Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Hubs: Creating Opportunities for Entrepreneurs to Grow & Thrive

by Deborah Hoover, Burton D. Morgan Foundation President & CEO

Burton D. Morgan Foundation’s grants this cycle express a clear theme—ecosystems and ecosystem hubs are important components of any high functioning entrepreneurial region. Healthy ecosystems are not just about individual stakeholders— their vibrancy depends on the quality and volume of purposeful interactions generated. Hubs knit together cohesive and intentional support networks that coordinate assets and opportunities at all levels of an ecosystem.  Ecosystems help align collective action around shared metrics and heighten the impact of combined voices for stronger advocacy on behalf of entrepreneurs.  We expect ecosystem interactions to become even more meaningful and intentional across the entire span of entrepreneurship support in our region. 

Morgan Foundation’s January grants will address needs that touch all levels of the ecosystem from K-12 to university-based entrepreneurship to JumpStart’s and Bounce’s pivotal roles in regional support of entrepreneurs.

The Young Entrepreneur Institute serves as the hub and starting point for youth entrepreneurship programming in our region. Multifaceted activities reach across Northeast Ohio coaching educators, providing students with pitching and sales opportunities, the annual Enspire conference, and curricular resources for classrooms.  The shared learning and regional activities strengthen youth programming and illuminate pathways to inform next steps in entrepreneurship.  The recently-launched YIPPEE platform—standing for youth, ideas, products, points, entrepreneurs, and exchange—will transform how youth entrepreneurship education is accessed, delivered, and funded.

The regional ecosystem is fortunate to be bolstered by the tenacious efforts of JumpStart and Bounce Innovation Hub serving as ecosystem hubs and connecting entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to the resources they need to grow ventures.   These two ecosystem partners help launch entrepreneurs, connect with universities, and form the connective tissue that propels startups forward through mentoring, capital access, networking, and discipline. 

In the middle of this dynamic spectrum between youth and adult entrepreneurship sits university-based entrepreneurship. 

Northeast Ohio has enjoyed robust connectivity and collaboration among higher education institutions in entrepreneurship through the founding of Entrepreneurship Education Consortium (EEC 2007), JumpStart Higher Education Collaboration Council (JSHECC 2009), and Northeast Ohio Student Venture Fund (NEOSVF 2009).  This organic development served us well in the early days, but loftier goals, efficient use of resources, and the opportunity to advocate for more resources, requires a stronger voice amplified through combined and targeted efforts. 

EEC is a regional partnership of universities that support entrepreneurship education on their campuses and access EEC’s specialized student programming.  EEC has served over 2,000 students through its programs and helped inspire many students to advance businesses and work in the startup community. NEOSVF has engaged more than 1,000 students in learning due diligence processes, thus far funding 24 companies that have raised more than $16 million in follow-on funding.  JSHECC has delivered more than a decade of innovative programming building a robust learning community of entrepreneurship educators working on Northeast Ohio campuses. 

This history brings us to today and the desire to combine forces for greater impact.    EEC will transform into the region’s collegiate hub performing multiple functions, including the development and provision of experiential programming, internships, shared metrics, and educator training, as well as connection to the business community.  Through EEC’s partnerships with higher education, JumpStart’s Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program, NEOSVF, the region’s talent initiatives, and other ecosystem hubs, EEC intends to develop a world-class university-based ecosystem that will elevate experiences and opportunities for all college students in our region, thereby supporting attraction and retention efforts.   The successes and benefits will flow directly to students, startups, universities, the business community, and the regional economy leading to a more comprehensive and navigable ecosystem across Northeast Ohio, and ultimately entrepreneurs who are well equipped for the challenges and triumphs ahead.