What does it mean to be an ‘ecosystem’ anyway?

Olivia Aligned Contributions, Blog, Business, Connecting People and Places, Entrepreneurship

What does it mean to be an ‘ecosystem’ anyway?

The internet is a web. The interstate is an artery. The economy is an ecosystem. For the human brain, explaining complex ideas with analogy and metaphor helps us relate and understand quickly. In the case of the economic metaphor, however, the imagery not only works to explain the complexity of inputs and outputs, it works literally as well.

That is to say, it’s not just a handy association; the economy actually is an ecosystem. It is made up of dependent, interwoven elements. The health or sickness of one affects the others.

Last month, the Albuquerque Community Foundation held an event to take stock of the health of our economic ecosystem. The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Expo (E3) showcased the existing infrastructure and asked the business community to examine our strongest and weakest branches. The event celebrated, acknowledged and boosted the economic progress we’ve made as a city thus far.

"Developed in response to  entrepreneurial support organizations and entrepreneurs who have expressed that there should be a better way of connecting among organizations and individuals working together, the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Expo (E3) created space for entrepreneurs, ESO’s, investors, funders, students and friends to share their work and ideas and build connections within Albuquerque’s growing ecosystem," said Kelli Cooper, Vice President of Albuquerque Community Foundation.

What Our Ecosystem Looks Like

New Mexico’s economy has seen radical changes since the recession. Weekly wage increased by 11.6% in 2018. Albuquerque hit a 10-year high in total job count in September. This means more New Mexicans have the resources and capital to become active producers and consumers inside the ecosystem. The climate is increasingly welcoming (the number of startups has risen steadily since 2016, with a 67.4% growth rate), and the soil is rich with incubators and accelerators. However, the geography is still a bit inhospitable (only 3.9% of small businesses are minority-owned).

Like a forest ecosystem, the economy needs to be lush, diverse, and balanced in order to function at full capacity. That’s where cross-sector partnerships like City Alive and Innovate ABQ come in: to think ecosystem-wide, find imbalances and diversify the resources. Albuquerque has made impressive strides in increasing the availability of resources to minority entrepreneurs in the past five years. An investigation from Startup Genome, who looked at U.S. cities working to build their innovation ecosystems, found that Albuquerque excels at “local connectedness.”

“The excitement around startups is palpable, particularly as regards the creative sectors and inclusion of many groups,” the report said.

The collective impact, goal-oriented work to improve the economic ecosystem is paying off. In fact, New Mexico is now ranked 11th in growth entrepreneurship and 12th in startup activity among small states, according to The Kauffman Index.

Mapping the Landscape

So where do we go from here? At the E3 event, small business owners and startup entrepreneurs were asked to map out the ecosystem on a granular level. What’s working? What isn’t? What exists? What’s missing? This will help our city and state continue to increase the health and stability of the ecosystem as we move forward into 2019. Here’s what they found:

Cross Sector Partnerships

City Alive

New Space New Mexico

Public Policy

New Mexico State Department of Economic Development

ABQ Works - City Department of Economic Development

Bernalillo County


Albuquerque Community Foundation

ABQ Mayor’s Prize for Entrepreneurship

Nusenda Foundation


Co-op Capital

Education and Human Capital

UNM Innovation Academy

CNM Ingenuity

Air Force Research Laboratory

Keshet Center for the Arts

Lutheran Family Services

University of New Mexico

Central New Mexico Community College

BioScience Center

Deep Dive Coding

Sandia National Labs

Entrepreneurial Support Systems

Three Sisters Kitchen

Innovate ABQ

Creative Startups

ABQid Accelerator

FatPipe ABQ


Native Women Lead

South Valley Economic Development Center

Healthy Neighborhoods ABQ Collaborative

FUSE Makerspace

Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce

Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce

ABQ LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce

ABQ West Chamber of Commerce

1 Million Cups ABQ

What’s Missing?

City Alive is building a resource guide and gaps analysis, and would love your input. What other gaps have you seen in our ecosystem? Send us your thoughts.

Connect The Dots:

City Alive works to increase resources for minority entrepreneurs and homegrown businesses in order to improve Albuquerque’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Read more about our initiatives in capital access, job growth, and racial equity.


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