My view on the role of Entrepreneurs in a “booming” ecosystem

Oriana Torres, MBA Student Babson College
December 20th, 2012

“ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM? Another academic jargon-  you might say. I wonder how many Entrepreneurs know the concept … and if they actually should know it from a technical perspective. Probably not. But what I wonder is, if Colombian Entrepreneurs are aware enough to NAVIGATE such ecosystem and make the most out of it – genuinely and strategically.”

Fist of all, I want to open making the disclaimer that I am not an entrepreneur, although, yes, I opened a restaurant in northern Bogota (Colombia) as a side business back in 2010. The business failed and the reasons why it failed are crystal-clear to me today. I guess this is a “fashionable” thing to share nowadays that our culture finally starts to understand that failure is inherent to innovation and entrepreneurship. But this post is neither about my “low-growth” previous entrepreneurial try, nor about me. This post is about all those privileged, real, High Impact Entrepreneurs out there. And even if I just stated that I am not an Entrepreneur, I have spent lots of time around them to the point that I am more than confident to write the following thoughts. 

It’s a good moment to be an Entrepreneur in Colombia, specially if you are a Dynamic, High-Growth, High Impact one – “label” it however you want: it’s a good moment to be a visionary leader, who identifies an uncontested market space, captures the extraordinary value around it and makes sure such endeavor GROWS healthy and sustainably.  And it’s a good moment because since couple of years things are changing and a solid  ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM seems to be emerging in our country.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM? Another academic jargon, might you say. I wonder how many Entrepreneurs know the concept … and if they actually should know it from a technical perspective. Probably not. But what I wonder is, if Colombian Entrepreneurs are aware enough to NAVIGATE such ecosystem and make the most out of it – genuinely and strategically.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, I was born and raised by Endeavor. Great parents, I must say. Right now I’m entering the adulthood thanks to the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project and  Babson College where I am doing my MBA (which included a summer sabbatical at iNNpulsa Colombia, the National Agency for Innovation and Dynamic Entrepreneurship in Colombia). And because I have been a lucky apprentice around those who are trying to figure out how to stimulate a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem for Colombia, I would like to offer you Entrepreneurs some advice on the role that you are encouraged to play in such a booming ecosystem.

 Make sure you understand YOU are the center of the model

All the institutions and policies around the topic of entrepreneurship exist for a reason: to make sure more and better High Growth Entrepreneurs scale to a point where  - apart from fulfilling their personal dreams - the entrepreneur’s companies  move the needle of the economy in terms of economic capital (jobs, contribution to GDP), intellectual capital (innovative solutions, patents), cultural capital (powerful narratives, role modeling), among many other societal benefits. So, YOU, Mrs/Mr Entrepreneur, please remember that you are the end consumer, the ultimate beneficiary of the system. Live your role. Claim your place. Often I see Entrepreneurs rather “intimidated” by the organizations that support entrepreneurship, scared of knocking doors or full of paradigms about how those catalyzing institutions work. Rescuing an amazing quote from Wences Casares, an Endeavor Global Entrepreneur, he said that “Theory is when nothing works & we know exactly why, practice is when everything works & we have no clue why”. You Entrepreneurs are the practice, you are the living proof of what works and what doesn’t, and while the best thought leaders in the ecosystem have been entrepreneurs and/or investors, is it you, Mrs/Mr Entrepreneur, who needs to expose yourself to the system so that it always remembers why it was established in first place. Don’t be concerned about  “fitting” in a movement that is precisely meant to understand and catalyze you.

Differentiate the “great” from the “not that great”

An ecosystem is an emerging structure, no matter how oxymoronic it sounds when we say that “we are working to build it”. It’s a living process where at times it’s very hard to answer the question weather if policy, programs or access to capital precede the existence of great entrepreneurs or viceversa. But the point that I try to make is that, because it’s an emerging system there are not “gates” to it and it’s hard to control who is in there and therefore, as an Entrepreneur you will be likely to find “great” and  “not that great” actors out there. Use your criteria and be wise. Not every program will be well thought. Not every “mentor” will act as a real a mentor. Not every capital offer will be “smart” for your business. And this advice is particularly relevant since some of the programs out there are extremely attractive because they are easily attainable or “free”, to the point that entrepreneurs feel tempted to just participate in whatever they find as a manifestation of the well known “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). Set your priorities, look for strategic fits and be selective in terms of whom you work with.

Good things come with a price, so do the homework

Often I meet entrepreneurs that just do not want to do the homework. As H. Roark once said, "to get things done, you must love the doing, not the secondary consequences".  Even if institutions in the ecosystem are doing a great job marketing who they are and how they operate (and in my opinion few of them even “babysit” entrepreneurs!) you must put in the hours to do what it takes to benefit from the system. And this goes from basic things such as following the relevant social media channels of institutions to be informed of opportunities, over doing quality applications that really do reflect the reality and plans of your company, over networking to make sure you really understand what the ecosystem as a whole has to offer. You, Entrepreneurs, are thousands and the leading organizations are probably only tens, so there must be standard procedures in place for these organizations to interact with you and you need, if applicable, to commit to those. It is understandable that an Entrepreneur’s main responsibility is to “take care of her/his company” and that time is the one of the scarcest resources, that’s why the key is to a align with those organizations and programs that really fall into your own agenda, so that they become leverage points, rather than “extra random tasks” in your TO DO list. Be organized and proactive.

Help the ecosystem institutions be better

Here is the catch: Because our country is in diapers in terms of an entrepreneurship ecosystem, many of the institutions that foster entrepreneurship are also start-ups and scale-ups themselves. They might be under the umbrella of strong global brands or even under the government, but things are being “professionally figured out as they happen”, these institutions are pivoting too! That means that YOU, as the end consumer, play a key role offering candid feedback though formal and informal channels to those organizations on how to SERVE YOU better. It’s very easy to criticize when we are upset about the content of an event, or about the requirements or outcome of an application process, but it adds more value for all to come back and express what should -in your opinion- be different. Dare to do that, it’s one of the most important roles you can play.

  Give Back

Something that I admire particularly from the Entrepreneurs of Endeavor is their fierce commitment to “Give Back”. For them, giving back means belonging to a network where they play a role of a “member” rather than the sole role of a “receiver”, despite their clear condition of benefiter. Giving Back in a genuine attitude and manifests itself in many forms and moments. Here is an example. Few months back I was collecting data from entrepreneurs (applying a survey) that was very relevant for a research I was running for iNNpulsa Colombia: the few entrepreneurs that took 15 minutes of their time to answer my questions were giving back to the ecosystem. Yes, surveys are boring, but do you see the bigger picture of what could be accomplished by that and how this can benefit all of us? Giving Back could also be something way more rewarding such as mentoring/investing in a younger entrepreneur, or doing a public presentation telling your Entrepreneurial story to society. Don’t underestimate the power of your narratives, they might well be the only real driver of change an ecosystem has. At this point my message does not go towards what specifically to do to give back (this can be an interesting whole new reflection), but towards the importance of seeing your “residence” in a particular entrepreneurial ecosystem as a two-way process.

One of the things I loved about the last visit of iNNpulsa Colombia to the President of Colombia Juan ManuelSantos was the fact that they brought along Entrepreneurs, whose stories were actually in the spotlight of the meeting. To me, that sent a strong message, which is the same message I felt like passing through this post. You, Entrepreneurs, are the reason for this entire boom. This is about YOU, not about we, that talk about it.

If there is a moment to become and High Growth Entrepreneur in Colombia, it’s now. Dance with the ecosystem, be bold!

Disclaimer: Opinions presented are my own and do not represent the organizations that are named in this article.


Praveen Dorna said...

Nice One Oriana! I believe that building ecosystems can itself be a great venture as well for passionate entrepreneurs :)

Prashant Kumbhat said...

Great post Oriana.

I would, however, like to add one more important point to it, about entrepreneurs creating a win -win ecosystem in order to give entrepreneurship and the economy a boost. This goes back to the basics if creating an ecosystem by delivering service platforms as opposed to just traditional products or services.

Classic example is a smart phone. The platform provides work for app developers and accessory manufacturers. Its a simple example but it illustrates how entrepreneurs must think about their deliverable to society at large. they must strategize about ways to create a collaborative atmosphere or an ecosystem, if you will, for other companies to create and deliver value and thus be profitable.

Good luck!!

PRashant kumbhat