With a background in the United Nations International Labour Organization – the ILO – Dr. Jasna Pocek is a skilled analyst with years of experience assisting states, business, and workers in building sustainable labor markets through institutional reform processes. Now a postdoctoral fellow at Sten K. Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship at Lund University, Pocek brings her previous knowledge and skills into her current research, making her an expert in the interplay, interconnectivity, and influence of labor markets. At the Sten K. Johson Center for Entrepreneurship, she focuses her efforts on entrepreneurial ecosystems and the role formal and informal institutions play in these. At xPlot, we are thrilled to take part of her expertise and to share it with you.
In this interview, Dr. Jasna Pocek takes us through the intricacies of the entrepreneurship ecosystem while disentangling the overpowering praise for the single entrepreneur, their great idea, and the buzz of entrepreneurship havens like Silicon Valley. Let’s dive into it!
What brought you to research entrepreneurship ecosystems?
Studying entrepreneurship can really be seen as an extension of the work I was doing at the ILO. Labor markets everywhere are also about understanding context – and they’re often more intricate and complex than people think. The same idea applies to entrepreneurship, which intersects and relates to the labor market in more than one instance. I think we often fall into a neoliberal conception that entrepreneurship is a venture stemming from the idea of a single person, but it is important to understand that successful ventures often thrive thanks to the joint effort of several different individuals and economic actors.
Entrepreneurship happens in many different places and situations; and in different ways depending on context. Context is really interesting because it impacts the behavior and interactions of entrepreneurs and their surrounding. To understand how the ecosystem of entrepreneurship works, we need to investigate the culture, laws and regulation – the so-called institutions – in order to understand how these components influence how entrepreneurial ventures will behave.
Why do we still have this neoliberal conception of the singular great person that often gets recognized out-of-context?
Unfortunately, there’s this myth that individualism and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand and we often forget that entrepreneurship is really also a collective effort. Entrepreneurs need help and resources from several different actors that are collaborating rather than competing. This includes fostering environments in which human capital and support for smaller ventures can thrive. All of this is part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem; and the more interconnected the actors in this ecosystem are, the better the ecosystem is, meaning an environment for innovation and entrepreneurial growth can truly flourish.
Lund poses as a great example here. Because of the university, Lund has very valuable human capital which everyone in the Lund entrepreneurship ecosystem can make use of. Similarly, there is also a very supporting environment here – entrepreneurship is encouraged through the university, but also through incubators like Ideon and Minc. Many places don’t have that, so it’s really something to take pride in and make use of.
Is there any way we can uplift and bring awareness to entrepreneurship as an interconnected constellation?
Interconnection is one of the most important aspects for the ecosystem, i.e. where entrepreneurship is happening. Again, Lund is doing a great job here. Lund University puts a lot of effort into investigating the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lund; to understand the dynamics, the challenges, what can be improved, and so forth. Through research, we can really shed light on the current limitations of different entrepreneurship ecosystems and thus understand how we can make them better.
We also need to make sure to adopt a systemic view of entrepreneurship, meaning we investigate the role that different actors play in shaping the entrepreneurship ecosystem as a whole.
Can you elaborate a bit more on this systemic view?
There is quite a lot of recent research that has been conducted on entrepreneurship; as researchers, we build upon tried-and-tested models to study and understand the ecosystems. There are many valuable studies of entrepreneurship ecosystems with interesting models. The most frequently used – and often applied in policy as well – was introduced by Daniel Isenberg, professor at Babson College, in 2011. Isenberg developed a model with the six pillars of entrepreneurship ecosystems: policy, finance, culture, support, human capital, and markets. An entrepreneurship ecosystem can be analyzed through the lenses of one of these six pillars, as well as in their interaction with each other.
What do these pillars look like in concrete terms?
For example, the support pillar in an ecosystem may consist of business incubators, which are very important in the entrepreneurial process. However, incubators alone are not able to provide the full support needed by entrepreneurs; they also need the remaining five pillars to thrive (policy, finance, culture, human capital, and access to markets). As such, incubators may collaborate with different organizations, such as public-private partnerships, investors, universities, and technology transfer offices, to ensure quick dispersion of resources to those who need it, i.e. the entrepreneurs. In this way, the six pillars of an ecosystem are highly interconnected and collaborative.
And this collaborative effort really taints the whole world of entrepreneurship, right?
Yes. When it comes down to it, entrepreneurship really is a social activity, meaning that we need to be part of networks. It is through networks that we acquire resources, knowledge, access to the market, and connect with people; all of which are part of the social activities that are at the core of entrepreneurship. It is very important that we build these networks on high levels of trust in order to unlock their full potential, meaning they will ultimately lead to a better use and dispersion of resources within the ecosystem.
What about different sectors of industry? Does the entrepreneurial ecosystem apply to them equally?
Ideally, yes, but in Lund currently, there is definitely an emphasis on technology and life sciences. For those sectors, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is really great. For others, maybe not as much – at least not now. The creative and cultural industries (CCI) are a really interesting example; because they are very context-dependent, they are a very vulnerable sector. The CCI thrive in their contextual surroundings because they provide inspiration and feedback; if there are poor dynamics surrounding what they want to do, it can be very difficult for them to emerge.
We see this on a policy-level too, where the CCI are often under-emphasized because they often bring more indirect economic value than big industrial players, such as the tech industry. But it’s still economic value, right – but policy makers tend to forget about this. We need to make sure that the CCI are supported on this high-level of policy through organization and representation. creARTive, that xPlot is a part of, is a great example of this. By organizing all the cultural incubators in Sweden, creARTive can represent and negotiate with policy-makers to make the entrepreneurial ecosystems better for creative entrepreneurs.
What role can xPlot play in bettering the conditions for the CCI? How can we form a supporting culture for innovation to thrive?
We need to promote an environment in which the fear of risk is low and in which failure is not a tragedy. We need to promote an environment of flexibility, sharing, and proactiveness. These are things that contribute to forming a supportive environment for entrepreneurship and innovation; and it is exactly what Lars Mattiasson and Katarina Scott are doing.
I met Lars and Katarina when they were out doing The Creative Tour, and I remember admiring how proactive they were and how willing they were to experiment. They knew how to connect people with resources and acted as great intermediaries throughout the process. I just thought it was so great. I think we really need more support for the CCI; and xPlot has every opportunity to provide resources to make the networks stronger and the ecosystem better.
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