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Assets: the Building Blocks of Ecosystems

People, resources, organizations, oh my! Learn more about the Assets that make up every ecosystem

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Part 1: What are Assets?

Ecosystems are made up of different "things", including People, Organizations, Resources, Opportunities, and Activities. These "things" are called Assets, and they are the building blocks of every ecosystem

Lumping everything that could exist within an ecosystem under the term "Asset" may seem counterintuitive - after all, there are meaningful differences between human people, giant corporations, and... news articles. But if you think of an Ecosystem as a network graph, it makes more sense: assets are the nodes of the graph - they exist within the ecosystem and are connected to eachother through relationships, which form the edges.

The formal definition of Asset is a "useful or valuable thing", which accurately describes the different types of assets within any given ecosystem: ecosystems are inherently made up of a network of people, who form organizations, who offer resources, create opportunities, and generate activity.

Importantly, "Assets" refer to the real-world instances of these categories. For example, here are some examples of Assets in Baltimore's Tech Ecosystem: 

  • Organizations - Upsurge Baltimore (an Ecosystem Building Org), EcoMap Technologies (a high-growth venture)
  • People - Sherrod Davis, COO of EcoMap Tech. Brand Scott, Mayor of Baltimore
  • Resources - Accelerator Baltimore (a program), the Congress Hotel (a building), the BMore Tech Connect (an online platform)
  • Opportunities - Engineer at EcoMap (a Job), RFP for a new Telecom System (a proposal) 
  • Activities - Baltimore Together (an Initiative), Equitech Tuesday (an event),'s RealList article (news) 

Based on this example, you may have noticed three things:

  1. Every ecosystem is full of assets - in tiny ecosystems, dozens - in city-wide ecosystems, hundreds of thousands or more
  2. Not all assets are created equal - organizations are infinitely more influential and complex than news articles
  3. There are different categories of assets - indeed, every asset has a category, type, subtype, and a bunch of attributes

"Assets" are a sweeping description of many things - so how do we define them? Let's dive in.

Part 2:  Defining Assets

Assets might be the building blocks of ecosystems, but not all assets are created equal. How do we define them?

If you have ever tried to do Ecosystem Mapping, you likely ran into the "categorization problem". You, know...

  • Is this an incubator or an accelerator? What is the difference?
  • Should this be listed as a Startup or a Service Provider?
  • Should we use "Clean Energy" or "Renewables" as the industry? Are they nested?

And on, and on, and on. One of the reasons that Ecosystem Mapping is so hard is because it is incredibly difficult to come up with a system of labels to describe everything within an ecosystem. We do this for a living, and it took nearly four years and hiring a linguist to create EcoMap's Data Paradigm, the classification system we use to tag all of the data we collect for our customers.

Even though a giant corporation and a news article are both assets, they are obviously very different. This difference is captured by the two main categories of Assets - Primary Assets and Secondary Assets

Primary Assets represent the core "things" in an ecosystem, namely People and Organizations: 

  • Organizations - the incorporated entities or defined but unincorporated groups that make up an ecosystem
  • People - the individuals who exist in the ecosystems, who may be a part of an organization, oversee a resource, etc

Primary Assets tend to be persistent (they last a long time), categorizable (you can bucket them into known categories), and influential (their existence has a measurable impact on the composition of an ecosystem.

(And yes - Organizations are made up of People, but thanks to centuries of commerce, they exist and persist separately from the people that form them at any given time) 

Secondary Assets only exist through the actions of, or interactions between, Primary Assets. Secondary Assets tend to be transient (their importance is time-bound), smaller, and generally less influential to the ecosystem.

  • Resources - describe fiscal resources, places, programs, goods & services, and information resources in an ecosystem
  • Opportunities - describes opportunities for involvement or integration in an ecosystem
  • Activity - describe what is happening within the ecosystem

Even if these categories seem unfamiliar, you are likely familiar with them. When you map your ecosystem, you first identify the "Key Players" in the ecosystem, or the People and Organizations. Then, you might gather more detailed information about what they do - the programs they offer, the jobs they have, what they are up to - AKA, the Resources, Opportunities, and Activity related to them.

If you are super interested in how Assets are categorized, read section 3. If not, skip to Section 4: Why Assets Matter.

Part 3: Categorizing Assets (Warning: Nerdy)

When we started EcoMap, the first thing we did was define a set list of "Keywords" that we were going to use to tag all of the data about Baltimore's Business Ecosystem. This Keyword set was about 100 values long. As we have expanded across the world, this list of Keywords has become a full-blown data paradigm, with thousands of values.

This paradigm allows us to tag all data that EcoMap curates in a standardized way, which not only allows our customers to understand how their ecosystem breaks down, but also enables people to filter on our platforms - when you search for "Funding" for "Growth Startups" with "Black Founders", you are seeing this data paradigm in action.

The details of our Asset Typology are proprietary, but we'll share a broad overview of how it works. Our Asset Typology has "layers" of classification, each increasingly more specific:

  1. Asset Categories - Primary Assets & Secondary Assets
  2. Asset Types - People, Organizations, Resources, Opportunities, and Activities
  3. Asset Subtypes - for example, Activity subtypes: Events, Initiatives, News
  4. Asset Attributes - the industry, audience, location, and other focus attributes of the asset

Each layer leads to either a single or multiple values in the next layer - for example, Primary Assets include People and Organizations.The chart below shows our asset Categories and Types, but only includes some Subtypes for one Type of asset, and then even fewer Attributes. In reality, there are thousands of values at the Subtype and Attribute level. Plus. at the Attribute level, there are even more layers of classification - each group of Keywords has a type - including General Keywords (like Free or Virtual), Industries (Technology, or Artificial Intelligence), Audience, Location, and more.

Every single Asset can be defined by some combination of these different classifications. For example, EcoMap Technologies would be: 

  • Category: Primary Asset
  • Type: Organization
  • Subtype: Venture
  • Keywords: Industries [Data, Machine Learning, Economic Development], Ownership [Woman Owned, Black Owned] ...

There are dozens more Keywords, but you get the idea. For something that took us four years, we tried to keep this section short, but if you want to learn more you can always setup a call us and we're happy to dive deeper

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Part 4: Why Assets Matter

Why it's worth taking the time to understand the Assets of Ecosystems

Because ecosystems are all around us and they are made of assets, assets matter because you can't  avoid them. Even you, dear reader, are a cherished asset within the ecosystems you exist in. In this way, most of us are already familiar with these assets and their categories, even if we don't use the same words - we know our coworkers are people, we work for organizations, our organizations may offer programs, and on and on.

Being honest, it's not important that you understand the theoretical underpinning of assets (that's our job) - what matters is that you understand the assets in your ecosystems. When you are trying to understand the complex networks that make up your tech hub, or small business community, or industry association, it helps to have language to describe what these ecosystems are made of: assets.

In short, Assets help us understand what exists, and who is doing what, within our ecosystems.

This is why Ecosystem Mapping is mostly about identifying the different assets and what they do. Once we have this information, we have an idea of the "landscape" that we are operating in. Understanding the assets in our ecosystem also allows us to identify overlaps and gaps, which is crucial for ecosystem building.

But to truly understand the ecosystem, we have to go one step further - we have to understand the relationships that connect these assets.

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