ēkō sistəm, n.
A complex network or interconnected system.
As a reporter, I get to talk to a lot of different people on a daily basis. But I keep hearing the same word used over and over again by individuals across a spectrum of different businesses, locations and concepts: ecosystem.
Generally speaking, an ecosystem describes how different, complex organisms work together. How could a deeply biological term have invaded the usually-technical jargon of business? According to Google Trends, searches for “business ecosystem” and “innovation ecosystem” first entered the lexicon in the late ’90s and hit a peak within the last year. A writer for Forbes called ecosystem the “next big business buzzword” back in April 2014. The term has certainly arrived in Sacramento.
Lately, I’ve been hearing more of the word ecosystem here because of the rapid growth of our startups, including our coworking spaces and innovation hubs. That’s fine, but the term has started to be thrown around to mean just any group of people working together, as a way to inflate their company’s worth. Ecosystem is not a two-dollar word for “community.”
Ecosystem in the business sense, yes, often refers to people, but more so it’s about how these people — and organizations — interact with each other within a given space. “An ecosystem is defined by the individuals that inhabit it,” says Brook Taylor, deputy director of communications at the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. A true ecosystem forms out of people and organizations actively working toward similar goals in the same space, be that a building, a town or an overarching concept that draws them together.
Sacramento can support vibrant business ecosystems, Taylor says, because of our diversity, and the creative brilliance of a population that incorporates lots of different ideas, beliefs and perspectives. (In the scientific application of the term, this is known as biodiversity.) “It’s really about the sum parts of all the individuals and organisms that make it,” Taylor says. That means both the big and small — and everything in between — matters in an ecosystem’s overall health. It’s ideas, financial investment, talent, personalities, skills and reputation all working together.
“Sacramento is unique in that we have a community of people here who are activated and want to help create,” he says. We don’t have to fight to build a multifaceted community because it’s already here. Local undertakings like the Global Shapers Community; Warehouse Artist Lofts; I/O Labs; coworking spaces like Capsity, Innogrove and HackerLab; and the Greater Sacramento Economic Council all help our innovation ecosystem grow and thrive. “All of that acting together contributes to Sacramento really sharing an ecosystem of creating something together,” Taylor says.