Monday, April 22, 2013

ECC: Building a Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Cleantech?

ECC: Building a Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Cleantech?

Recently, I had the marvelous honor of helping with the first Energize conference by the Utah-based Energy Commercialization Center. My readers know my strong interest in how you build an effective, “defragged” entrepreneurial ecosystem and I was jazzed to see the great first steps that ECC is taking to do that for cleantech (broadly defined). Their charter is to build this for the entire intermountain region.

What are they doing right?

Engaging the right people (and not the wrong people). Other than a little of the usual nobody-loves-me, I’m-all-alone whining, this even included a nice cross-section of the “A Team” [see my “DEFRAG” post below] and deftly avoided the more negative voices. Idaho Commerce’s Jessie Speck can attest that with a positive vibe and the level of competence, we heard a level of candor that is rare and much, much appreciated! (Jessie made Idaho look good, btw.)

Focus on excellence. The competence level was terrific. People got to contribute where they add the most value, not necessarily what their job titles might suggest. I would be bowing deeply toward the various talented attendees but I can’t figure out how to bow in multiple directions (attendees came from CO, AZ, NM, MT, ID and NV and beyond).

Understand that it IS an ecosystem, interconnected, messy, noisy and dynamic. Ecosystems are more than a state of nature, they are also a trajectory. If you want to get from A to B, don’t you need a good idea where A is? And B? J In the various discussions, I can see from my notes some useful insights as to the current state of the ecosystem (and how we got here).  We also got a few insights about where we want to go. (Where the “A team” wants to go is usually very telling.)

So what makes an ecosystem special?
One point that became crystal clear is that effective ecosystems don’t do 1 or 2 things differently, they do several important things differently that are decidedly different from the “usual.” And these different things are unavoidably disruptive. (Paul Ahlstrom’s closing keynote cheerfully suggested that the lean startup crowd hijack federal tech transfer. As you might guess, I was a WEE bit happy!) At best, these “different” features run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

In my notes, I wrote something I stole from Utah’s Rob Wuebker, the narrative is completely different. The story of how things get done and why and by whom… is very different in effective ecosystems. Go back and re-read Brad Feld’s “Startup Communities”. (Look at the markers of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem at ... tell me these are “normal” for most communities, whether a city or an industry.

Robert Bell and his crew at ECC have a mandate to be disruptive. So far, they’ve been gentle (only one bureaucracy has yelled at them… so far) but things will be getting, um, “interesting.” J

Paul Ahlstrom
Co-author of lean book “Nail It Then Scale It”, VC/angel and another gentle disruptor, Paul closed the Energize event with some great insights, including a few on how Utah’s is mapping their ecosystem.
#1. It never ends. 
#2. You’ve got to talk to the entrepreneurs; he mentioned over 140 interviews with Utah entrepreneurs, triangulated with multiple other mapping efforts, including help from the Kauffman Foundation ( Idaho, we could do that too.. interested?) 
#3. Need a critical mass of entrepreneurial and innovative human capital. 
#4. A major [emphasis on MAJOR] research university is necessary.
#5 The "ingredients” aren’t enough; you need to defrag the ecosystem. 
#6. Identify the right players to defrag (what I’m calling the “A team” who reflect the 3 C’s: Competent, Connected, Collegial. I’m guessing that Paul would underline collegial.) ***
To Paul: Thanks! To the rest of you: Go add Paul’s book to your reading list.

And... again thanks!
In Jim Collins’ terms, sometimes you can’t get the wrong people off the bus, you have to build a new bus. Thanks to Robert, Mike and the rest for letting me (Jessie Speck too) on thise bus! We can’t wait to see this new bus move forward!

p.s. We also see how important it is to have events managed brilliantly - so major props to Social Enterprises of Portland - Stephanie Stettler & Jennifer Worcester [if they tell me more names, I'll edit this!]

***) Nobody is entitled to be involved with driving the ‘defrag’. Even the wrong people do get to be on the bus, just not at the outset. Isn’t it smarter to start with the highly competent, highly connected and highly collegial?


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