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

Discover Purpose

Unveiling the Heart of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Value & Purpose theme and the Discovering stage

At the intersection of the Value & Purpose theme and the Discovering stage lies a critical topic: “Discover Purpose.” This is where ecosystem builders embark on a journey to unearth the core essence of their entrepreneurial ecosystem. Understanding and defining the purpose of the ecosystem is not just a preliminary step; it’s the heartbeat that guides all subsequent efforts.

When ecosystem stakeholders and partners, including colleges and universities, work together to discover the purpose of their ecosystem, they create important foundations for ecosystem building, strengthening, and growth:

  • Clarity of Direction: Discovering purpose provides a North Star for ecosystem builders. It answers fundamental questions about what the ecosystem exists for, who it aims to serve, and what change it seeks to bring about. This clarity of direction serves as a powerful motivational force for stakeholders.
  • Stakeholder-Centric Approach: Purpose delves into the needs, aspirations, and pain points of the ecosystem’s stakeholders. It’s not just about what the ecosystem can offer; it’s about who benefits and how. By identifying these stakeholders, ecosystem builders can create initiatives that resonate with their target audience.
  • Measuring Impact: Defining purpose goes hand in hand with establishing metrics for success. It provides a framework for measuring the ecosystem’s impact, allowing for continuous assessment and improvement.

The “Discover Purpose” topic is the compass that guides the entrepreneurial ecosystem-building journey. It brings focus, meaning, and direction to the ecosystem’s efforts, helping builders create initiatives that truly resonate with stakeholders. By embracing a stakeholder-centric approach, ecosystem builders can lay a solid foundation for sustainable growth and meaningful impact.


As ecosystem building partners work on discovering their ecosystem’s purpose, consider the following:

  • Empathy and Needs Analysis: Dive deep into the psyche of your stakeholders. Conduct empathetic interviews, surveys, and analyses to identify their jobs, gains, and pains. This helps uncover unmet needs and opportunities for value creation.
  • Intended Impact: With a clear understanding of stakeholders, define the intended impact of the ecosystem. Consider not just economic outcomes but also social and environmental contributions. Craft a compelling vision of the future you aspire to create.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Actively involve stakeholders in the purpose-discovery process. Create forums for open dialogue and collaboration. Their insights are invaluable in shaping the ecosystem’s direction.
  • Iterative Feedback: Purpose discovery is an iterative process. Continuously gather feedback from stakeholders as your understanding evolves. Be willing to adjust your ecosystem’s purpose as new insights emerge.
  • Communicating the Vision: Once the purpose is defined, communicate it effectively to all ecosystem participants. Foster buy-in and commitment by ensuring that everyone understands and aligns with the shared vision.
  • Aligning Initiatives: Ensure that all ecosystem-building activities, whether in the Discovering, Developing, or Doing stage, align with the defined purpose. Evaluate initiatives against the yardstick of whether they contribute to the intended impact.

Conversation Guides

Use these conversation guides to begin discovering the purpose of your ecosystem:

Conversation Guide: Jobs, Pains, and Gains — PDF | Word

Conversation Guide: Understand the Intended Beneficiaries or “Customers” of Your Ecosystem — PDF | Word

Conversation Guide: Make Equity a Central Purpose — PDF | Word

Featured Resource

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has created a comprehensive resource for ecosystem building, the The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Playbook 3.0 based on stakeholder collaboration through a nationwide series of Entrepreneurship Summits. It provides ecosystem building context, principles, resources, and information on scaling ecosystems.

Ecosystem Building in Action

Ecosystem Builders in New Jersey are using the “Jobs, Pains, and Gains” conversation guide in the Discovering Purpose topic to build collaboration among the stakeholders in Monmouth County, including SBDCs, higher ed organizations, chambers, and K-12 and workforce groups.