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Co-Creating an Ecosystem

Tom Tom Panel 2.jpg

Ideas, money, a place to do business, and mentors: in a nutshell, that's an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Albemarle County Economic Development Director Roger Johnson shared that definition during the Tom Tom Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Conference on Friday, April 12, 2019, as part of a panel discussion on "Co-Creating an Ecosystem: University-Community Partnerships."

Johnson went on to say, "Data show that innovation and entrepreneurship are the best way to grow the economy. Most new jobs come from startups."

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce President Elizabeth Cromwell was a fellow panelist, along with Adam Klein of Capitol Broadcasting + American Underground and Ted Morris of East Carolina University.

One of the crucial ingredients to a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem, panelists agreed, is educational support for local students.

Cromwell noted that in Frederick County, MD, where she previously was Chamber president, educational attainment was not preparing local students to work in the biotech labs of major regional employers like Fort Detrick and the National Cancer Institute. A coalition of local organizations – including the Frederick Chamber and Hood College – committed to engaging students from middle school onward, acclimating them to the requirements of a career in life sciences.

Following the lead of college-aged entrepreneurs was another common theme of the discussion. Klein said his organization, a Durham-based startup hub with more than 275 current members, has seen the most progress in their mission through direct contact with university students and their cutting-edge projects.

Morris agreed, saying he's found that "customer pressure" from students is the most effective way to produce a more entrepreneurial-minded culture among university administrators and faculty.

The wide-ranging conversation was moderated by Sean Carr, Executive Director of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.