Reconnecting, in community

Cecilia Wessinger
7 min readNov 6, 2022

Ecosystem Building Fall Conference Season in the USA resumes

As I unpack and unwind from recent travels, I am reinvigorated and reenergized. It feels as if we reawakened from a long nap.

This spring, we were fortunate to convene over 9000 delegates at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Riyadh. It was surreal; from the amount of people to the amazing venue (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s event center on the palace grounds). There were other events I had the pleasure of attending, there was still a feeling of apprehension and angst in attendance. While we are not post COVID, it now feels like we are more accustomed to life alongside it.

Global Entrepreneurship Congress — Riyadh

Fall Conferences in the United States

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Conference was hosted in Oklahoma City. Important conversations on the need for collaboration and interdependence took center stage. Oklahoma City’s leaders shared the story of a failed bid to attract a large company which led to coming together to build a more appealing metropolis. As with many places, OKC offered generous tax incentives, land and other benefits to court large organizations to move to their town. That company of interest cited underwhelming quality of life as one of the main reasons they opted not to relocate to OKC. Lesson learned, over the course of 8 years, and 4 renditions of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPs) by the community has made a notable difference in the lives of its residents and visitors. The entrepreneurial ecosystem has also grown in the city and surrounding region.

Rural Rise — Emporia, KS

Rural Rise celebrates communities across the United States that are often overlooked because of their size. Generally speaking, (according to wiki) Rural America, consists of approximately 97% of the United States’ land area. An estimated 60 million people, or one-in-five residents, live in Rural America. This year’s summit was hosted in Emporia, Kansas . The town is rich in history, with a thriving community. It houses a maker space and incubates shops right on Main Street. Economic development professionals came from across the country to this small town in the heartland to share noteworthy practices and resources. Attendees lamented the lack of broadband access that continues to limit their ability to thrive. Good ideas come from everywhere, what’s lacking is support and resources. Passionate people continue to do what they can with what they have. It gives me great hope to be in convenings like this knowing there are purpose driven ecosystem builders doing great work.

INBIA’s E Builders Forum- RTP

INBIA e.Builders Forum took place in Raleigh, North Carolina. The 6th convening of its kind brought attendees to First Flight Venture Center in an area known as Research Triangle Park (RTP). This prominent 7000 acre high tech research and development initiative is a public- private partnership effort inter-stitching state and local governments, universities and corporations. This was a fitting setting for bringing together representatives from diverse backgrounds to share different aspects and perspectives. Like the audience at IEDC, many people came from traditional economic development and for some, the discussions around ecosystem building were new. As these concepts were shared, there was affirmation and understanding; the realization of things they may have felt but previously did not have the vocabulary to articulate before.

Startup Champions Fall Summit — Fort Worth, TX

Startup Champions Network (SCN)Fall Summit is different from other conferences. Much of the content is curated by the hosts, as opposed to the organization. As with other convenings, there is an opportunity to explore the host city and learn what is happening locally. SCN integrates some core components into the agenda, such as Intercultural Unity (diversity and inclusion minded content) and Roses & Thorns (deep dive conversations with peers); there are fewer speakers brought in from outside of the community than other gatherings. The atmosphere is more relaxed, peer learning and community building is a major element. Fort Worth’s team hosted the event at the historic Stockyards and showcased their founders’ products through sponsorship support!* All events on entrepreneurship should incorporate some aspect of this practice.

National Urban League Whitney M Young Leadership Conference

National Urban League’s Whitney M Young Leadership Conference in New York City was impactful. Besides representing the Global Entrepreneurship Network, I was presenting information about a study done by the Institute for Work and the Economy. This non profit public policy research collaborative did a study on the Geography of Women mapping where women head of households live and the services and resources are in relation to their homes. I also had the pleasure of sitting in sessions on NUL’s entrepreneurial programs. There are currently 13 entrepreneurial centers affiliated with the League doing important work in their community.

In all of these events, along with the bonus panel (for the Association for Value Based Cancer Care) I was invited to join people working to improve the way things are currently done.

Some takeaways:

There is recognition that the old ways are not beneficial and new approaches are needed. Barriers are abundant and you don’t simply make it by working harder. The myth of meritocracy is no longer readily accepted (and it’s about time!).

There was a lot of conversation around technology and the importance of skilling up our communities and cultivating tech startups. While I do not disagree, there is a bigger picture movement needed.

Attracting big companies is an important economic development strategy for many municipalities. But the metric of success for most people in those government departments is job growth, which is NOT supported by bringing big firms into their cities. Year after year reports show the biggest job creators are new organizations (1–5 year companies). My friend, Dell Gines likes to ask people if they were once babies. It’s his way of reminding people that big businesses were once baby startups.

Many places are focusing on bringing in remote workers. This is a viable method of getting new money to flow in the community. There are incentives to attract this pool of skilled workers who can work from anywhere. What’s important to consider is beyond the initial enticements, why would they pick your town and stay? After all, isn’t the idea to retain these skilled professionals longer than the short term?

If you’re not investing in infrastructure and local businesses, you will miss out.

Broadband is not just an issue in rural communities, there are digital divides in urban communities as well (see Geography of Women blog above). We see a plethora of tech programs cropping up all over the world. But without access to the internet and computers at home, how does one start a tech company in places where they can only access Wi-Fi in coding classes??

Even if you have gig access, people will not stay in your community past the time the incentives run out if that is their only motivation. They will move to the next opportunity and benefit. That includes all the tech companies you’re working diligently on emerging. Technologists, like everyone else, want good food, interesting shops, art, culture, parks and attractions. What makes those things possible? “Mom and Pop”, “lifestyle”, “Main Street”, “mission-driven” entrepreneurs. Ines Polonius of Communities Unlimited calls them “Quality of Life” businesses. This creates “Topophilia”~ love of place.

It’s not tech OR small business…it’s both. This holistic, inclusive approach of ecosystem building is the intersection of economic development, community building and workforce. This is a preeminent topic of conferences I have been attending and the volume is getting louder. There are more people learning and engaging which is inspiring.

Ecosystem Builders Leadership Project

There was one more convening which took place earlier this fall. A group of 40+- people got together to discuss the field of ecosystem building. Many familiar faces and some new to the conversation. This effort started many years ago and has evolved, grown and strengthened. Several hundred people have been involved and the numbers keep growing. Defining, nurturing, and catalyzing these collective efforts. The movement is flourishing, it will take all of us…that includes YOU.

Ecosystem building is a team sport~ come play!

Value Web ESHIP

On that note…here’s how you can get involved! In one week, we will celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Global Entrepreneurship Week!

Every year for the past decade and a half, people have been coming together to honor makers, doers and dreamers in their communities. GEW is an open sourced campaign that takes part in almost 200 countries, involving over 10 million people/ 40,000 events/ 20,000 organizations. In the USA there are over 165 communities representing all 50 states. Be part of something BIG! Host a talk, pitch competition, hackathon, bring together local founders for lunch, policymakers panels…need inspiration? Here are some ideas:

Sign-in is required, so you make sure your GEN Profile 👤is set-up first!




Cecilia Wessinger

Community & Ecosystem Builder, Collaborator, Catalyst, Speaker/ Facilitator. Lover of words, ideas and people.