Every year, the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem building community gathers for what is arguably the premier event for learning and connectivity in the nation (maybe even the world). The ESHIP Summit, created and sponsored by the Ewing Kauffman Foundation, typically convenes in Kansas City in the second quarter of the calendar year. Started in 2017, it has gathered over 1,000 of the leading practitioners of ecosystem building in the first three years, all in the spirit of making Entrepreneurship for All a widely understood and supported practice.
As with everything else in our world, 2020 threw a wrench into those plans. After a thoughtful pivot, the Summit was held in late September. Approximately 800 people attended this year’s event, creating one of the largest ever convenings of its kind. The collective planning that went into the event produced one of the more rich and engaging conferences I have ever attended. As attendees, our biggest challenge was deciding what to miss, as each block of time was loaded with options ranging from the role of philanthropy to expansive approaches undertaken in rural communities, methods for activating public libraries to emerging university coursework on the topic, and everything in between.
The virtual element was delivered by Pathable, who failed to disappoint across the three day engagement. Resource providers of all size and type created virtual booths that highlighted some of their best resources and offered windows for one-on-one video chats with staff. I had the privilege of hosting the booth for Forward Cities, and I came away very impressed with our ability to learn and inform through numerous conversations with entrepreneurs and support organization representatives from across the world. This is a level of new connection that is hard to achieve in just about any other setting or format. I could feel the level of alignment between the national and global ecosystem growing with each exchange.
Almost everyone at Forward Cities attended the Summit in some capacity, many as key presenters of sessions and plenaries. In an effort to show how the multitude of learnings could continue beyond the Summit, I asked our local directors, each engaging in ecosystem building work in their communities, to seek out one specific element of the Summit that resonated to them and to explore ways to enhance their existing work in coming months. While being a part of the Summit is a fantastic experience, applying these principles to their work in the field is the ultimate goal. Here are their reflections, as well as ideas on how they plan to bring what was learned to life back home.