Introduction to Key Terms: Business Model, Business Ecosystem, and Transactions

During the course of the two grants mentioned in my introductory post, our project team convened numerous “stakeholder sessions” across Northeast Ohio in an effort to encourage participants to generate business ideas and use the tools we offered to build them into business cases. In a pattern that repeated itself several times, attendees would have exciting ideas for businesses that played into their skills and captivated their interest in the session, but died along with the conversations after the meetings were over.

A likely reason for the high drop-off is the result of having given thoughtful consideration to the question, “How can I make a profit with my idea?” Or another way to ask the question is “How can I sell the value I deliver for a price that covers the expense I incur for delivering that value and have extra left over as a reward for me taking the risk and succeeding? The answer to that question is a business model. And if I can’t come up with a business model that fits with my idea, then I can’t make a case for it. Simple.

How could so many innovative and compelling ideas raised during the stakeholder sessions not find compatible business models to see them through to start-up? No doubt, there are several contributing factors to this outcome, not the least, of which, is that many of the ideas, which sounded good when first given voice, just didn’t pass muster under closer scrutiny. But what we also found is that how wide the net a person casts to vet an idea with others defines in large degree whether the idea continues toward fruition or dies on the vine.

In effect, almost any idea has the potential to connect with a social network of the countless, nameless many who represent all walks of life and all manner of means, and garner sufficient support to forge the idea into a full-fledged business. It is an application of Barry Commoner’s First Law of Ecology— “Everything is connected to everything else”— to commerce. The result is a business ecosystem.

From this perspective, a business ecosystem encompasses and interconnects all resources and assets as well as all participants be they customers, owners, employees, investors, suppliers, advocates, etc. Given this, how one draws the boundaries for a business ecosystem, defines who participates, and then positions an idea into it, influences the development of viable business models. The more expansive and inclusive the business ecosystem, the more options there are for a serviceable business model to ensue.

This raises the question, “Why do the qualities of expansiveness and inclusiveness contribute to more clarity rather than more chaos?” We found that, as in a natural ecosystem, the business counterpart thrives on an abundance of flows. Only instead of water, air, nutrients, etc., the flows in commerce consist of inputs, outputs, information, and know-how. And when these flows converge at specific points in time and space, an exchange of value, or transaction, occurs using an agreed to medium of exchange.

A business model organizes transactions so that “I sell the value I deliver for a price that covers the expense I incur for delivering that value and have extra left over as a reward for me taking the risk and succeeding.” More participants, more flows, more mediums of exchange, more value generated in a business ecosystem drive more transactions and, with them, greater odds that a business model will surface that develops a worthy idea into a successful business.

With these three terms as tags, look for future postings related to them that appeal to our grant experiences…

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Monday, August 6, 2012

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