From Idea to IPO: Cultivating Growth in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

February 13, 2024
Gillian Vendittelli

🌱 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

An entrepreneurial ecosystem represents a diverse network within a community where stakeholders collaborate and share resources to support innovation and aspiring founders. Oftentimes, community ecosystems will collaborate across county lines to extend resources, support, and access to entrepreneurs across a region.

Ecosystems and those who make them up often go unnoticed, but are located all around us. With the return to normalcy and in-person interactions, stakeholders within ecosystems are looking to solve this by answering the question, “how do we put ourselves and resources in front of those who need them?” While this helps with resources getting noticed, there are ways for aspiring founders to find them on their own. Event and marketing platforms like Eventbrite, Purpose Jobs, Plainsight, and OhioX do a great job of sharing events and happy hours to attend and opportunities to put themselves  in front of ecosystem stakeholders.

Ecosystems are more than just providing resources and filling in knowledge gaps for entrepreneurs. This community will help grow your ideas, connect you to additional resources, and facilitate curious conversations. Ecosystems are a community that goes beyond business transactions. It will also support you during challenges and celebrate your successes.

👥 Ecosystem Stakeholders

So who makes up an entrepreneurial ecosystem? These stakeholders can loosely be categorized into 4 categories: growth, support, funding, academic. 

Growth resources, including accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces, serve as catalysts and the perfect environment for early stage innovators to grow their ideas. These resources often have an array of opportunities, such as networking, educational courses, pitch competitions, and workshops that you can participate in to grow your idea(s). Some notable examples of growth resources in Southeast Michigan and Northeast Ohio are Tech Town, Bamboo, and Jumpstart. Each growth resource is heavily connected to other ecosystem stakeholders across categories, maintaining their own network of ecosystem resources. Involvement in one not only introduces you to their network, but opens up the opportunity to grow your own network into the next stage of your startup.

Support services encompass companies who collaborate with startups to fill in knowledge and resource gaps. These services include a spectrum of support, ideation and brainstorming, development of MVP and subsequent iterations, marketing support, advisory services, and various others. WynHouse fits under the category of a support service. When collaborating with startups, our focus is often on ideation and development, involving activities like,  market validation, user experience, MVP/prototype, product iterations, roadmapping, and more. Similar to growth services, support services are interconnected across categories, facilitating connections of startups to additional resources.

Funding sources play a crucial role within ecosystems, given that is how startups financially support their ideas. They’re also great ways to find mentors and advisors for your business. Funding sources can comprise of angel investors, venture capitalists, and the 3 F’s - Friends, Family, and Fools. Examples of funding sources in Michigan and Ohio are Michigan Capital Network, Detroit Venture Partners, ID Ventures, and Ohio Angel Collective. It’s important to note that there are funding sources specific to industry or stage of the company. Alignment of stage, industry, needs, values, and culture is essential when looking for funding sources.

Academic resources, or universities, are like their own mini ecosystems and act as pillars of community ecosystems. They contain and maintain strong relationships with growth, support, and funding sources. A primary goal of many is to support the growth of the broader community. From supporting student entrepreneurs to broader community members, universities emerge as a great resource for all types of entrepreneurs at all stages of entrepreneurship. Two of countless examples of how universities support ecosystems are Michigan State University, MSU Research Foundation, and Grand Valley State University hosting the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Be persistent even in the face of discouragement.” - Thomas Coke

In a recent conversation around being involved in an ecosystem with Thomas Coke, startup veteran and attorney, he discussed the importance of utilizing an ecosystem. The message he had for startup founders was to “Make sure you don’t focus on funding at the start and focus on the resources you need to start your enterprise. If you focus on funding and forget the landscape of resources available you’ll get frustrated. Those resources often help you build a stronger foundation and ultimately help connect you to funding.” He goes on to add, “be willing to shake hands and meet with everyone. Don’t be afraid to follow up on conversations. Don’t get discouraged either. Be persistent even in the face of discouragement.

🤝 How Ecosystem Stakeholders work together

It’s impossible to know everything about everyone and everything. It is possible to ‘know a guy who knows a guy.’ In business, particularly entrepreneurship, who you know catapults growth further than what you alone know. The who you know (your team) fills in the what you don’t know.

Startup ecosystems function as large, interconnected networks of resources all working towards the common purpose of supporting new ideas and innovations. Two common phrases you’ll hear in ecosystems are: “putting your network to work “and “your network is your net worth.” Ecosystem stakeholders collaborate by connecting startups to the additional resources essential to achieving growth and success. The more time you invest in an ecosystem, the bigger your network becomes and the smaller the ecosystem seems. You soon realize that everyone is connected to everyone and every resource through a kind of ‘family tree’ branch system.

🚀 How to get involved

The best way to get involved is to reach out with the goal of making one connection. Once you’ve established an initial connection, ask to meet their connections. The cycle continues and eventually you evolve into an entrepreneur's primary connection and the process repeats with you as the connector.

For entrepreneurs, avenues to get involved include…

  • Joining a co-working space
  • Participating in an accelerator or incubator
  • Attending ecosystem events and happy hours

For ecosystem stakeholders, getting involved may look like…

  • Attending ecosystem events and happy hours
  • Visiting other ecosystem stakeholders and exploring opportunities to collaborate
  • Putting your network to work to facilitate connections to their ecosystem  network

Takeaway

Entrepreneurial ecosystems are networks within communities where stakeholders collaborate to support innovation and entrepreneurs. These stakeholders include growth resources like accelerators, support services like WynHouse, funding sources like angel investors, and academic resources like universities. They work together by connecting startups to essential resources, and entrepreneurs can get involved by joining co-working spaces, attending events, or making connections. Ecosystems go beyond providing resources; they offer community, support, and celebration for aspiring founders.

Additional resources for Michigan startups:
https://www.bamboodetroit.com/blog/ultimate-guide-of-michigan-startup-resources?mc_cid=3c75290594&mc_eid=8fdd7f7265

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