This post is for anyone taking part with entrepreneurship, innovation or startup ecosystem development at any level.
As part of iteratively improving our Startup Ecosystem development framework, Startup Commons has created a new approach to describe key actor segments in startup ecosystems. Our website is now also divided between these four segments: business creators, support providers, ecosystem developers, digital teams - to help you find the most relevant content for each segment.
Although there are overlaps between the various roles that people play, we have learned that it is valuable for ecosystem actors to identify the roles that they play at any given time to enhance the effectiveness of their interactions within the broader ecosystem.
A simple example is our Growth Academy's startup entrepreneurship education curriculum that has at least two relevant segments and perspectives;
From Ecosystem Developers' perspectives, they should be aware of and evaluate the availability of such or similar curriculum in their ecosystem and how it is performing ie. how is it made available, offline and/or digital format? how often is it run? What is the number of participants? What is the feedback for quality/value of the curriculum for participants? What is the impact for ecosystem top level KPI’s (like number of new businesses created, improved success rate, faster growth, etc.)?
Step by step, we will be adding these segments into all of our materials and applying them to all of our communications going forward. This should not only help you find the most relevant content on our website but also help you to understand the perspective from which any items can be perceived.
Key Ecosystem Roles in more detail
Please take some time to understand these roles since they will help you make sense of the jobs that people do within your ecosystem and identify which roles need to be filled.
A. Business Creators
Business Creators are people who as their primary role develop new companies. They include founders, entrepreneurs, key team members, investors and board members. Ie. founders & other equity holders. In this segment, there are naturally category specific subroles at the strategy and operative levels, as well as for specific skills or company operations specific roles. From finance to management, to designers, developers, sales etc.
Business Creators perspective, role, and focus is in one company (or depending on their more specific role to only few companies) at a time for longer period of time in logical and balanced manner over longer period of time; especially in case of being a founder, early team member, or angel investor.
It is also quite common that people who are founders, later on become "serial entrepreneurs" and Business Creators in more flexible or more systematic ways. Ie. more flexible would be becoming an advisor board member, mentor etc. and more systematic would be to become an angel investor, VC, create own accelerator etc.
Many Business Creators also work together with support providers as mentors, advisors board members etc. to a) share their expertise for support organizations needs and/or b) to build relationships to get "deal flow" of new entrepreneurs and early startups with which to work. As they become more involved, they will acquire more channels for "deal flow" and reputation building. At the same time, involvement in the ecosystem is a lot about just "giving back" as well.
B. Support providers
Support providers are all the public and private support function providers catering support services directly for venture building, mainly free or for nominal fees (subsidized by government or other bigger organizations). The support providers are available in the ecosystem, and providing the support function is their primary role. At the same time, some of them also have overlapping roles in venture building (investors, board members, accelerators etc.) or in ecosystem development (universities, incubators, banks etc.). Additionally, in this category, there are naturally category specific subroles at the strategy and operative levels, as well as for specific skills or organization operations specific roles. From finance to management, to designers, developers, sales etc. depending on the support function.
Support providers' jobs are to cater for specific need of Business Creators at a specific stage of the ventures development and provide support to that need effectively. As such their support for venture may be very effective, deep and valuable, but it’s meant to serve a high volume of ventures and only for relatively short time (to remove the need and help venture move forward).
Most support service organization primary operative people do not typically possess an entrepreneurial background, or they may have some experience from long ago, without big success (there are naturally expectations as well). They learn from their partner mentors but also from startups they help, as well as many many trainings, events etc. that they organize, listen, and learn.
While support providers may not have first hand experience, they have a lot of "holistic" understanding and can be very helpful to new entrepreneurs. They also gain unique perspectives on startups because they see a lot of them, gaining exposure to many ideas and types of people. They develop a strong and interesting skillset, especially if they cater to various different support functions at different development stages over time. These roles also help to create necessary talent for ecosystems, and some support providers eventually join startup teams or become founders or other Business Creators themselves.
The key difference in perspective between Business Creators and Support function providers is that Business Creators focus on one, or a maximum of a few, ventures at a time for longer periods of time, and they possess direct stakes (equity positions) in their companies' success, gradually developing them through various development phases. On the other hand, support function providers mainly focus on specific needs of business creation, typically at a specific stage of the venture's life, without having direct stake in the outcome. This gives them neutral and non-biased positions. It also means that support function providers cater to higher volumes of ventures in shorter periods of time, focusing on solving specific needs at hand.
In earlier stages of development, the volume of ventures is higher, and the hands-on interaction period is shorter. Additionally, in the earlier stages, support providers help to partially fill in for certain types of roles and provide external perspectives in the short term before the team have other “more built-in” external/strategy perspective business creators committed (ie. board members, advisors, investors).
C. Ecosystem Developers
Ecosystem Developers are focused on startup ecosystem orchestration and are made of policy makers and ecosystem developer individuals whose primarily interest and role is to develop the ecosystem as a whole. The key focus of ecosystem developers is not directly in either venture building or providing a specific support function but rather to focus on developing and growing the ecosystem from these components in indirect ways. Ecosystem developers directly support operative support providers and indirectly support business creators (policy, funding instruments, funding for support functions etc.).
To be able to develop the ecosystem, ecosystem developers need to create and maintaining holistic pictures of the majority of businesses being created and the related “collective support providers funnel” composed from individual support functions available for the Business Creators needs - and to manage the balance between these two main segments at various development stages, verticals and levels (availability balance between need & supply at any given time). They also manage the effective quality and efficiency of these services. Where there are gaps, bottlenecks, unmet needs, imbalance, inefficiency or obstacles, - new ecosystem development initiatives should be created. However, before creating new initiatives, a holistic view of existing initiatives and their statuses should be collected.
While there may be multiple organizations running development projects independently or collectively, ecosystem developers' roles are to coordinate and maintain lists of these ecosystem development initiatives and projects in logical manners and manage up-to-date information about their priorities and statuses.
D. Digital teams & Applications
Each of the other segments have some different connections with the digital side or even have their own digital team members, ie applications to support operative processes like CRM, newsletters etc., websites for publishing information, online services & tools like communities, or funding applications etc. and people making selections for these tools and providing supporting for users. This fourth segment is divided to two parts: (1)those who select the applications to be used and provide user support for those within their organization (digital teams) and (2)tools being used (applications) & developers who actually create new ones or develop them.
Digital skills are in high demand and short supply - Digital teams are responsible for developing, testing, and implementing a set strategy to reach, engage and serve target audiences through digital channels and applications like web, mobile, and social. While other groups may create the strategy, draft the messaging, etc. a digital team works hand-in-hand with communication and service team leaders to create the digital strategy, most often reporting through the CEO or COO. Digital teams are also often responsible for providing guidelines and tracking for KPI's and implementing cross-channel analytics, as well as surfacing relevant emerging trends and audience behavior. Digital teams collaborate heavily with application people, who are responsible for critical technology infrastructure and associated applications.
Naturally within these segments, there are also related categories like designers, frontend and backend developers, project managers, support people etc. The main reason to separate digital teams and applications into its own segment is that while they are part of any of the other segments they can be considered to focus only on a) what applications are needed, b) what will be used (including in some cases to self develop suitable application) and c) how to use the selected applications to support the main functions.
To help make digital transformation in economic development for more data-driven policy making, learn how a ecosystem level digital team setup would look like.
If you found this post valuable in your ecosystem development activities, please consider sharing it with your network.
Download related presentation: Ecosystem Key Actor Segments
About Ecosystem Development
We know startup ecosystem development and understand it is a multilayered, complex and challenging long term endeavor. However, this is where economic development is competing now globally, and the only way to be competitive is to attack the challenge head on and keep going.
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