Generally an ecosystem is an interconnected, interdependent network of elements, living and nonliving, that make up a supportive environment for a particular type of creature or entity.
Biology to Business
The word “ecosystem” is a biological term used to describe the environment of a type of animal (or group of animals) that enables it to thrive. So a prairie could be an ecosystem for foxes because it provides other foxes, prey like mice, food for the prey like seeds, water, predators that inspire defensive and survival behaviors, a favorable temperature, sunlight, a place to live, a places to hide, a place to hunt, etc.
So when we talk about Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, we mean the environment and the elements in that environment that allow entrepreneurs to thrive. This can include resources like knowledge and capital, other actors like other entrepreneurs and established businesses, places to operate like co-working spaces, markets, and even cultural attitudes like those towards entrepreneurs and other rebels.
"Building" an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Ecosystems are never really created. Every economy has some kind of environment or “ecosystem” for entrepreneurs, just not always one that is particularly supportive, well organized, or conducive for thriving. Competition from big business can be debilitating to startups, banks and other lenders often do not lend to growing businesses, the knowledge of how to start a business may not be easily accessible, and the culture of the area may be against risk-taking or profit making. As a result, a potential entrepreneur, even if he/she had a great idea, may never attempt to start a business, not because they lack ideas, but because they don’t know how, don’t have enough resources, and (perhaps worst of all) feel all alone. When conditions fail to support entrepreneurs in an area, great ideas die untried, and solvable problems remain unsolved.
If, on the other hand, a potential entrepreneur had access to world-class training in business creation, knew that there were resources available, knew that the bigger fish in the economy were supportive, and saw a community of entrepreneurs around him/her to support business creation… then suddenly great ideas become worth trying because they seem possible.
More than Just the Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurial Ecosystems are not just about any one entrepreneur. Rather, ecosystem building is about creating an environment where ALL entrepreneurs in a community feel empowered to try what otherwise would be an extremely daunting task. When that happens, businesses are started, jobs are created, economies grow, and dignity becomes a genuine possibility for every person in that community regardless of other circumstances.