Across Northeast Ohio, professionals working in industry, banking, law, government, nonprofits, philanthropy, education and small business are serving as champions to help make the journey of the entrepreneur a little easier.
While they may not recognize themselves as such, they are the dedicated ecosystem builders who create a web of individuals working both publicly and behind the scenes to connect the dots, make introductions, share ideas and mentor founders of businesses as they navigate the ups and downs of building a venture from the ground up. Our Northeast Ohio region thrives on the spirit of volunteerism, and this characteristic strengthens the network of people and organizations who are working to enliven our entrepreneurial ecosystem and advance the startups generated.
Ultimately, our region’s ecosystem builders are collectively driving for social change that creates fertile ground for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds to succeed. Tracking the results of the complex interplay among the players is challenging — the results achieved derive from interdependence and alignment of the players rather than from the actions of a single player. According to performance measurement scholar Alnoor Ebrahim, author of “Measuring Social Change: Performance and Accountability in a Complex World” (2019), “Research on complex organizational collaborations suggests that such joint action is enhanced by galvanizing commitment to shared system level goals.”
Optimization of scarce resources requires many steps — mapping the various roles of each of the players, designing a social change framework that promotes and rewards interdependence, illuminating pathways for clients to follow, committing to a goal of collective impact, using the combined power of many to advocate for change and, finally, establishing a shared measurement system, often carried out by backbone organizations like Cleveland-based JumpStart.
In the entrepreneurial ecosystem space, the landscape is constantly shifting, adding an extra layer of complexity to the orchestration function and necessitating the ability to adapt and iterate rapidly. An entrepreneurial ecosystem is a space churning with activity, and astute players keep long-term objectives central, while always being on the lookout for new opportunities.
An ecosystem can only operate if it has the financial resources to keep the elements operating effectively. Funders play an influential role in setting the performance measures that drive action. As such, it is critically important that funders and collaborators are aligned around the power of collective impact, meaningful data collection and shared learning among the players grounded in lessons learned.
An example of a funding collaboration that delivers collective impact is the Northeast Ohio Startup Network (powered by JumpStart), operating as a connected group of entrepreneurial support organizations providing resources to tech-based entrepreneurs including capital, space, mentoring and networks. JumpStart works on behalf of Ohio Third Frontier’s Entrepreneurial Network Service Provider Program, fostering the growth of early stage tech companies across 21 Northeast Ohio counties, all under the umbrella of shared goals and measurements.
These networked programs draw upon the diverse talents of the ecosystem builders who make the ecosystem hum, so entrepreneurs can focus their energies and acquired know-how on growing their ventures.
Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation