Ecosystem Building Toolkit—Your Input Sought


The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and Venn Collaborative are partnering on the development of a toolkit for higher education engagement in entrepreneurial ecosystem building. This project is supported by the Kauffman Foundation.

Join our virtual focus groups! Whether you are:

  • someone working at a college or university on entrepreneurial ecosystem building and economic development,
  • you are at another type of organization engaged in entrepreneurship and ecosystems, OR 
  • you are an entrepreneur

…we would like to hear your ideas and insights about how colleges and universities can best contribute to entrepreneurship and equitable economic development ecosystems! And please help us spread the word by forwarding this message to others in your network that meet these qualifications.

During the week of January 9–13, 2023, we will be conducting 45-minute virtual focus groups (via Zoom), gathering input on five key questions. The focus groups will be held twice each day, and each day we’ll explore a different question.

Below are two links, each providing access to the larger five-session series.

Please sign up, and add any of the sessions that work with your schedule. Please note: You don’t need to attend the sessions for all five questions! Attend only those that your schedule allows. 


Monday, January 9, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST

What experiences or observations do you have—good and bad— about current participation by colleges and universities in entrepreneurial ecosystems?

Click here to register for the 1 p.m. session.

Click here to register for the 4 p.m. session.

Tuesday, January 10, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST

What are the drivers, assets, and opportunities for college or university participation in entrepreneurial ecosystems—that is, what things support such participation?

Wednesday, January 11, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST

What are the barriers to participation by colleges and universities in entrepreneurial ecosystems—that is, what challenges arise for institutions or their ecosystem partners?

Thursday, January 12, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST

What are the key roles that colleges and universities can and should play in entrepreneurship ecosystems or to encourage entrepreneurship more broadly?

Friday, January 13, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST

What tools do higher education institutions and their entrepreneurship ecosystem partners require for higher education participation to be most effective?

Following registration, you will send receive further information about the toolkit in development. Please see the current project description below, as well as some additional background information.

Toolkit project description:

Thank you for your interest in helping us to build this toolkit! Your perspectives will play a valuable role in shaping a resource that benefits the entire field. We’ll look forward to seeing you at one or more of our virtual focus groups. Meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the following contacts if you have questions.

Rebecca Corbin, Ed. D., NACCE

Jeff Sachse, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Jim Woodell, Venn Collaborative

Arthur Smith, Venn Collaborative


The Higher Education and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Toolkit

Supported by:

The Kauffman Foundation

Dissemination Partners:

Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) and the University Economic Development Association (UEDA)

Project Abstract:

The goal of this project is to provide the higher education sector and its partners with resources and strategies that support entrepreneurship-based economic development and to do so in a toolkit that helps all partners create a culture of linkages in ecosystems, work together effectively, and build thriving communities. The Foundation’s funding will support a three-stage process of discovery, design and dissemination.

During the discovery stage, we will engage thought leaders and practitioners from a diverse array of organizations to hear firsthand about the roles within and practices of higher education institutions in entrepreneurial and economic development ecosystems.

This will be done primarily via focus group discussions at the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), University Economic Development Association (UEDA), and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) meetings, but will be supplemented by additional interviews, surveys, and a literature review. Results from the discovery stage will be shaped into the toolkit during the design stage, with iterative review and testing by an advisory board and through an in-person design workshop with stakeholders. The final toolkit will be produced based on this input. During the dissemination stage, this toolkit will be marketed and distributed by the project leads and partners, including UEDA and APLU, as well as groups representing other sectors of higher education, with incentives to implement the toolkit during national meetings through webinars and other communication channels, and via online professional development offerings.


About the Project Leaders:

This proposal brings together two organizations with national expertise and a commitment to university ecosystem development. 

The University of Wisconsin Center for Customized Research and Services, directed by Jeffrey Sachse, PI on this proposal, is ideally suited to lead this effort. This Center is dedicated to driving regional economic development by successfully linking university resources in talent, intelligence and innovation to entrepreneurs, businesses, and organizations. The Center has also fostered two entrepreneurial accelerator programs and enjoys a strong relationship with the Alta Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and gener8tor. Mr. Sachse, a former labor economist and consultant, has significant economic development experience and serves on the board of the University Economic Development Association (UEDA). His associate Elizabeth Hartman, J.D. has raised two angel funds and is counsel for the Angels on the Water Fund. 

As CO-PI, Dr. Jim Woodell, founder, principal, and CEO of Venn Collaborative brings field leadership in the development of frameworks for university economic development, as well as deep experience that comes from conceptualizing and launching the university Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation and awards program, which Dr. Woodell created during his tenure as vice president for economic development and community engagement at the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). He is a nationally-recognized expert in university-based economic and community development. Arthur R. Smith, executive producer for Venn Collaborative, is a digital media expert who has led the creation of many large-scale digital toolkits and related resources for partners, including the U.S. Department of Education, the Harvard Medical School, and the National Science Foundation.

Collectively, this team will convene diverse national voices on entrepreneurial ecosystems in the higher education context, listen and synthesize effectively, and bring promising practices to a large audience through expert media production.