Free Resources & Strategies for Higher Ed Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building. The C•CUBE Toolkit from UWO & Venn Collaborative sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation

A Framework for Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building in Higher Education Contexts

Introduction

ecosystem illustration

To get started thinking about frameworks for ecosystem building, imagine that this picture represents your ecosystem:

The dots in the ecosystem are the various assets that exist across your ecosystem (individuals and their talent and know-how, organizations and their resources, etc., physical assets, and networks) and also the roles played by individuals and organizations (entrepreneur support, funding, advocacy, etc.).

The lines between the dots represent links and connections. Formal and informal links between individuals and organizations (networking, partnerships, shared programming, joint initiatives) create opportunities to leverage assets and roles to achieve intended impact.

Now imagine that your ecosystem sits on a substrate, visualized as the green layer below the first illustration:

value and purpose illustration

Let’s call this substrate value and purpose. What you and your ecosystem partners determine to be the ultimate value of your ecosystem—it’s purpose for being—will influence the ways in which ecosystem building is undertaken.

Finally, imagine that your ecosystem and it’s value and purpose sit upon another substrate (the blue layer):

This substrate, undergirding and influencing both your ecosystem and the value and purpose that your ecosystem serves, is the context and environment for your ecosystem. A wide array of contextual factors, including political and economic environment, social and community issues, and many others, help to determine how your ecosystem develops over time. 

Themes

This view of an ecosystem forms the four core themes of the C•CUBE framework for conversations in ecosystem building:

  • Value & Purpose—The value an ecosystem aims to create and defining who benefits from its endeavors, with a broader emphasis on purpose and societal impact.
  • Contexts & Environment—The external forces, such as culture, policies, and market dynamics, that shape an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and how to adapt and cultivate favorable conditions.
  • Assets & Roles—Identifying and leveraging the critical assets and roles within the ecosystem, including resources, human capital, and the responsibilities of ecosystem participants.
  • Links & Connections—The network dynamics and collaborative relationships among ecosystem actors, emphasizing the importance of synergy and effective governance.

Effectively using C•CUBE tools and resources requires you to think about which of these themes might be most salient to or pressing for your entrepreneurship ecosystem at this time, and where you are focusing ecosystem building support. To help you consider which of these themes might be most relevant to your ecosystem right now, here are some ideas about the kinds of activities that make up each theme:

Value & Purpose activities might include, for example:

  • Value Creation—Identifying the specific products, services, or solutions that the ecosystem aims to create or enhance. This involves understanding the core value proposition and potential innovations that can drive growth.
  • Stakeholder Benefits—Defining the key stakeholders who stand to benefit from the ecosystem’s success. This includes entrepreneurs, investors, customers, communities, and the broader economy.
  • Mission and Vision—Establishing a clear mission and vision statement that outlines the purpose and long-term goals of the ecosystem. This serves as a guiding framework for all ecosystem activities.

Contexts & Environment activities might include, for example:

  • Macro Analysis—Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the external factors influencing the ecosystem. This includes political, cultural, economic, technological, legal, and environmental factors (PESTLE analysis).
  • Competitive Landscape—Assessing the competitive landscape to understand the current players, potential entrants, and competitive forces that impact the ecosystem’s development.
  • Regulatory Environment—Recognizing the regulatory and compliance requirements that may affect the ecosystem, including industry-specific regulations and intellectual property considerations.

Assets & Roles activities might inclue, for example:

  • Resource Mapping—Identifying and cataloging the key assets within the ecosystem, including human capital, physical infrastructure, intellectual property, and financial resources.
  • Ecosystem Participants—Defining the various participants within the ecosystem, such as entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, accelerators, universities, and government agencies.
  • Role Clarification—Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each ecosystem participant. This ensures that everyone understands their contribution and how they fit into the broader ecosystem.

Links & Connections activities might include, for example:

  • Network Analysis—Analyzing the existing and potential connections between ecosystem participants. This includes assessing the strength and nature of relationships, both formal and informal.
  • Collaboration Framework—Developing mechanisms and platforms for fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing within the ecosystem. This can involve events, co-working spaces, online forums, and mentoring programs.
  • Ecosystem Governance—Establishing governance structures and guidelines for managing relationships and resolving conflicts within the ecosystem. This ensures that connections are productive and aligned with the ecosystem’s goals.

Stages

The C•CUBE framework also considers the fact that ecosystem building can be at different stages. The stages are not necessarily linear, and an ecosystem may be at different stages for each of the themes or even activities within the themes:

  • Discovering—Understanding what your ecosystem looks like now. In the Discovering stage, the focus is on gaining a deep understanding of the current state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This involves assessing existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to inform future strategies.
  • Developing—Envisioning how you might strengthen your ecosystem. During the Developing stage, ecosystem builders envision and plan for the enhancement and strengthening of the ecosystem. This includes setting strategic goals, identifying areas for improvement, and formulating strategies to achieve those goals.
  • Doing—Creating and implementing ecosystem activities. The Doing stage involves the active implementation of ecosystem-building activities and initiatives. Ecosystem builders execute their plans, collaborate with stakeholders, and work toward achieving the defined objectives to support entrepreneurship and innovation.

In making use of C•CUBE, you’ll want to consider what stage your ecosystem is at with respect to the theme you are focused on. Consider the following examples of what kinds of things might be going on in each stage to help you determine where you and your ecosystem partners currently are:

Discovering—Understanding what the ecosystem looks like now.

  • Ecosystem Assessment—Conducting assessments of the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem. This includes identifying key players, assessing the current state of innovation and entrepreneurship, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the ecosystem.
  • Stakeholder Mapping—Identify and map the various stakeholders within the ecosystem, including entrepreneurs, investors, support organizations, educational institutions, government bodies, and corporations. Understanding their roles and interactions is essential.
  • Data Collection and Analysis—Gathering data on ecosystem performance, such as the number of startups, funding sources, success stories, and challenges, is vital. Analyzing this data helps in forming a baseline understanding of the ecosystem’s health.
  • Gap Analysis—Identifying gaps and areas for improvement within the ecosystem. This includes assessing resource gaps, mentorship opportunities, funding availability, and regulatory hurdles that may hinder entrepreneurial growth.
  • Ecosystem Culture—Exploring the cultural and social aspects of the ecosystem, including attitudes towards entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and collaboration. Understanding the prevailing culture can provide insights into potential challenges and opportunities.

Developing—Envisioning how we might strengthen the ecosystem.

  • Ecosystem Vision—Defining a clear and compelling vision for the future of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. What do you want the ecosystem to look like in the next five, ten, or twenty years? Establishing this vision provides a shared sense of purpose.
  • Strategic Planning—Developing a strategic plan that outlines the specific goals, objectives, and initiatives required to strengthen the ecosystem. This plan should address resource allocation, collaboration strategies, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Resource Mobilization—Identifying potential funding sources and mechanisms to support ecosystem development. This may involve securing government grants, attracting private investment, or establishing public-private partnerships.
  • Infrastructure and Support Services—Considering the physical and organizational infrastructure needed to support entrepreneurs. This includes co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators, and access to technology and research facilities.
  • Education and Training—Developing educational programs and training initiatives to enhance the skills and capabilities of entrepreneurs and ecosystem participants. This can include entrepreneurship courses, mentorship programs, and workshops.

Doing—Creating and implementing ecosystem activities.

  • Program Implementation—Executing the initiatives and activities outlined in the strategic plan. This involves launching programs such as startup incubators, accelerators, networking events, and mentorship programs.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation—Continuously monitoring the progress of ecosystem activities and assess their impact. Collect data on key performance metrics and adjust strategies based on feedback and results.
  • Ecosystem Engagement—Fostering active engagement and collaboration among ecosystem participants. Encourage entrepreneurs to seek mentorship, investors to support startups, and educational institutions to collaborate with industry.
  • Regulatory and Policy Advocacy—Advocating for favorable regulatory environments that promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Work with policymakers to address regulatory barriers and create incentives for ecosystem growth.
  • Feedback and Iteration—Being open to feedback from ecosystem participants and iterate on programs and strategies as necessary. Adapt to changing market conditions and emerging opportunities.

Here is the C•Cube ecosystem building framework:

themes and stages graphic

Discovering
Understanding what your ecosystem looks like now. In the Discovering stage, the focus is on gaining a deep understanding of the current state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This involves assessing existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to inform future strategies.

Developing
Envisioning how you might strengthen your ecosystem. During the Developing stage, ecosystem builders envision and plan for the enhancement and strengthening of the ecosystem. This includes setting strategic goals, identifying areas for improvement, and formulating strategies to achieve those goal

Doing
Creating and implementing ecosystem activities. The Doing stage involves the active implementation of ecosystem-building activities and initiatives. Ecosystem builders execute their plans, collaborate with stakeholders, and work toward achieving the defined objectives to support entrepreneurship and innovation.

Value & PurposeThe value an ecosystem aims to create and defining who benefits from its endeavors, with a broader emphasis on purpose and societal impact.

Discover Purpose
Delve into the heart of your ecosystem to unearth its fundamental purpose. Your goal is to uncover who stands to gain from a thriving ecosystem and what their needs and aspirations are. By identifying the jobs, pains, and gains of your stakeholders, you lay the groundwork for defining the ecosystem’s intended impact.

Ideate for Value Creation
Brainstorm and strategize with ecosystem partners to unlock the full potential of value creation. You explore innovative ways to address the needs of your beneficiaries and envision how your ecosystem can offer unique solutions, products, or services that resonate with them.

Implement  Value-Creating Activities
You and your ecosystem partners roll up your sleeves and bring your value-creating ideas to life. This involves executing concrete actions, whether it’s launching products, services, or initiatives, to deliver tangible benefits to your target beneficiaries.

Contexts & Environment
The external forces, such as culture, policies, and market dynamics, that shape an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and how to adapt and cultivate favorable conditions.

Explore the Ecosystem Landscape
Embark on a journey to comprehend the complex web of cultural, political, policy, geographic, and institutional factors that shape your ecosystem. This knowledge provides the foundation for strategic decision-making.

Cultivate and Scaffold
Work collaboratively with partners to nurture the ecosystem’s supportive contextual factors. It’s about identifying opportunities for collaboration and creating an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

Shape and Reshape
Engage with ecosystem partners to influence and adapt environmental factors. This might involve advocating for policy changes, establishing new institutions, or reshaping existing ones to foster a more conducive ecosystem.

Assets & Roles
Identifying and leveraging the critical assets and roles within the ecosystem, including resources, human capital, and the responsibilities of ecosystem participants.

Inventory and Map
Undertake a comprehensive audit of the ecosystem’s assets and roles in this stage. This involves identifying who plays what role, with what resources, and understanding how these roles and assets interconnect. The aim is to create a comprehensive map of the ecosystem’s components.

Assess Alignment and Gaps
Assess how well these components align with the ecosystem’s goals. Identify gaps in resources and capabilities, setting the stage for strategies to leverage existing strengths and address weaknesses.

Put the Ecosystem to Work
Execute on the plans and activities designed to harness the ecosystem’s assets and roles. By putting these elements to work effectively, you maximize the ecosystem’s potential for driving innovation and entrepreneurship.

Links & Connections
The network dynamics and collaborative relationships among ecosystem actors, emphasizing the importance of synergy and effective governance.

Illuminate Interdependence
Focus on revealing the intricate web of relationships and dependencies among assets and roles. This understanding helps you identify the key players and connections that sustain the ecosystem.

Strengthen Ties
Strategize ways to foster new connections and fortify existing ones. Strengthening ties between assets and roles enhances collaboration and knowledge exchange, facilitating the ecosystem’s growth.

Partner and Collaborate
Initiate partnerships and collaborations to harness the synergies among assets and roles. These partnerships can lead to the alignment of resources, expertise, and efforts, creating a more cohesive and thriving ecosystem.

One way to find tools and resources relevant to your ecosystem is to simply click through the topics and read the challenges for each on the tools page.

You can also start by identifying the primary theme that aligns with your current ecosystem-building objectives. Then, determine what stage you and your ecosystem partners are in with regard to that theme—are you just beginning to explore issues and activities in that theme (Discovering)?, are you beginning to flesh things out (Developing)?, or are you actively undertaking initiatives to address issues and activities in the theme (Doing)?

Once you’ve determined a theme and stage, you have identified a topic in the framework that you can begin with. If, for example, you have determined that the most relevant theme to your ecosystem right now is Value & Purpose, and that you’re in the Discovering stage with regard to this theme, begin by exploring the topic: Discover Purpose.

Once you’ve identified a topic to begin with, dive into the framework to access valuable insights, guidance, and challenges related to that part of the framework. You’ll find a set of challenges for each topic, and each challenge has a set of tools and resources, including a conversation guide. Use these resources to inform your ecosystem building support strategies and take meaningful action.

Remember, the journey of ecosystem building is dynamic, and the focus of you and your ecosystem partners will evolve over time. Revisit the framework to find additional challenges within a topic, or visit new topics appropriate to the new themes and stages you are finding relevant to your ecosystem.

Have we missed anything in this overview of the C•CUBE framework? Do you have something you’d like to share? 

Six square post-it notes on a cork board.