Validation for Northeast Ohio: We’re doing better than they say we are

By Jessica Sublett, chief executive officer of Bounce Innovation Hub 

From July 11-13, Bounce CEO Doug Weintraub and I had the privilege of attending this year’s Kauffman Foundation ESHIP Summit in Kansas City, Missouri. (You don’t have to ask, I definitely tried the burnt ends.) The ESHIP Summit brings together entrepreneurial ecosystems builders – leaders connecting communities to accelerate entrepreneurship – to “collaboratively create tools, resources, and knowledge to better support communities that empower makers, doers and dreamers.”

This year’s Summit was the second year of a three-year initiative to work together to create resources that people like Doug and me, as well as the rest of the Northeast Ohio Startup Network, can bring back to our communities to create the type of ecosystems that help entrepreneurs thrive.

In order to create the most productive and supportive ecosystem, this ESHIP initiative has identified seven goals that ecosystems builders should focus on.

They are:
  • Inclusive Field: Ensure ecosystem builders from diverse perspectives lead our field
  • Collaborative Culture: Strengthen the culture within our field
  • Shared Vision: Establish shared outcomes and a common lexicon for our work
  • Connected Networks: Build field-wide communication channels to connect ecosystem builders across networks
  • Quantified Methods: Define the methods and metrics for evidence-based ecosystem building
  • Universal Support: Expand external stakeholder engagement in ecosystem building
  • Sustainable Work: Develop professional recognition and resources for ecosystem builders

The list certainly sounds a bit daunting at first. However, as I sat through the conference, listening to my fellow 600+ ecosystem builders discuss the challenges they face in their regions and their entrepreneurial ecosystems, I quickly realized just how many things Northeast Ohio is doing right with respect to these seven goals. Of course, a lot of the credit goes to the Ohio Third Frontier’s Entrepreneurial Services Provider Program and JumpStart’s organizational leadership. That’s not to say that we’re perfect, but I found myself more times than not referencing the things we’re doing as models for other regions to take home.

Here’s how we are already addressing all seven goals:

Inclusive Field – We have a very diverse group of people and organizations working together to ensure that entrepreneurship is accessible to all people.

Collaborative Culture – It’s hard to find a more collaborative group of organizations than ours, with weekly phone calls and monthly in-person meetings to ensure that we all keep working together to help our entrepreneurs succeed.

Shared Vision – We’ve worked together to establish best practices (like our customer discovery process) and share an understanding of terminology and a common lexicon.

Connected Networks – We have several shared communication channels, such as our network email thread, shared event calendars, weekly deal flow meetings, and monthly network meetings.

Qualified Methods – With the help of the State of Ohio, we’ve identified a method and the metrics to track the growth and progress of the companies in our region and our work as a whole.

Universal Support – We’ve included city government, local grassroots organizations, statewide initiatives, and national programs to be part of our ecosystem, showing that our support is broad. (Shameless plug for the City of Akron and Mayor Dan Horrigan for his support and continued efforts to help us serve our region.)

Sustainable Work – And finally, we work together to educate our funders on the importance of the programs we operate to ensure that we have a lasting impact and sustainable futures.

There have been a few articles and editorials recently about how Northeast Ohio has a lot to work on when it comes to entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem. Some of these criticisms aren’t without merit, but after what I saw from our counterparts across the country, we’re doing a pretty darn good job here. We’re actively working on these seven goals without even realizing that we’re doing it. In my mind, Northeast Ohio could be a model for many of the discussions being had at the ESHIP Summit.