Some of you are “swing for the fences” types. Others are more “crawl-walk-run” types. When it comes to accelerating your entrepreneurial ecosystem, is one strategy better than the other? Are you and your peers struggling to develop a coherent and consistent strategy? Is it a small steps vs big steps challenge?

It is a must that the leaders of the ecosystem rally around a consistent approach to ecosystem building. Remember that your users/customers are entrepreneurs who are already stressed, and your whiplash inconsistencies create additional stress on them.

What is a “swing for the fences” strategy? This is where you identify one big program with hope that you will drive significant change. The effort utilizes a majority of the available funds AND leaders’ time. A few examples I have observed are:

  • A large innovation space or building to house current and future founders and startups
  • A relatively decent sized venture fund ($ amount in context to the region)
  • A regional marketing campaign.

In comparison, the “crawl-walk-run” strategy is where you execute a number of smaller programs (maybe 3-5) that each in itself are interesting but none have the weight of the entire region. This strategy is more of a slow and steady, gradual progression. Leadership is more of a divide and conquer where trust is applied among these leaders.

Back to the question at hand – which strategy is best? Both strategies have their merits and potential drawbacks. I think the answer is it all depends on the current maturity of your ecosystem. Lets break down the two strategies for nascent & developing ecosystems and emerging & leading ecosystems.

For nascent & developing ecosystems:

  • “Swing For the Fences:
    • Pro: Your activity has a chance of really moving the needle hoping for a significant breakthrough or success. This can lead to rapid growth and high returns if successful.
    • Con: The major drawback is the high level of risk. If the program fails, it could result in negative backlash from the community. It’s also possible that this approach will overlook smaller, yet promising, program opportunities.
  • “Crawl-Walk-Run” Strategy:
    • Pro: This approach spreads the risk across a number of programs. It also helps build a cross-community foundation. It also gives space for learning and iteration, which can be crucial in the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship.
    • Con: The primary downside is that it is all about slower growth. This strategy is not sexy to those needing to showcase activity.

For emerging & leading ecosystems:

  • “Swing For the Fences:
    • Pro: You have a solid foundation in place and in Adam Grant parlance, the flywheel works itself. You almost have nothing to lose.
    • Con: The program utilizes a lot of leadership time and funds and this could distract from already positive programs in place.
  • “Crawl-Walk-Run” Strategy:
    • Pro: Things are working so why screw it up? Use the same mindset for new programs but balance these across your goals. Keep on keepin’ on.
    • Con: You miss out on attaching a potential rocket booster to your ecosystem. You put the foundational work in, now let’s swing big. Stop operating out of fear.

In my recent book, Build The Fort – The Startup Community Builders Field Guide, I outline the 4 levels of maturity for ecosystems. With that knowledge and understanding in hand, you can then best determine the best strategy.

Lastly – a reminder that ecosystems evolve over time. A strategy that works well in one phase of an ecosystem’s development might not be as effective in another phase. Continuous assessment and adaptation are key to maintaining a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.