Better Together: I used to hate this word

A bi-weekly column exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship and community by Sam Davidson

When the idea for what is now Nashville Entrepreneur Center first surfaced, the entrepreneurial ecosystem was small in Nashville. The very inspiration for our organization was the fact that entrepreneurs didn’t have a dedicated resource or place to go to get help when starting their companies. Nashville had several resources to support small, medium and large businesses, but not much to offer new ones.

Thus, the EC was born. 

Now, nearly 13 years later, the ecosystem is much richer. It is so dense, in fact, we’ve had to map it. We’re working to keep that map updated and easier to navigate, but this is a start. And it’s all of us in the ecosystem that combine in the work to make Nashville the most entrepreneurial city in America. 

Quick confession: for a while I refused to call it an “ecosystem”. This was in my pre-EC days. From my vantage point then, the word “ecosystem” was cold, belonging in the pages of a high school biology textbook, not something to describe what I knew to be a vibrant, dynamic, welcoming community.

Secretly, I thought I’d get rid of the word once I got the job at the EC. “Give it time,” I thought. “Soon we’ll forbid that word and find something to replace it.”

Old habits die hard and best laid plans die harder. So here I am, CEO of the EC, writing an entire column about our awesome and wonderful ecosystem. 

Ecosystems are one thing to outsiders and another to insiders. Having gotten a deep look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem over 14 weeks, I’m proud to say it’s big and getting bigger, rich and getting richer, and helpful and getting helpful-er.

Case in point: our team went on a tour of the Wond’ry last week. For those unaware, the Wond’ry is a juggernaut when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, sitting in the middle of Vanderbilt’s campus. That location and its resources — along with public and private partnerships aplenty — make it a critical resource for so many dreamers and doers.

Built to serve entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ambitions of any local college student or graduate, the Wond’ry offers maker space, educational events, access to mentors, and more. Combined with a passionate and generous staff, eligible entrepreneurs don’t just grow there, but thrive. 

What struck me most about our visit was learning about how fast The Wond’ry has grown doing all that they do. With programs and possibilities galore, Nashville Entrepreneur Center is better because of The Wond’ry. (Check out their next cohort for their Climate Innovation Accelerator, a first-of-its-kind initiative that engages minority-led small businesses, and nonprofits to advance Nashville’s goals toward a climate positive future.)

In great ecosystems, individual members don’t take slices of others’ pies. In fact, great ecosystems grow the pie itself so all member’s slices get bigger as a result.

Then the real magic happens. When there is no misunderstanding about an ecosystem between outsiders and insiders. Because the best ecosystems make outsiders insiders.

Partners welcome. Better together.

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