Jul 31, 2017

The Funders Perspective: Reflections from #ESHIP

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s Alisha Slye and Tony Tolentino discuss key takeaways from the inaugural ESHIP Summit – a global gathering of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders and thought leaders.

Last month, Blackstone Charitable Foundation had the opportunity to participate in the Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP Summit, an innovative convening of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders and thought leaders from regions across the U.S. and globally. 

Our working sessions with other leaders gave rise to many shared learnings about what it really takes to help build robust, inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems.  Like all community builders at ESHIP, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation is looking to drive change through innovative public-private partnerships. As one of the leading funders of entrepreneurial ecosystems, we want to share what we believe are the key tenets to partnerships between funders and grantees: 

  • First things first, conduct a SWOT analysis

    We collaboratively work with partners in each region to understand their specific local challenges and opportunities. However, communities and organizations need to objectively evaluate their Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats in the context of the global economy to ensure they have an honest and realistic starting point for the change they seek to make. The more clarity and leadership alignment on this shared assessment, the more poignant the innovative solution(s) we can devise together, increasing the catalytic and transformational impact of our funding.  

  • Everyone needs to have skin in the game

    Success is never tied to any one individual or organization. Visible leadership engagement and alignment are leading indicators that a community or organization can meaningfully leverage our funding. Our grant commitments require senior leaders from government, academia, and the private and non-profit sectors to be all equally engaged and have a shared vision and commitment for change. This approach also creates programmatic stability to withstand leadership changes, which inevitably occur.

  • Sustainability now, not later

    A sustainability pathway is required from the outset of our grant commitments. As catalytic funders, our 3 year grants are designed to fund innovative and impact driven programs which, once proven successful, either become self-sustaining and part of the core fabric of an ecosystem, or the ecosystem organically adopts the connections and relationships built by our program. Programs that are effectively mapped to existing ecosystems can optimize existing resources before hiring new ones ensuring grant funds are strategically leveraged and do not create too many “new” roles and budget line items to sustain.

  • No one can do it alone - Unlocking the power of the cohort & network

    By funding cohorts of regional organizations, we seek to increase regional collaboration and further build our global network. Frequently, our funding and the Blackstone brand serve as the catalyst for this collaboration.  In some scenarios, these efforts look similar to a well-coordinated baton race whereby organizations can complement each other with their expertise and offerings; in other scenarios it provides new opportunities to collaborate in ways not being leveraged before. 

  • Metrics Matter

    Leading-edge solutions often happen in unchartered waters, but this white space still requires being able to tangibly quantify impact and track success.  This structure is important not only for sustainability, but to capture best practices and potentially scale successful programs to other regions.  

  • What’s the end game?
  • Far too often as funders, we receive requests from grantees for additional funding to continue or sustain their programs in perpetuity. We often have to ask ourselves (and our grantees) what does “success” ultimately look like, and when is a program no longer needed? Ensuring that all stakeholders share the same vision of success at the onset of a program ultimately ensures that we can avoid these awkward conversations.

In closing, we’d like to thank the team at the Kauffman Foundation (special kudos to Victor Hwang and Andy Stoll) for pulling together a fantastic event. It was an amazing opportunity to meet all aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (funders, non-profit partners, higher education institutions, elected officials and government agencies, and most importantly, the entrepreneurs themselves). We look forward to next year’s ESHIP Summit.