A Canvas that Describes Relationships within an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Dr. Thomas
20 Nov 2015

Contribution from Dr. Thomas Funke,  Head of the Entrepreneurship Department at RKW

Note: A version of this blog post was published as a contribution to the Global Startup Ranking report from Compass. The full report can be downloaded here. Dr. Thomas Funke served as academic contributor to this report.

Why is there a need for an entrepreneurship ecosystem canvas?
In every single discussion, meeting, or workshop with all kinds of entrepreneurship community builders we realized one thing: There needs to be a shared understanding of what an entrepreneurship ecosystem actually is. A concept that everybody understands. One that facilitates description and discussion. We need to start from the same point and talk about the same thing. The challenge is that this concept must be simple, relevant, and intuitively understandable, and at the same time not oversimplifying the complexities of how ecosystems function.

This is why we developed a canvas that describes the manifold relationships of an entrepreneurship ecosystem. The canvas is the starting point of a new perspective for both community builders and startups on their local ecosystem. It enables them to exploit existing chances and at the same time identify missing links. Both policy makers and startups can focus on operational as well as strategic plans for supporting their local ecosystem. This concept can become a shared language that allows you to easily describe and influence ecosystems to create a better environment for startups.

What is the ecosystem canvas?
An ecosystem can best be described through eleven basic building blocks that show the logic of how an ecosystem works. The eleven blocks cover the main areas of an ecosystem: Ideas & Talents, Support & Infrastructure, Startup Community, Policy and Finance, and Trends & Markets. The canvas is part of a methodology that helps you to not forget relevant success factors when working on your local ecosystem. The methodology has four steps: In a first layer the canvas serves as a reality check that reminds the key actors of a local ecosystem to think holistically about their ecosystem, connect them to each other and prevent them from getting stuck on their own program. In a second step, it serves as a blueprint for a strategy for all actors in the network to be implemented in the ecosystem through structures, processes and systems. In a third step, it shows all community builders in a visual way both the big picture, their (important) own roles in it and the interdependencies. In a fourth step, it helps to explore new growth opportunities, assess uses of new support programs, and to communicate across the community how we could accelerate the development of the ecosystem.

How can the ecosystem canvas be used?  
This concept has been applied and tested around most of Europe and is already used in several public business agencies, universities, incubators or startup support organizations.

The case of Berlin

  1. The Problem
    One of the cities we have applied the canvas on is Berlin. Berlin has a vibrant startup scene and a very active public sector. One of the reasons Berlin is so successful is its attractiveness to new international talent, but also its huge amount of public actors and support programs for entrepreneurs. We applied the canvas in order to align support programs in the energy sector since we saw lots of concurrent activities which inadvertently harmed the development of the ecosystem. Due to the government’s primary goal to fully exit from nuclear fossil and fuel energy many startup support programs were headed in the same direction, namely increasing the startup activity in the clean-tech sector. At least four of the bigger support organizations claimed to be the leading support organization for cleantech startups and started initiatives in order to inspire and support future cleantech startups. Every support organization had similar offers for startups. lack of alignment of the new programs caused not just an inefficient allocation of capital and other resources, it lead to startups not utilizing any of the support programs. And the worst was: None of the actors was fully aware of that problem since they were stuck in their own program details. Surely, the problem was not caused intentionally by any of the actors. There was a lacking system perspective on the startup ecosystem. There was no holistic view on the interdependencies of all the programs and its respective actors.
  2. The Status Quo – Ecosystem Canvas
    The canvas served as ideal methodological approach as one cannot develop a system-solution before most of the relevant stakeholders of the system have the same understanding of the underlying problem. We applied the canvas and its underlying methodology which brought together the key actors of the ecosystem. Working with the canvas helped the stakeholders to bring all of their perspectives on the meta-level. It helped them to understand the missing alignment of their initiatives and problems that were caused for the entire ecosystem. Additionally, it helped the community builders – in this case especially the public agencies – to view themselves as an essential part in their local ecosystem, not being isolated but being connected to all other actors in the ecosystem. With the help of the canvas the community builders were able to portray the interdependencies of each other’s program and establish externalized as-is and to-be ecosystems.
  3. The Impact
    As can be seen from this example the canvas is of great value in almost every specific situation of community builders. Many of the actors in the clean-tech sector now actively collaborate and communicate systematically and keep each other on track about the development of their support program. They actively keep working with the canvas in a visual way on both the big picture and their (important) own roles in it and the interdependencies. They now complement and harmonize most of their activities. Applying the canvas has led to a clearer positioning of all stakeholders on the market.

    Photo credit: Flickr

Dr. Thomas Funke

Head of Entrepreneurship Department

Dr. Thomas Funke heads the entrepreneurship department of a think tank of the German Federal Ministry for Economics since August 2013.… More