Innovation ecosystems benefit more from inclusivity and diversity

Caroline Simmons, the Mayor of Stamford City (left) with Kizito Okechukwu, the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa, at the Stamford Government Centre in Stamford, Connecticut, US.

Jonathan Ortmans, the president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), said in the recently published 2023 Global Start-up Ecosystem Report (GSER) that “Innovation ecosystems benefit from wide engagement by the most diverse array of communities. In fact, world-changing ideas emerge faster when we acknowledge unconscious bias and meaningfully engage people with unique experiences and histories”.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit six ecosystems in the United States. These included Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Stamford, Boston and Atlanta.

The one thing that really impressed me was the diversity in the various start-ups, funders, policymakers and even support organisations that were present in these engagements. Their various models on how they support start-ups are also evident from the diversity, which one believes has been leveraged by the inclusive nature of these ecosystems. Innovation ecosystems have been known to drive digitalisation, transformation and value creation in the various areas that they operate.

So what makes top ecosystems in the world? According to the 2023 Global Start-up Ecosystem Report, which is published annually by GEN and Start-up Genome, it is basically their performance (exits, ecosystem value and start-up success), availability of funding for start-ups, it’s connectedness, market reach, knowledge and talent/experience.

The North American ecosystem has remained the leader in the start-up ecosystem because of these metrics. Their ability to drive innovation, development and commercialisation of various products and services sets them apart from many other ecosystems. Their multi-stakeholder ‘build and back’ approach makes it easier for start-ups to start and scale and, more especially, believe that they are backed by the best in the world.

The United Nations World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) scores countries annually on how innovative their economies are with the Global Innovation Index. The metrics used to score countries include research and development spend, general market strength, patent systems and output and local labour capital.

Start-up ecosystems such as Boston, Stamford and New York are evidently investing heavily in these areas and have capacitated their ecosystems with the skills needed to ensure that it’s easier for start-ups to start and scale.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Caroline Simmons from Stamford during my visit to the US, and she shared how they are now working hard to develop what they call the Innovation Corridor in Stamford, where they are also hoping to launch a Fintech fund to support local start-ups in Stamford while working with their local University of Connecticut. Stamford is the economic engine of the state of Connecticut. About 3% of Fortune 500 companies reside there.

The reality is that more and more start-ups and large corporates are looking at ecosystems that are diverse and inclusive, with the right talent, market reach and strength to be able to service their customers and ensure success for their business. Many of the ecosystems that I visited evidently showed these metrics and values.

As we work on building innovative ecosystems in Africa, we should figure out how to ensure that we keep our start-ups on the continent. And the answer is quite simple. We build innovative ecosystems that have all the right metrics to make them thrive. The Stamford/Connecticut and Boston ecosystems clearly showed this, and we can learn a great deal from them.

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