How the Startup Champions Network is Building Stronger Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Across the US

This April, I had the opportunity to travel to Durham, North Carolina to attend the Startup Champions Network 2022 Spring Summit courtesy of Georgia’s Make Startups program, which is run by Augusta’s innovation center called The Make Startups is a mesh network of organizations in different cities within the state that foster their local entrepreneurial ecosystem in various capacities. We come together regularly to discuss how things are going in our respective cities and work to provide prospective and existing entrepreneurs with the mentorship and resources they need to start or grow their businesses. So how does the Startup Champions Network (SCN) factor in? SCN provides bi-annual summits for startup ecosystem builders around the United States to learn and connect. Here’s why that’s so important. 

According to the Kauffman Foundation, new companies create nearly all net new jobs. They also account for almost 20% of gross job creation. Entrepreneurs also thrive in environments where they have greater support including connectivity and access to needed resources such as capital, mentorship, and education. Startup ecosystems are made up of organizations, institutions, investors, and mentors who are working together to provide local startups with what they need to succeed. The Kauffman Foundation says it best: Entrepreneurship drives economies, but the success of entrepreneurs depends on those around them. That’s why we build ecosystems – or communities – for entrepreneurs.”

Fay Horwitt (L), President & CEO of Forward Cities, interviews Edgar Villanueva (R), Author of Decolonizing Wealth during a fireside chat.

And, startup ecosystem builders need support too! Startup ecosystem builders can be those working solo in a grassroots initiative, under a non-profit, with a university, as a coworking space, as a startup accelerator, etc. SCN’s mission is to provide these builders of entrepreneurial ecosystems with the connections, resources, and professional development they need to cultivate thriving and inclusive communities. 

The SCN summits are hosted in different cities throughout the U.S. so that members of the organization learn from other communities by experiencing their local ecosystems. Forward Cities, a national nonprofit equipping communities and regions to grow and sustain more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems, hosted this spring’s summit. Here are several highlights of the two-and-a-half-day conference.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Collaboration Should Be Fundamental to Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

For decades in the early 1900s, Durham was well known in the nation for thriving entrepreneurship. In fact today, Durham is recognized as one of America’s Historic Black Wall Streets. Parrish Street was known as a hub for black-owned businesses, which lined the four-block district. N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. (Leaders: John Merrick, Dr. Aaron Moore, and C.C. Spaulding) and Mechanics and Farmers Bank (Leaders: R.B. Fitzgerald and W.G. Pearson) were well-known prosperous businesses led by Black founders who put Durham on the map as an epicenter of entrepreneurial activity. 

Most of Durham’s Black Wall Street was demolished around 1970 due to the construction of the Durham Freeway, which ran through the district. However, the SCN Spring Summit organizers stressed that today Durham “has experienced a spirited resurgence fueled by collaborative leadership.”  Diversity, equity, and inclusion was the central theme of the entire conference and set a positive tone for the entire event based on what can happen when entrepreneurial ecosystems work together for the positive improvement of their communities. 

A few sessions on this topic included…

The panel discussion on Regional Ecosystem Development & Ecosystem Building focused on how regional collaboration within a startup community. L to R: Anika Horn (Ecosystem Builder at Social Ventures), Fay Horwitt (President & CEO of Forward Cities), Jessica Edwards (Principal Coordinator at Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem), and Debbie Irwin (Executive Director of Shenandoah Community Capital Fund).

Access To Capital Is Crucial In Every Startup Ecosystem

Every startup community present at the conference agreed that having adequate and equitable access to capital is essential for the success of the entrepreneurs in their communities. This topic was prevalent at the conference with an interactive, discussion session called Prioritizing Equitable and Accessible Startup Capital and a speaker session titled Building Inclusive Economic Prosperity featuring Philip Gaskin, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Storytelling Matters.

Something we talk about frequently here at The Creative Coast is that a startup’s why or reason for existing matters. The same applies to entrepreneurial ecosystems! We closed out the final day of the summit with a discussion called “Tell Your Ecosystem Story.” Effective storytelling is powerful, especially when it comes to spreading the word about the entrepreneurial activity in a region. It can bring forth major stakeholders, investors, and institutions by painting a picture of the startup scene and the collective working together to make it possible. 

All in all the SCN Spring 2022 Summit truly inspired me! It also made me thankful for the strong relationships we have with community partners who are motivated to see local startups grow and succeed. I’m looking forward to meeting with other ecosystem builders at our first Ecosystem Meeting of 2022 this spring. If you’re a local ecosystem builder, stay tuned for details!

A huge thanks to Make Startups and The for making our trip to Durham possible!


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About Kait Lance

Kait has been writing for The Creative Coast since 2014. A self-proclaimed "startup hype-woman," she is passionate about storytelling that shines a light on new ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the southeastern Georgia region.