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

Introduction to Sustainable Local Economic Development

Since 2008, I have been actively involved as a Co-Principal Investigator on a 3-year USDA-Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Regional Partnerships for Innovation grant awarded in September 2008 and back-to-back 1-year grants from the Fund For Our Economic Future (FFEF) in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. These grants complemented one another. The USDA grant sought, in part, to develop a social networking infrastructure —LocalFoodSystems.org — for connectivity and collaboration that would inspire participation in agriculture localization. The FFEF grants focused on providing social networking participants with templates, processes, and tools necessary to catalyze significant entrepreneurial activity through increased localization within a regional agriculture-bioscience industry cluster.

During this 4-year period, I posted to blogsites, created websites, tested platforms and applications, prepared presentations, provided coaching, and contributed to papers and proposals all related to the themes of these two grants. Most of the information generated unfolded chronologically and addressed particular topics of interest in the moment. Furthermore, it was made available through the media that best supported the message being delivered to specific audiences. This led to a general mishmash of material with wide variations in timing, theme, track, and target making it difficult for those who may have an interest to consider what I tried, why I did it the way I did, what happened as a result, and what I learned along the way.

To address this shortfall, put a final wrap on the grants, and move my thinking into new areas of interest, I will begin a series of postings under the heading of Sustainable Local Economic Development that recasts my work in a more searchable framework. As with this introduction, these postings will appear on Blogger with links to the Sustainable Local Economic Development group on LocalFoodSystems.org (LFS) — you may need to join LFS (free) in order to view posts linked to it — Tumblr, Slideshare, and Scoop.it and announcements to Steve Bosserman on Twitter.

To help organize the information in the postings and maintain consistency in the framework, I will apply one or more of the following tags to each entry:

  • organization dynamics
  • business ecosystems
  • food systems
  • localization
  • local economy
  • mapping
  • business case
  • work space
  • market network
  • business model
  • governance
  • self-reliance
  • transactions
  • community investment portfolio
  • project management

I welcome your feedback about any of the postings as well as input on the tagging convention. This is a complex, yet very important subject about which there are few absolutes and far more questions than answers. The more we can learn together from our different experiences with sustainable local economic development through these media, the more valuable the outcomes. Thanks in advance for your interest and consideration.

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Food Systems, Economies, and Ecosystems

What We Are Doing

Over the past three months several of us have made presentations to various groups providing an overview about the recently awarded USDA-SCRI grant proposal and our general strategy for the ensuing program. Our primary purpose is to facilitate the continuing development of local and regional food systems as a viable and sustainable counterbalance to the predominate global food system. Ideally, local and regional food systems work seamlessly with the global food system to form a total food system that provides the overall advantages of price, variety, and quality while contributing to community health, vitality, and well-being.

Local and regional food systems, together with renewable energy and distributed manufacturing, are an integral part of local and regional economies. The interdependence of these three features prominently in the design of our strategy. While the mission of our USDA-SCRI initiative is focused on food systems, when seen in the bigger picture these systems become a platform by which local and regional economies are established, strengthened, and grown. Building local and regional economies is our broader agenda.

A local or regional economy is shaped by the social, political, cultural, and geographic context and conditions in which it exists. Such an economy is defined by complex webs of interwoven interrelationships and behavior patterns. Because of this characteristic, our understanding of them is benefited by adopting an ecological perspective or seeing them as part of ecosystems.

There are several types of ecosystems: natural, human, urban, etc. Each of them is characterized by several factors such as participants, source – sink dynamics and flow, and landscape patterns. Using these factors to inform an ecosystem health index and provide insight on how well an ecosystem is functioning is of particular interest.

Such an index is especially helpful when determining which course of action among several alternatives achieves the imperative at hand with the least amount of collateral damage and unintended consequences or side-effects. An obvious instance is with agriculture because of its pervasiveness and the degree of environmental impact its practice has on a local, regional, and global scale. Under the aegis of the USDA-SCRI grant there will be ample opportunities to apply the metrics of agroecosystem health in helping local and regional food systems become more efficient, effective, and less disruptive counterparts to the global food system.

The Business Ecosystem

Adopting an ecosystems view is also helpful within a business context. In the mid-1990’s, Jim Moore observed the dynamics of natural ecosystems and noted the similarities they have with those in a business setting. He coined the term business ecosystem to label the dense webs of interrelationships among suppliers, service providers, customers, competitors, communities within a social, political, and economic environment in which any given business starts, survives, and is sustained.

Moore’s “business ecosystems” thinking has led to a unique and powerful understanding about business strategy and in so doing significantly expanded the business development repertoire. It has also encouraged the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in several areas. Perhaps the greatest experimentation with this approach has been Europe where the European Commission (EC) linked Moore’s concept business ecosystems concept with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to form digital business ecosystems. The primary purpose at the outset was to establish networks of connectivity among participants in SME ecosystems in order to stop the decline in the numbers of SMEs in several European countries. Early results show this strategy is successful as indicated by a reversal in the decline of SMEs complemented by signs of an increase in their numbers across the Continent.

Business Ecosystems in the Context of the USDA-SCRI Grant

Fundamentally, the strategy underscoring the USDA-SCRI grant proposal is the digital business ecosystems approach applied to local and regional food systems. The graphic below illustrates the flow dynamics among ecosystem participants in the interconnected regions across the upper-Midwest and mid-Atlantic states:

Social network facilitation, as part of the ICT backbone for the project, catalyzes regional networks and convenes leaders within them to prompt the formation of business ecosystems.

Business ecosystem particants conduct research, deliver education and training, and launch pilot projects directed toward building local food systems within given regions.

Local food systems development links with complementary efforts in renewable energy and distributed manufacturing systems to drive relocalization. This heightens participation at local levels which increases the experience base among players and drives changes in the formulae for land use practices, inclusion, workforce development, and government collaboration. The net effect is that the rules are rewritten so they facilitate the rise of functional and sustained local and regional economies.

Healthy, vibrant, adaptive, and innovative local and regional economies offer a constructive counterbalance to the global economy; they become attractors for new business start-ups and the expansion of existing businesses. Glocalization results as fully-functioning local and regional economies mitigate the downsides of the global economy and position the total economy for sustainable growth. Successful glocalization feeds larger regional networks of players and leadership of business ecosystems providing the wherewithal to fuel additional research, education, and pilot projects. This closed-loop cycling generates AND reinvests resources within the same local and regional economies which relieves the dependency on outside funding, like the USDA-SCRI grant, to spur local and regional economic sustainability and vitality.

A Broader Vision

The bottom line is that with thriving, interconnected business ecosytems, local and regional economies capable of maintaining themselves while spurring business growth and community well-being will result. Although the USDA-SCRI grant is directed toward social networks and local food systems, these are milestones along the path to a broader claim. Our vision is of capable local and regional economies operating in concert with the global economy to provide people with the means to enjoy a reasonable quality of life in communities assured of survival and sustainability. For us, this is the ultimate goal of the grant proposal. Thanks in advance for your participation over the next three years to make the vision a reality!

Originally posted to Local Food Systems by Steve Bosserman on December 27, 2008 17:04

Localize – Link – Globalize

In the 17 July 2006 issue of Newsweek International, an article by Ron Moreau and Sudip Mazumdar entitled, “Bigger, Faster, Better: India’s top tycoon hopes to kick the country’s nascent boom into hyperdrive by remaking its stores, farms and even its biggest cities,” provides a compelling twist in corporate social responsibility. Earlier this year, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, Ltd, announced the creation of a new, major business venture under the Reliance umbrella, Reliance Retail, Ltd. This is only one step in Mr. Ambani’s far-reaching vision in retailing that seeks to bring broad-sweeping changes in agricultural production and retailing across India as well as how people live in urban areas:

…Ambani, 49, has finalized plans to invest more than $11 billion over the next decade to build two new satellite cities outside creaking, overcrowded Mumbai and Delhi. He foresees these metropolises emerging within just four years, each with a population of 5 million people making $5,000 a year, on average (or seven times India’s norm), and hosting top multinational companies. And that is all pretty simple – a development on steroids – compared with the idea that really gets Ambani going.

Ambani’s favorite scheme aims to revolutionize in one swoop two of India’s largest but most backward sectors: farming and retail. Despite boom times, India is still a nation where 100 million mostly small farmers work with ox and plow, where 96 percent of retail stores are mom-and-pop shops and most of the roads between farm and store are mud tracks. Ambani plans to invest $5 billion by 2011 to put both the farms and the stores on the road to modernity, connect them through a distribution system guided by the latest logistics technology, and create enough of a surplus to generate $20 billion in agricultural exports annually.

I don’t have a clue whether Mr. Ambani will be successful in achieving what he envisions. Actually, that is not the point. What is significant, though, is that he apparently understands the connections between the circumstances surrounding those who produce food, and food production, logistics, and retail sales to consumers; he is willing to challenge the inadequacies and deficiencies in the current system; and even more, he is taking no small risks in making a significant play to install an alternative system that is more respectful, efficient, and sustainable for those who participate at the “ground level,” so to speak.

Basically, Mr. Ambani is addressing the problem by taking an approach that runs backwards from the conventional wisdom of a globalized model. He is, first, raising the capability and capacity of the farmer / producer, establishing an infrastructure to move productive output swiftly and safely to downstream stages in the value-chain, and providing fair compensation for the farmer / producer to assure sustainability:

To transform Indian farmers into quality suppliers for his new retail chain, Ambani plans to create 1,600 farm-supply hubs across India, providing technical know-how and credit, selling seeds, fertilizer and fuel, and buying produce.

Then, he is scaling the output of the farmer / producer to exceed local demands for food stuff and move the overage into the global market:

He also plans to build some 85 logistics centers to move food to retail outlets and to ports and airports for export. Reliance is gearing up to train tens of thousands of new employees in the next six to eight months to do everything from erecting prefab warehouses to transporting fresh produce. Even Reliance’s admirers note that with little experience in farming or retail, Ambani is taking his biggest risks yet. “There will be mistakes,” Ambani admits. “But we are not scared. We will correct our mistakes fast and move on.”

This is opposite to the typical globalizing business model that strips output from agricultural producers for a pittance and pumps it into the global market at the outset without regard or interest in the sustainability of the producer’s business or preserving the sanctity of the local community. The consequence of the more typical approach is farm consolidation, loss of livelihood and location, and dependence on globalized agriculture for local food supplies – not a good position to be in if supply chains are disrupted.

The critical path is to stabilize the producer / provider at the individual / family / community level; link producers / providers with others through flexible and dynamic networks capable of moving information, goods, and services in response to demand AT A LOCAL LEVEL; and lastly, scale the operations to match output with fluctuations in demand on a global level. This simple three-step formula – localize, link, and globalize – is a useful scorecard to measure the validity of any strategy aimed at utilizing natural resources or leveraging human resources in particular areas. If it strives to globalize first or prematurely, the approach is exploitative at best and unconscionable at worst!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, August 27, 2006