EntreFEST 2018’s opening keynote is still fresh in attendees’ minds after keynote speaker Victor Hwang, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, laid the foundation for attendees to explore building local economies by ecosystem instead of building individual-by-individual. 

It seemed fitting for Hwang to commence the conference on the topic of ecosystems in Cedar Rapids, which is hosting the event for the first time after EntreFEST spent several years in its Iowa City hometown. After all, Cedar Rapids’ downtown economy was rattled by the 2008 floods. 

Residents and businesses spent the last 10 years recovering, rebuilding and rebranding both essential structures — including the Central Fire Station, utilities and school buildings — and residences, private business and cultural centers. The city has renovated icons including the National Czech and Slovak Museum and planted new landmarks, including EntreFEST co-producer New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, along the downtown district.

“People here have such a passion for the community, such a passion for building the entrepreneurial ecosystem and welcoming people into that ecosystem to contribute, and participate,” Hwang said. 

It’s a practical model of economy-building done by ecosystem, as Hwang pitched in his keynote. 
Nationally, the Kauffman Foundation has found the rate of entrepreneurship has dropped by half in the last 40 years, and there’s no one reason for that drop, Hwang said. 

“Ecosystem development is a new type of development. It’s a new type of approach to transform your economy, and it’s one that comes from the bottom up,” Hwang said. 

It’s a model that requires patience — 10 to 20 years of patience and development, he added, as communities strengthen relationships, lift entrepreneurs to the spotlight and build on the community’s own unique strengths. 

Now that Cedar Rapids has hit year 10 post-flood, imagine what could happen in year 20.