Inspired Ecosystem Building

Celebrating the Unsung Change Makers of Entrepreneurial Support Organizations


By: Jenn Laird

Manager, Eastern Region

Entrepreneurial ecosystem building is no easy task, yet day in and day out, Entrepreneurial Support Organization (ESO) partners lead the way toward creating inclusive and equitable access to resources for businesses at all stages. ESOs are the trusted, local connection point for entrepreneurs – the on-the-ground experts for individuals looking to start or grow their businesses. Yet, they are often underfunded and undervalued. Despite these hurdles, I have never witnessed a single sign of fatigue or regret for their tireless work. Instead, our ESO partners dive profoundly and intentionally into the challenging issues entrepreneurs encounter, seeking solutions with passion and unwavering dedication.

ESOs are often the first point of contact for entrepreneurs in a community, listening to those with a dream and an entrepreneurial mindset, working to support those just beginning to explore the idea of owning their own business, and assisting those ready for growth and expansion. NetWork Kansas is incredibly fortunate to partner with hundreds of these dedicated organizations on our shared journey toward cultivating entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural and urban communities.

The role of these local partners is critical to the sustainability and vitality of economic and community development and vital to NetWork Kansas’ holistic entrepreneurship development approach. Through the efforts of ESOs, entrepreneurs are introduced to capital investment opportunities, supported with technical assistance, and connected to statewide resource networks. These incredible partners are also necessary pipelines for the flow of opportunities NetWork Kansas offers, ensuring they reach the under-resourced entrepreneurs it is our mission to serve.

I am impressed by the way our partners turn an entrepreneurial mindset to their work. ESOs listen with open minds and thoughtful hearts to the challenges and barriers within their ecosystem and create authentic, impactful solutions, including developing educational programming, creating community-minded connections, and designing technical support to meet individualized needs. Turning problems into opportunities is what these entrepreneurial organization partners do best.

Although significant, working closely with me as the coach in the northeastern region of Kansas is only part of an ESO’s commitment. In addition to being actively engaged with NetWork Kansas, these partners lead their own initiatives, manage complex and multi-level programs, volunteer throughout their ecosystems, and consistently seek to bridge gaps within their communities.

One of the most rewarding benefits of my role with NetWork Kansas is celebrating and empowering the work of these partners. ESOs are instrumental change makers at the heart and soul of our ecosystem-building efforts.

If I could give Inspired Ecosystem Building awards to these incredibly deserving partners, the categories would be:

  • Dedicated to holistic support
  • Creating authentic opportunities for entrepreneurs
  • Collaborating to accomplish meaningful change
  • Giving from a place of cultural competency
  • Heartfelt dedication
  • Celebrating and honoring local entrepreneurs

I am endlessly awed by ESO partners who move ahead, against any odds, to find points of connection and collaboration and create generational change in their communities by cultivating entrepreneurship.

All the entrepreneurial support organization partners I work with would be an awardee!

Now that the accolades are presented … I think it is important to end each conversation with an actionable takeaway, so here is mine.

I envision a time not far from now when:

Every ESO feels valued.


Every funder with a common interest in supporting inclusive ecosystem building allocates specific resources to support our invaluable ESOs.

As increased capital investment opportunities become available, I believe we must search for balanced capacity-building funding for our ESO partners on the ground.

Thank you to every one of our partners. You are valued beyond measure.


About NetWork Kansas:
NetWork Kansas was established as a component of the Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004 to further entrepreneurship and small business growth as a priority for economic and community development in the State of Kansas. Backed by more than 500 partners statewide, the NetWork Kansas service promotes an entrepreneurial environment by connecting entrepreneurs and small business owners with the expertise, education and economic resources they need in order to succeed.

NetWork Kansas facilitates the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem within participating communities through the E-Community Partnership. Contributing factors to successful development include availability of financial capital, support by local leadership and development of educational resources. All of these factors combine to increase entrepreneurial activity in participating towns, leading to increased startup activity, business expansion, job creation and more.
For more information about the Entrepreneurship (E-) Community Partnership, visit or call 877.521.8600.



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