Last week, Startup Champions Network (SCN) welcomed over 140 attendees to The Triangle in North Carolina in what turned out to be the largest in-person conference in the organization’s history. No Bull.
Hosted by Durham-based Forward Cities - a national nonprofit equipping communities and regions to grow and sustain more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems - this year’s conference welcomed attendees who came from all over the country to share their stories and learn from one another.
While we were unfortunately missing our fearless Co-Founder/CEO Pava LaPere due to illness, the EcoMap team came out to represent in The Triangle. I (Kevin Carter, Head of Business Development) was joined by our co-founder/COO Sherrod Davis, Customer Success Specialist Maria Ulayyet, and Ecosystem Expert Leslie Scott. And somehow, we forgot to take a team photo in all of the madness.
It's hard to describe the buzz in the air that results from 100+ ecosystem builders gathering in a single place to connect, learn, and grow - and it will be impossible to capture everyone's Summit experience. But I suppose the point of this post is to try to capture that experience from the EcoMap perspective.
(A special shoutout to Ashley Ray who captured the Summit with some beautiful photos - all photo cred below goes to her!)
Before we dive into the full ReCap, if you’re not yet familiar with the incredible organization known as SCN, you might have a fair question ...
What is Exactly is SCN?
In case you’re wondering “WTF is SCN?”, Startup Champions Network (aka SCN) is a group of ecosystem builders from across the country who support entrepreneurial ecosystem builders by providing them with the tools, resources, knowledge and support systems they need to build thriving and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems in their own community.
One of SCN’s primary activities is a bi-annual Summit put on by ecosystem builders, for ecosystem builders.
According to their own words, SCN Summits are meant to accomplish three primary goals:
Facilitate Ecosystem Builders’ connection with key peers and resources
Improve Ecosystem Builders' knowledge and best practices
Help Ecosystem Builders develop mission-critical skills
Every SCN Summit has a series of threads that weave the conference together, and this year was no different.
The theme of this year’s Summit was "Building Together: Catalyzing Regional Inclusive Prosperity", which lended itself to three tracks attendees could choose from:
- Regional Matters: Building effective regional economic development strategies that prioritize inclusion and economic mobility
- Reimagining Startups: Creating intentional strategies to diversify the tech and startup sector and address barriers to access for underrepresented demographics
- Racial Equity: Best practices for equitable and asset-based ecosystem building strategies- with a racial equity lens
Each attendee at SCN probably got something a little different out of the conference, so this ReCap is specific to the EcoMap experience. That being said - no matter who you were - I’m willing to bet that those three primary goals listed above were accomplished.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Durham on Display
One of the great things about each SCN Summit is how it highlights the local ecosystem in which it takes place. SCN attendees had the opportunity to get well acquainted with Durham during our short stay there - both through the city itself and its citizens (whom made up a notable portion of attendance).
We had the opportunity to choose between two tours which showcased elements of the city that are embedded into the very fabric of Durham - Black Wall Street and Research Triangle Park (RTP).
I ended up selecting the Black Wall St. tour which was an eye-opening experience. I’m ashamed to admit that thought the only Black Wall Street in America was located in Tulsa, but that couldn’t be further than the truth. Our tour guide was a local musician and storyteller - Aya Shabu - who walked us through how Durham’s Black Wall Street became a focal point of Black entrepreneurship during Reconstruction-era America and its legacy is still shaping the Bull City today.
Anchored by two massive financial institutions - NC Mutual Life Insurance Company (the largest Black-owned insurance company in the world) and Mechanic & Farmers Bank (the second-oldest minority-owned bank in the US) - Black entrepreneurs in Durham were able to access startup capital in an unprecedented manner for the time period. Furthermore, the nearby neighborhood of Hayti was a hub of Black business savvy and community support which fueled the rise of the region to what became known as ‘the Mecca of the Black South’.
While I feel like I cannot do justice in this ReCap to all that I learned on the tour, I highly encourage you do read up on the history of Durham’s Black Wall St. through some of the links below.
EcoMap was privileged to co-host the session that kicked off Tuesday morning along with SCN Board Member (and EcoMap customer) Paulo Gregory.
If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Paulo, you would agree that everything he does has inclusion and equity at the forefront. Building out a digital community for Baltimore’s Black small business owners - the BLK BTRFLY EXCHANGE - was no exception.
In a conversation with our Co-Founder/COO Sherrod Davis, Paulo outlined how he worked with the EcoMap team to build a platform that could reflect the cultural nuances of the community he was serving.
Specifically, Paulo noted that other tech platforms he was looking at didn’t offer the customizability of relevant imagery, naming conventions, and flexible information displayed. Quite simply, he said, they “didn’t look like a space for us”.
Why does this form of ‘tequity’ of matter?
If you’re building a community and it doesn’t reflect the lived experiences of the people you’re serving, it can result in a lack of trust of the platform/information itself.
As Paulo mentioned during the talk, if it looks like you’re “showing up shabby”, it’s going to turn off that community from trusting the platform as a valuable resource.
So a huge shoutout to Paulo and the entire BLK BTRFLY crew who made the trip from our beloved Baltimore to shed a little light on why ‘Tequity’ matters.
The Importance of Relationships and Trust
Building off of that last point, one final through line of the Summit was the importance of relationships and trust in ecosystem building.
Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve all had to adapt to the new reality of building relationships in a digital-first manner. For ecosystem builders - where relationships & trust are such an integral part of the work that we do - this was noticeably difficult.
Especially in many underserved and under-resouced communities, where Trust itself is a valuable resource, it is damn near impossible to build that without taking the time to listen to the lived experiences of those who we are seeking to serve.
As Debbie Irwin of Shenandoah Community Capital Fund put it during a panel session, “the first thing I did was shut up and go on a listening tour”.
One of the highlights for the EcoMap team was the chance to build in-person relationships with so many of our customers and fellow ecosystem builders, many of whom we met in "real life" for the first time.
It was an absolute pleasure to sit down, break bread, and have face-to-face conversations with so many people that we’ve mainly met through the confines of a Zoom screen including:
- Tracey Greene of Charlottesville Business Innovation Council (The Hub CVA)
- Erin Ouzts of Ten At The Top (SC Upstate)
- Julie Heath of Indiana Economic Development Corporation (platform coming soon!)
- Debbie Irwin, Anika Horn, and the whole Shenandoah Valley crew (sorry for not naming everyone but there were 10 of you ... - platform coming soon!)
Having the opportunity to connect on a much deeper level than Zoom meetings typically allow for was a refreshing and rejuvenating experience. It reminded me of the reason why we at EcoMap do this work - heck - why most of us do this work: and that’s the people.
Ecosystem building can take a systems-centered approach or a people-centric approach, but the true value lies in combining those approaches to make sure those we serve can trust both elements along their entrepreneurial journey.
And if the systems (or people) are not working as designed, let’s not be afraid to call that out for the sake of more equitable opportunities in the future.
Rapid Fire Shoutouts
As I wrap up this ReCap as concisely as possible (who wants to read a novel anyway?), I would be remiss to not give some rapid fire shoutouts to those who contributed to my own experiences in this conference.
(This list is in no particular order and please don’t hate me if I left your contribution out!)
- Fay Horwitt and the entire Forward Cities team for playing the role of Summit host phenomenally well!
- Justin Minnot of Provident 1898 - a Black-centric co-working community located in the historic NC Mutual Life building - for providing such a lively and humorous welcome to the city of Durham!
- Ashley Ray for being a marketing superstar (and providing most of the photos included in this post)!
- Edgar Villanueva for creating the conditions for one of the most thought-provoking sessions of the Summit - based on his book Decolonizing Wealth
- Cecilia Wessinger for stepping in and leading a vibrant discussion on building dynamic university ecosystems!
- The E3 Durham team for winning a prestigious SBA Community Navigator grant and building out a “Hub-and-Spoke” model that can plug in any entrepreneur to their ecosystem!
- Ariel Powell who shared how she used the E3 Scorecard to do a case study on equitable entrepreneurship across three cities - Atlanta, Detroit, and Durham - for her MBA at Duke!
- Florida High Tech Corridor for coming through SCN with nearly a dozen people in tow! Their presence was a huge part of this Summit.
- Philip Gaskin & Andy Stoll of Kauffman Foundation for closing out the Summit with a talk on building inclusive economic prosperity!
- Thom Rhue & Allan Younger from NC IDEA for sharing their organization’s journey towards building a more equitable state-wide ecosystem!
- Brett Brenton of Forward Cities for leading such an actionable session on Strategic Doing (tech issues be damned)!
- Skyler Yost for being a prolific Tweeter at the Summit and winning the SCN #SocialCheerleaderAward !
- Mike Binko for working his tail off to help put on SCN’s largest conference yet despite dealing with family health matters - your presence was felt and appreciated!
- Tom Chapman for sharing a moment of vulnerability with the audience and bringing the Summit to a powerful close!
Where is SCN Headed Next?
Things might get even bigger for SCN’s next summit as it was announced that the Fall 2022 edition will be hosted in the great city of Ft. Worth, TX!
Ft. Worth had a sizable delegation at this year’s summit, including members of the HSC Sparkyard and just-announced Techstars Accelerator with a focus on Physical Health.
Keep an eye out for dates and an official announcement soon.
Take care and see y’all in Texas.