What is ecosystem development?

August 27, 2021

Written By: Mitch Nachtigall

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Hi.  I’m Mitch. I’m the Ecosystem Development Director for Elevate Rapid City. You might have noticed if you look real close at the front couple pages of this magazine that my title changed a few months ago. If you did notice, you are likely my Mom. (Hi Mom.)  For the rest of you that didn’t notice (because why would you if you weren’t my Mom?), my previous title was Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director for Elevate Rapid City. 

When I would introduce myself with that title I would often get the question, “How do you direct innovation and entrepreneurship?”. To be honest, it was a fair question. You can’t direct innovation or entrepreneurship. 

So what I realized is that, while my job is to make those two things happen for our community, all I can actually control is the conditions that innovation and entrepreneurship best grow. Just like how you don’t actually make the tomatoes in your garden grow (unless you’re my Mom), you control the conditions that tomatoes best grow in. You give them sun, but not too much sun.  You give them water, but not too much water. You give them…(where was I going here? Oh yeah, conditions!). 

In order for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish, the conditions have to be just right. An entrepreneur has to have funding, but not too much funding (I’m serious…more on that another time though). An entrepreneur has to have a decent business plan that continues to develop over time. That business plan has to outline the MVP (minimum viable product or service). That minimum viable product has to have a go-to-market strategy. 

What does any of that mean? (I was hoping you knew actually.)  It means you have to have something someone will pay you to make or do and a way to get that something to where that someone will see it.  I have to go on a tangent here real quick (this will probably get edited out).  If someone isn’t willing to pay you for the product you make or the service you provide….you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. Anyway, so I set out to change the title and adjust the focus a little bit. 

The term “ecosystem builder” or “ecosystem developer” has started to take hold in economic development organizations around the world and I like it.  The idea of taking the ecosystem concept of something in nature like a rainforest and laying it over an economic development organization is really powerful.  It changes the mindset.   

Elevate is on a quest to develop an ecosystem that has the perfect conditions to grow innovation and entrepreneurship. I believe a very important piece is to map out our existing ecosystem.  There’s some cool versions of this in other communities where they’ve drawn a subway map to show the route a person could take to start and grow a business. 

Starting a business or disrupting an industry is difficult, really difficult. It shouldn’t be made harder because you didn’t know the right people to talk to at the right time. I don’t know where I first heard it, but I’ll steal the saying that South Dakota is a small town. We’re all closely connected here in the Black Hills and across the state for the most part. There’s great resources here in the Black Hills and across the state that go unused in many cases. There’s no reason that anyone looking for them should slip through the cracks. It’s worth repeating.  Starting a business is difficult. You have to have a great idea and other people have to want to pay you for that great idea. You have to work extremely hard.  You have to have the time and resources to be able to do that work. Even with all those pieces in place, statistics show that your business will still probably fail (No offense. It’s just math.).  

Now, all the critics will rightly say that if I was such an expert in starting a business that I would have one. That is true. I am no expert. I know where the experts work though. Our ecosystem is far from complete for this community and it likely never will be. It’s better than you might think though. Come take a look. 

mitch.nachtigall@elevaterapidcity.com // 605.716.0002