Guest column: Synergetic glue

The value of consistency in entrepreneurial ecosystems

Submitted by Ben McDougal, ecosystem builder, Techstars Iowa; Midwest regional representative, 1 Million Cups

Consistency requires sacrifice, but such generosity builds trust, and over time it helps connect a more diversified, engaged and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Force is needed to move anything at rest. When it comes to building community (or a business), intellectual, human, financial, network, cultural, physical and institutional capital can collectively leverage the resources needed to start almost anything. As the energy of anything new starts to fade, the challenge soon becomes melting momentum. This reminds us that just as much force is required to maintain a consistent cadence.

Consistency is a superpower that acts like glue. After valuable initiative sparks early action, consistency helps synergistically connect everything within an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Such generosity requires sacrifice, but the reward for passionate people who care, through a positive-sum mindset and long-term commitment, is work that feels more like play.

Similar to most things worth doing, if it were easy, everyone would do it. The fear of change, life’s existing responsibilities, and a self-limiting sense of scarcity are common barriers. Fortunately, Iowa welcomes heretics willing to make a ruckus. We appreciate leaders who stay energized by accelerating others through the support, connection and education of more students, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and community builders ready to lead.

When communities are confident enough to fuel positive change in this way, long-term intentionality, curiosity and intellectual humility combine to create an inclusive environment that allows everyone to do more with less in our connected era.

For example, consider how 1 Million Cups, which is a weekly program caffeinated by the Kauffman Foundation, has helped connect Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Cedar Valley and Ames the past 10 years. Such long-standing consistency fuses a bond that has united the statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem, while offering a friendly front porch into each local startup community. Along with innovative energy shots every Wednesday morning, awareness is created for all the other remarkable things happening throughout the community.

This fuels engagement for monthly events like TechBrew and web3dsm, occasional events like Startup Weekend and accelerator demo days, new events like the Iowa Angel Investor Summit or the InnoVenture Iowa Challenge, and one-time events like launch parties for a new business.

This comprehensive consistency keeps everyone in tune, which peaks at annual pilgrimages like EntreFEST, the Small Business Success Summit, Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit, Prometheus Awards, and so much more. It’s like each initiative plays its own note within a song.

As the soul of different songs form a melody, rhythm is formed and the harmony of everyone making music together synthesizes into a symphony that welcomes all to plug in.

As we continue jamming on the values of consistency, one misconception is that something constant must remain the same. A stubbornness to evolve often emerges from a misguided sense of ownership. Such a deteriorating desire for control adds polarizing friction into complex adaptive systems. Over time, this becomes restrictive, less collaborative, and limits positive impact. Instead of holding on to what’s worked in the past, tap into a sense of abundance. Listen to those you seek to serve and be bold enough to let others lead. This celebrates our past, optimizes the present and allows things that work to remain consistent with renewed momentum.

Extra Shot
People don’t want authenticity. We want consistency. We’re often encouraged to be authentic, but perhaps that’s because it’s the easiest way to remain consistent.

Even when things don’t go as planned, stay persistent and remember why you started. Keeping an eye on your personal bandwidth, staying curious, allowing others to lead, accelerating others and quitting the right things at the right time are a few ways to remain consistent. A tactic to support these activities is to write yourself accountability letters. Craft a personal, honest letter to outline those you seek to serve, necessary habits, related goals, potential partners, realistic timelines, potential pivots and sequenced action you plan to take. Return to this relic as you continue building and appreciate that we either succeed or learn.

As we hear “last call” from the bar, I want to close with gratitude. Thank you to leaders who show initiative and cheers to the wonderfully weird who are consistent but also fuel positive change with a willingness to think again. Together, let’s keep building with a holistic, inclusive, fun, positive-sum, systematic and long-term mindset to help our statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem continue to thrive as one.

About the author
Ben McDougal is the author of “You Don’t Need This Book: Entrepreneurship in the Connected Era” and writes a weekly newsletter called Roasted Reflections. Based in Des Moines, he is also the Midwest regional rep for 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder for Techstars, and a founder of five startups. Stay tuned for more contributions from @BENovator and enjoy more caffeinated conversations at