November 19, 2013

Exploring the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Forecasting Trends

brightspot recently held a roundtable on “Creating an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” – a conversation on how to foster entrepreneurship on campus, in the office, and online. We were excited to bring together a diverse audience to share lessons learned, challenges and best practices in supporting entrepreneurs across sectors and various stages of development.


The event brought together participants with a range of perspectives on how to support entrepreneurship, from academic institutions with incubators, centers, and innovative programs (including NYU Poly, Parsons, Pratt, Cornell Tech, Pace, Batten School, and Baruch), to organizations providing ongoing education and development (including General Assembly and Google), to New York City private and public organizations providing unique resources (including NYCEDC, NYPL, Harlem Biospace, and New Lab).


We walked away from the event energized about the future of entrepreneurship in New York, and the impact entrepreneurs are having on their schools, organizations, and communities. We wanted to share some of our key takeaways from the day, illustrated with some awesome visual notes taken by MJ Broadbent:

1. Entrepreneurship is becoming a part of core curricula: Increasingly, academic institutions are providing students with the skillset to enter a workforce driven by innovation and problem solving. As of July 2012, there were more than 2,000 colleges in the US (two-thirds of the total) who offered courses on entrepreneurship (Kauffman Foundation), as well as an increasing number of Centers and Incubators giving students the opportunity to prototype and test new ideas. There are a wide range of services that students are looking for – some are interested in building a skillset that can be applied to different careers while others are looking to build a business. Universities have responded by developing a range of programs and services to support these students.

As one example, NYU provides numerous programs along the key steps in the entrepreneurship journey –  from inspiring and educating to accelerating and funding. As Micah Kotch, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NYU Poly, put it nicely: “Entrepreneurship is the Home Ec of the 21st century.” The conversation led to a key question: how can academic institutions best support the varying demands of their students while creating a positive impact?


2. New academic models are emerging: There are an increasing number of fast-paced, affordable resources and educational programs available to provide individuals with the skills they need to start a business or new career path. General Assembly’s co-founder, Brad Hargreaves, explained that GA built an international business by providing quick, affordable, goal-oriented courses, teaching the skills sought by large and small corporations. Their business model enables GA to quickly adapt their programs to respond to both student interest and market demands.

Roundtable participants were interested in how academic institutions can learn from GA’s framework and become more agile in responding to the market. The discussion also raised the question of how to strike the balance between teaching individuals to think and solve problems and instructing them on the skills and tools they need to be employable.


3. The entrepreneurial mindset: Entrepreneurs rely on an assortment of tools and resources to run their business. As presenter Mark Raheja, Strategy Director at Undercurrent, pointed out, entrepreneurs have to wear different hats and often have to make decisions in areas where they aren’t experts. At these critical decision points they often seek out advice and guidance from their mentors and individuals throughout their network. As the industry grows, they are looking for a wider networks to source information and share ideas.

Mark shared a case study of American Express OPEN Forum, a new tool that provides access to resourceful guides and an online community. Participants from academic institutions emphasized the value that direct connections can have on the development of entrepreneurs – giving them access to alumni who have been successful in achieving their goals. What is the right balance between these two approaches?


4. New York City’s ecosystem isn’t mapped yet: While some organizations are forming partnerships among and across sectors (e.g. NYCEDC and GA’s recent partnership to develop NYC Media Lab, HEC Paris and Google’s partnership to create a HEC@google chair, etc.), the community seems to lack a shared understanding of the resources available to them. There are a number of existing citywide resources, such as the New York Public Library, can could be further leveraged to connect individuals, resources and organizations. As NYC’s entrepreneurial community grows and evolves, how can the community relate to the larger context of entrepreneurship in the US and internationally?

We look forward to continuing the conversation through subsequent roundtables and workshops. If there are topics that you are interested in exploring with brightspot and our extended network, please send them to

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