It Is About What We Do
Last week, I attended the EShip Conference in Kansas City, MO and the I/O Summit in Lincoln, NE. Both were quality conferences. I am posting two blogs – one positive and one constructive. This is the positive one.
At its most fundamental, summits, conferences, etc. are about convening the right people. The point is to invite these people into the same room in order to facilitate synergistic connections and productive conversations. Both conferences accomplished this goal well.
By the right people I mean a variety of ages, races, genders, etc. with a deep understanding and numerous perspectives on the topic. For example, the EShip summit managed to create a very diverse population of attendees – 47% women, 29% minority. This is a powerful testament to the Kauffman Foundation and to the importance of entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Our developing ecosystem in the Midwest crosses geographies, races, ages, and other social conventions. Everyone is needed to build the ecosystem in their own community – this includes government, educators, entrepreneurs, investors and others who can provide an environment that supports an entrepreneurial infrastructure.
The EShip summit was effective in making sure that a wide variety of viewpoints were represented on stage – but also in the audience on key topics. For example, multiple speakers on diversity and inclusion told powerful stories about their own discrimination and how they had attempted to overcome this exclusion. These Firestarter conversations were some of the best talks at either conference.
I had the pleasure of introducing Ted Zoller to JF Gaultier while watching Martha Bentley walk by (on the other side of the room). These are leading metrics people with very different viewpoints – and relationships with Kauffman. They were all there. That to me was very powerful. This is the power of being able to convene – and doing it.
Moreover, groups of which I am a member were well-represented. I am exceptionally proud of the members of the Startup Champions Network that were leading voices of ecosystem initiatives. In particular, Enoch Ewell, Trey Bowles, Larkin Garbee, and Rich Hill exemplified the gold standard in leadership, partnership, connectedness, and engagement.
On the other hand, the I/O Summit did a great job of forcing discomfort by creating a forum for startup and corporate discourse. This was less about community builders on the same mission, as it was about collisions between two rivers – both powerful and dynamic – but ultimately inside their own banks. I am not sure that they merged, but somewhere further along they might. Brian Ardinger and Josh Berry labored long and hard to build a conference – a difficult conference that blended two worlds.
My own experience with corporate innovation conferences includes a list of not very good memories. For example, I tried to put one on in 2008 in Omaha where we had three sectors talk about “their challenges.” This conference drew a variety of people, and it was intended to create collisions. The conference was not wildly successful, though it also was not a complete disaster. It was a proto-conference, predating the term “ecosystem” and the idea of corporate innovation, back when intrapreneurship was an undefined term. I know that it was not successful because not much happened afterward. The conference had good talks and some insights, but in general, nobody changed their behavior.
And this, friends, is the key to all of these conferences – whether it is collision-based, networking, thought-leadership, or diversity – the real results are what happens now. It doesn’t matter who said what or what we agreed to do.
It only matters what we do next.
It is at times like this that I remember my own seminal “meeting” regarding ecosystem building. It was 2005 or 2006, and Omaha did not have anything going on. Six of us showed up to a meeting to discuss a topic that had no real substance at the time – entrepreneurial ecosystem building. I used the word “ecosystem” before I had heard it anywhere else to describe what we were doing. I did not coin the term – but I did use it at about the same time it started being used without prior knowledge.
The meeting was not super interesting or important – other than we committed to doing stuff. There was a list of six or seven action items. Which we did. They were small and not particularly memorable. Introductions and collaboration.
In the next six months, two of the people at the meeting left Omaha. Two started businesses. Dusty Davidson started Silicon Prairie News and I got serious about working to build the ecosystem in Omaha. The meeting was in a small cubby at a coffee shop that died about a year later…and yet, the birth of my work in the entrepreneurial ecosystem started there.
So maybe, sometimes, IT is what we do next.