Community Manager Spotlight

Building Bridges: Steve Vilkas on Connecting Startup Communities

Steve Vilkas started his journey entrepreneurship at a time in his life where he and his dad had to provide for their family. He began as a marketing cofounder for his father, calling himself “an entrepreneur by necessity,” but as time went on he began to love the kindness and spirit of the Boston startup community. He went to networking events, such as Startup Boston Week, among others and began relationship building early on. He described himself as being “hungry for knowledge and experiences,” as well as for new connections with new people. In his role now as Chief Ecosystems Officer at Prepare for VC, he stated that his title in its essence means “being a person who loves to have conversations with others and finding ways we can all work together.”

EKOS: How do you think that ecosystems in general solve early pain points of early stage entrepreneurs?

Steve: “The best ecosystems I’ve seen are ones that support early stage entrepreneurs with dedicated service through listening to and understanding their essential needs. These ecosystems fundamentally foster a sense of inclusion. They provide an easy path forward when it comes to connecting with others, and act as a trusted source to find and be a part of the diverse communities located within and around their spheres of influence. The work that goes into making this possible is truly vital because entrepreneurship can prove to be very difficult by default."

EKOS: How do you manage sub-communities and also how do you connect them all together within a greater ecosystem?

Steve: “The challenge is to make sure that the sub-communities do not become siloed. You want to fundamentally respect their independence and their uniqueness, while at the same time, you realize that all these different places have this connective tissue that has to be kept strong and healthy. I would say one of the temptations is to try to stack up like a lot of activities, but you don't want to do that. You don't want to overload people. Instead the way to maintain that sense of interconnectedness is by actively listening to and trying to talk to the people inside these places as much as possible. I do this as often as I can, because one may for good intentions, make assumptions. So you really need to know, “What is it that these people, the inhabitants of the subcommunities, what do they want and what do they need?” Go ask them and go uncover that for yourself. By doing so, you’ll see how you can best serve and connect everyone and everything together as much as possible."

EKOS: What tips do you have for community leaders to grow their community network and connect with more people?

Steve: “I think that it's very important for community leaders to realize that while everything may not result immediately in a deal, a partnership or something of that nature, everything is built upon relationships. What we have to be doing is continuously nurturing, earning trust, showing ourselves to be dependable, responsible, honorable when it comes to working for our community members and showing up for them. But also, you can't do everything at once so when it comes down to it, reaching out to others when you realize you can't do everything by yourself too can help more relationships be built. As much coalition as can possibly be built, the better, because then community members are going to have all kinds of ways in which they can receive support. We will literally do whatever to show up for our people and be extremely flexible to them. In the principle of self efficacy, we know once again we don't know everything, but we are fully prepared to keep showing up for our founders."

3 Takeaways

1) Ecosystems should be a safe network for members to be able to easily connect and provide value to one another

2) Do not overload your communities with too many activities to the point where they do not have the time to work on their own ventures

3) Every interaction you have with someone is valuable, even if it does not result in immediate value

EKOS.AI makes it easy to network with people both in and outside your community. Steve showed us the importance of these connections, and we encourage you to reach out to others to both gain and give value to whatever their pursuits may be.

We want to sincerely thank Steve Vilkas for his time and insights into ecosystem management.

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