In April, I was on the tail end of my 2-month U.S. tour to meet with other startup champions when a chance invitation changed my course. I was lucky to get a last-minute, spontaneous invitation to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, which is how I ended up changing my return ticket to Hawaii and rerouting to Istanbul, completely unsure if my bag would arrive in Turkey with my flight. Luckily it did.
At GEC, I found myself in a sea of entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders from more than 170 countries. 170! It was extremely inspiring to be part of a truly global community, all with the common goal of advancing innovation. No matter what stage a startup ecosystem is in— from nascent, to developing, to mature— ecosystem builders are a vital force in championing entrepreneurship. I was able to tag in on some of the Kauffman Foundation’s interviews with fellow ecosystem builders and loved hearing from folks across the world: what their challenges were (often very similar to what we hear in the US), examples of success stories, and their definition of ecosystem builders.
So, what is an ecosystem builder, anyway? And what were my key takeaways?
Ecosystem Builders Put Startups First
After hearing several different insights about what defines us, the definition I came away with is: ecosystem builders are connectors who prioritize the needs of the startups first, then, as a close second, the needs of the ecosystem stakeholders, then lastly their own organization’s needs. For me, the difficulty here is when you put your own organization last, it’s tough to create a long-term sustainable model… we’re actively working on finding that balance here at Sultan Ventures.
Momentum Is A Success Story
My takeaway here was success stories don’t have to be “the big win” that you hear most ecosystems say they need before their community can really take off… a success story just needs to be something as small as an event (e.g. Rise of The Rest) that can get the community to rally behind your innovation movement.
After 4 days of not much sleep, lots of Turkish coffee, and marathon days of connecting with GEC delegates (ranging from entrepreneurs to investors to policymakers to researchers), it was time to head back to Hawaii. On the return trip home, passengers had to go through 8 security checkpoints at the Istanbul airport. Somewhere around the 7th checkpoint a fellow passenger, an American woman, said out loud to no one in particular, “I’m not sure if this is because of our government or theirs.”
Her comment reinforced my final takeaways:
We’re Lucky To Live In A Pro-Entrepreneurship Country
While startup communities around the world deal with the same issues affecting us in the U.S. (lack of capital, talent, resources, critical mass, collision, etc.), many of those communities also deal with the added challenges of building ecosystems in political and economic environments that are vastly different from the capitalist democracy of the U.S. Entrepreneurs in countries that are traditionally anti-capitalist or governed by oligarchies, dictatorships, etc. face a whole new set of systemic barriers that they must break through to succeed. I can’t even fathom what it must be like to overcome the odds when the political deck is stacked against you. Here in the U.S., we’re still lucky to have the capitalist notion of the American Dream— with an idea, grit, and perseverance, just about anyone has the opportunity to build a thriving business.
Inclusivity Is A Common Theme
Of course, there is definitely more work to do to ensure opportunities for entrepreneurship are truly available to all, especially for underrepresented groups. From my conversations with U.S. delegates, it was inspiring to hear that literally (and no, I don’t mean figuratively) every US-based ecosystem builder stressed their organization’s mission toward promoting inclusivity. With this common goal, the future of startup hubs across the U.S. looks even brighter.
Want to hear more insights on inclusivity in the startup space? Check out The Startup Catalyst Podcast, Season 2.