourceLink, and a host of individuals and organizations who have contributed resources and user research through our traveling Roadshow. Special thanks to Startup Champions Network (SCN), InBIA, Main Street America, TomTom Festival, Forward Cities, and NOMCON for hosting the roadshow at their events this year!

2. NRP Convening

At this gathering of National Resource Providers (NRPs), the ESHIP team shared ways we could better align our activities through the ESHIP experience, and provided a space to learn more about what other national organizations are doing to advance the field of ecosystem building. CO.STARTERS presented an update on our network-connecting work and our vision for working smarter together. In addition, our Marketplace team shared an update on the platform, which can be leveraged to better discover alignment between organizations and to more effectively share resources across the ecosystem building world.

3. Unconference: Tips For Enabling Healthy Ecosystem Builders

The day before the Summit, attendees had the opportunity to host an informal “Unconference” session on a topic related to their work or passions. David Hirsch, from our Memberships and Training team, shared tips for enabling healthy ecosystem builders.

4. Unconference: How to Build a Magic Wand

Carrie Lawson, our Programs Specialist, presented with William Donnell from Sodium Halogen on “How to build a magic wand.” This unconference session was an opportunity to talk to ecosystem builders about the Marketplace MVP and how they would use the platform. Drawing on design thinking principles, this interactive workshop asked ecosystem builders to think about the biggest challenges they face in their work and what it would look like if they could wave a magic wand and solve that challenge.  

5. Ecosystem Builders Happy Hour

CO.STARTERS partnered with SCN, Forward Cities, Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), InBIA, Kansas City Startup Foundation, SourceLink, and Proximity Space, to host a joint Happy Hour for fellow ecosystem builders. The room was packed with a wide array of ecosystem builders, as well as a Velociraptor and T-Rex. (No word on what kind of ecosystem those two are building, but at least they didn’t eat anyone.)

6. RuralRISE Meetup

Amid the many informal gatherings of ESHIP, a particular highlight for us was reconnecting with the RuralRISE Network of builders working to transform communities and reinvent economic development in rural areas. Last fall, we had the opportunity to co-host the launch of the first RuralRISE Summit, where our team led facilitated discussions and created a report of key findings from this unprecedented gathering. Registration is open for the next summit this September 17-19th.

7. Showcase: Wayfinding Guide

Enoch and David demonstrated tips for “Getting Starters Unstuck” in a lighthearted skit highlighting tips from our newly released downloadable Wayfinding Guide, a step-by-step guide of community-sourced best practices to help community leaders have more productive meetings with entrepreneurs.

8. INTERSECTIONS Publication

On the same day ESHIP attendees dug into projects supporting the ESHIP Goals, our Communications team launched a new Medium publication in support of “ESHIP Goal 4: Connected Networks.” INTERSECTIONS is focused on curating a cross-section of diverse voices from our partner networks and beyond, including some familiar ESHIP ecosystem builders and storytelling champions such as Jeff Bennett and Anika Horn. As we grow this publication, recommendations for writers or content are welcomed!

9. Community Roles in Ecosystem Building

We published our new Community Roles in Ecosystem Building guide as part of a wider exhibition of learnings that attendees were invited to share in a “Science Fair” format. Developed from our learnings across hundreds of communities, the Community Roles framework is intended to help leaders identify skill sets in themselves and others that are key to ecosystem building. Watch for the public rollout soon!

10. Pop-up Book: A Path for Every Starter

The first ever CO.STARTERS pop-up book—a long-time idea of our Creative team—also made its debut at our Science Fair booth, bringing together our models and frameworks for ecosystem building in the form of a touchable, tangible story. The book will be on tour with our Roadshow this summer and fall. Next up: the pop-up movie!

11. Office Hours

We got the chance to sit down with ecosystem builders from across the country and have one-on-one conversations about their challenges and learnings and how we can work together to grow their entrepreneur communities.

12. CO.STARTERS Dinner

Last but not least, our Memberships team David Hirsch, Molly King, and Jose Alfaro spearheaded a “Collaborators Dinner” at the CO.STARTERS house, with support from the Startup Champions Network. Together we hosted 60 fellow ecosystem builders, inviting them to take off the many “hats” and titles we all wear and take some time to just enjoy each other’s company. Kauffman’s Victor Hwang highlighted his experience of this gathering on stage as an inspiring example of the ecosystem building community.

“This is such a cool community to be involved in. The sense of community is overwhelming. People feel like this is homecoming.”
– Victor Hwang, VP of Entrepreneurship, Kauffman Foundation

Bringing it Home

Each year we walk away inspired to help more people find the sense of community and belonging exhibited at ESHIP. The spirit of “mass collaboration” that motivates us to overcome our limitations, collaborate despite our differences, celebrate our uniqueness, and find our common vision is the same spirit we bring home to our communities and our daily work. This is the same spirit that creates opportunity and opens doors, for people in places everywhere. While we are proud of the contributions we made to this year’s ESHIP event, what is truly inspiring is the collective impact that is possible as we align our work to become a powerful force for good. We can’t wait to see what happens as we all work together going forward!