We are proud to sponsor this edition of “Unsung Heroes,” a series spotlighting people who are growing the field of ecosystem building. Written by Anika Horn and Jeff Bennett, the series introduces each of the seven ESHIP Goals (a collaborative framework) through the perspectives of Champions who are spearheading initiatives within each goal. Read the full series at Ecosystem Builder Hub.

ESHIP GOAL 6 | Universal Support:

Expand external stakeholder understanding of and support for ecosystem building.

Economic dynamism, a key indicator of economic health, has been in decline for decades, as has the rate of new business starts. Research has shown that most new jobs come from young businesses. And yet, our economic policies espoused by governments and traditional economic developers continue to focus on attracting existing big businesses.

There is a better way, and many of us know it—entrepreneurial ecosystem building. But ecosystem building still hasn’t gone mainstream—it’s a mostly unknown approach to economic development. The goal of ESHIP Goal 6 is to change that.

In a nutshell: A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is championed by leaders throughout the community.

However, many potential advocates – including leaders of government, business, educational institutions, major nonprofits, media, and the broader population – do not understand the value of entrepreneurship to society, the limitations of our current economic development model, or the barriers to economic opportunity that large portions of our population face. Even fewer have been exposed to entrepreneurial ecosystems and the value they offer. We need to bring this understanding to public advocates from across the regional, national, and global landscape to facilitate their engagement with more entrepreneurs and ecosystems. To gain their support and participation, we must develop a stronger narrative and a more consistent engagement strategy that communicates the value of entrepreneurship and ecosystem building in terms that resonate with more external stakeholders.


We asked ecosystem builders why expanding external stakeholder understanding of and support for ecosystem building is important to them.

“We, the ESHIP community, are leading the charge that is building the professional field of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building. A critical mass of support by constituents within and outside of the work is required in order to successfully build this or any other field.” – Beth Zimmer


We asked ecosystem builders who have been working hard to expand stakeholder understanding in their communities for their experiences. For years, Beth Zimmer has been at the heart of an effort to prioritize ecosystem building as an economic priority in the Erie, Pennsylvania.

“The work that we are engaged in as entrepreneurial ecosystem builders is “common-sensical”. We know that almost ALL net new jobs are created by businesses or organizations that are less than 5 years old. We (ecosystem builders) are keenly aware that without generating more startups and impactful support for the entrepreneurs in our communities, we will not come close to reaching our economic potential, EVER. Most of the rest of the world is not aware of these facts.

One of the projects we are pursuing is called “Global Awareness Campaign”. A few ecosystems have made progress in growing Universal Support in their communities by educating a majority of their populations as to why entrepreneurial activity and the focused support of that activity is important to build a thriving economy  They have also activated more startups by educating everyone that the ecosystem exists and resources are out there to help entrepreneurs.

With this in mind, we are seeking other ecosystems that have realized significant progress by conducting impactful Global Awareness Campaigns. When we have gathered enough stories about these activities and outcomes, we’ll aggregate them. Then we will seek national and/or global organizations that have great & obvious business and/or philanthropic reasons to align themselves with this initiative. We can then secure the necessary resources that will help replicate impactful & measurable awareness campaigns for the majority of small to medium-sized markets that need this “quick kickstart” that has been proven to work.

Based on the collective buzz that is generated throughout these markets, a certain tipping point will be reached whereby the nation and world will align with this new way to build communities and our economies!

Similarly, another vision is to find and strategize this idea with 3-5 or 5-10 or 10-20 interested pilot communities who will partner with us to demonstrate the efficacy of this initiative. We will work together upfront to determine necessary activities and solid, quantifiable outcomes measures. Once we have enough data, we will approach and influence the EDA and other large national and global economic development enablers to garner support. This accomplishment will achieve true Universal Support with the deeply impactful Global Awareness Campaign being delivered, sustainably, everywhere. Do you remember the “Got Milk?”, “Your Brain on Drugs” and the tobacco cessation campaigns?” – Beth Zimmer


  • Is your community one that has realized success by educating everyone as to why entrepreneurial activity is key to thriving communities? Reach out here.
  • Is your community a good candidate for the pilot Global Awareness campaign project? Reach out here.
  • If you have interest in supporting ESHIP Goal 6 or other initiatives, view the ESHIP Dashboard for details.

Meet the featured Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Building of Goal 6:

“To me, an Ecosystem Builder is someone that is a servant leader who is naturally optimistic and focused on solving systemic problems.”

–Beth Zimmer

Beth Zimmer


Beth’s collaborative leadership helped Erie, PA make the shift from being a risk averse community with low levels of entrepreneurial activity, to having a culture that is much more encouraging of startups and risk taking.

“To me, ecosystem building is about cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit of a community which builds energy, creates hope, and drives prosperity.”

–Adam Arredondo

Adam Arredondo


As the CEO of STARTLAND, Adam works tirelessly towards the vision of making Kansas City the “Most Entrepreneurial City in America” while simultaneously leading an amazing nonprofit dedicated to activating a culture of innovation in KC through moments of impact.

“An ecosystem builder is someone who brings together the disparate and disconnected resources, engaged people and assets of a company and looks for ways to maximize their collective power.”

–Lauren Mehler Pradhan

Lauren Mehler Pradhan


Lauren was tasked to lead Grow North, a statewide initiative to enable food and ag entrepreneurs to grow and scale in Minnesota, and took the idea from concept to a sustainable program with far-reaching impact.

“An ecosystem builder is someone who can view the complexity of issues while creatively experimenting with solutions and partnering with others who can amplify impact.”

–Noa Gafni

Noa Gafni


Noa is the Executive Director at the Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation, which works to highlight the business case for social innovation and ways organizations can make a positive impact on society as well as their bottom line.

“We’re fighting to build a new civic infrastructure to expand entrepreneurial opportunity for everyone. We’re doing that by changing minds, changing policies, changing communities.”

–Right to Start

Right to Start


Founded by veteran ecosystem builders Victor Hwang and Kim Lane and built on the fundamental belief that “we are all starters,” Right to Start has a mission to create a new civic infrastructure and rebuild the American economy by putting starters first.

Originally published at ecosystembuilderhub.com


Anika Horn is an ecosystem builder for social change, social enterprise advisor and storyteller. She is on a mission to equip ecosystem builders with the insights, resources and community to lead fulfilling lives and purpose-driven careers. Learn more about her work at SocialVenturers.com and AnikaHorn.com.

is a content creator/manager, writer and startup ecosystem builder with a focus on systems change, social innovation, and impact-driven organizations. He creates and manages digital website content and help entrepreneurial ecosystem builders connect and share their stories and knowledge. Learn more at ecosystembuilderhub.com

CO.STARTERS equips unsung heroes, unlikely starters, and unordinary communities to thrive through entrepreneurship. Let’s build together.

Learn More