by Courtney Zaugg and Marie Foster-Bruns

Who owns innovation in a community? While it most certainly can be developed and encouraged intentionally, it is neither a place nor a building, but instead a mindset centered on entrepreneurship and collaboration.

This mindset is essential because it encourages teamwork and removes boundaries. It motivates a person to pursue risk and embrace the likelihood of failing because they know that’s an opportunity for growth and exploration. A mindset of innovation is based on openness and possibility. In today’s world of inevitable change and technological advancements, this mindset traverses the line between economic growth and status quo.
This way of thinking is the cohesive thread of an innovation ecosystem’s fiber that encourages a community to pursue possibilities, no matter one’s background. Additionally, an ecosystem is successful when many entities and leaders share this mindset and when a community recognizes that everyone plays a specific role in its success.

In his book, “Startup Communities,” investor and entrepreneur Brad Feld documents the rise of Boulder Colorado’s innovation ecosystem. In addition to dispelling some of the myths surrounding the startup culture, he lays out a set of principles and roles important to the success of any other efforts to do the same in their community.

The first, and probably most important principle, is that the community must be led by entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are defined as someone who has co-founded a company, or as Nolan Bushnell said, are being “paid directly by a customer and not a boss.” That company need not have been “successful” or exited by the entrepreneur – what’s important is that the individual has the experiences gained from acting on an idea to create a business.

All the other players in the community, including government, schools and universities, investors, mentors, service providers, and large established companies Feld defines as feeders to the community. From the contributions they make to the role they play in instigating change, each plays a critical role in supporting and supplying entrepreneurs with what they need.

As examples, the main feeder role of service providers is to feed accounting, marketing, and legal capabilities to entrepreneurs. Universities, community colleges, and schools supply fresh ideas, knowledge, and talent to entrepreneurs. Investors are a special type of service provider, feeding capital toward the efforts of the entrepreneur.

Other examples of feeders include:

  • Community builders
  • ESO leaders
  • Lenders
  • Large corporations
  • Foundations
  • Policymakers
  • Civic leaders

These stakeholders are important to the ecosystem, and all play an integral role, and though it’s no easy undertaking, collaboration and an innovation mindset are critical to the ecosystem because they:

  • Grow a region’s resiliency and receptivity to change.
  • Expand creative thinking.
  • Improve decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Increase the probability of strategic execution.

Innovation ecosystems are based on human relationships between people in support of entrepreneurial pursuits. Change must be driven from the outside in, the bottom-up, and the top-down, with everyone exhibiting an innovation mindset. The One Region Propel framework and the focus on collaboration and mapping the innovation ecosystem give Northwest Indiana an opportunity to collectively think big and design the future. And while no one can be sure about the outcomes, we can be excited about the potential.

Leave a Reply