Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone. Victor Hwang is the outgoing vice president of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Click here to read more about his planned departure from the leading ecosystem building organization.
Today is my last day in the office, as I transition out of my role as vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. For the past four years, I’ve had the great privilege and honor to serve. With the holiday season to reflect on life’s blessings, I am beyond grateful to you.
Leaving Kauffman is bittersweet. I’ll miss it. I have learned, grown, stretched, and been stretched in countless ways. When I was considering whether to accept this job, a predecessor urged me, “When you get a chance to be the VP of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, accept first, and ask questions later!” I’ve heard his voice echo in my head over the years. And now, I know exactly what he meant. It is a unique, special gift to serve this institution and the hundreds of thousands (actually, millions) of entrepreneurs touched by our work, most of who will never know. It is humbling, in the best way.
One thing has become crystal clear to me: People who fight for entrepreneurs are among the most talented, inspired, dedicated people in the world.
To our Kauffman Eship rockstar team of 31 full-time associates (complemented by 15 regular contractors), who bring heart, intelligence, and dedication to the work every day, I can’t thank you enough. You kept the faith, through organizational change. And you delivered.
To the entrepreneurial supporters who make it happen, you are the “makers, doers, dreamers” who give hope to other “makers, doers, dreamers.” It takes next-level dedication to serve others without glory, where the satisfaction lies in service itself.
I will sincerely miss the daily interactions with the Kauffman team and the broader universe of eship supporters, ecosystem builders, policymakers, educators, organizers, activists, investors, accelerators, incubators, and/or whatever title you may go by. We make a powerful tribe.
As the lyric in Hamilton goes, “Look at where we are. Look at where we started.” You should feel proud of where we are. The work is seriously consequential. Here are a few highlights of what we’ve accomplished together:
- Activated more than 1,200 ecosystem builders in 50 states and 10 countries through 3 summits, hundreds of meetups.
- Engaged more than 100 mayors and their staffs to implement new policies and programs to support entrepreneurs.
- Published a major bipartisan policy roadmap for America’s future, inspiring cities, states, and federal policy.
- Launched the first fund-of-funds to invest in catalyzing new, innovative funding models to reach underserved entrepreneurs.
- Created the first research translation function for sharing actionable knowledge to eship practitioners.
- Executed grants to almost 70 high-impact organizations to overcome barriers for thousands of entrepreneurs.
- Streamlined grantmaking systems by reducing steps by two-thirds and significantly accelerating timelines.
- Launched the online version of FastTrac entrepreneurial education, now reaching 140-plus affiliates.
- Built the first network of 54 foundations supporting entrepreneurs nationally.
- Scaled 1 Million Cups from 60 to 168 communities, to a higher level of engagement and quality, reaching 149,000 attendees per year.
And that’s just a few visible things. There is so much more that remains invisible … ideas shared, companies birthed, inspiration imparted, relationships bonded, trust built, knowledge gained, and goodwill paid forward, like ripples outward in the water.
The work is not done, and I am committed for life. I will always fight for the makers, doers, dreamers. I will always be a friend to Kauffman. I will always stand for the little guy or gal, and their fundamental human right to start, build, create, invent, hustle, develop, launch, and grow.
Most importantly, I look forward to continuing to take on this vital work, together with you, forever in partnership.
P.S. A few years ago, we drafted a set of principles to guide our work: The Eship Way. Reflecting on how far we’ve come, I can honestly and proudly say that we have achieved these high ideals. I’m copying them here, to remind us of what is possible — always.
- Believe we can solve the biggest problems.
- Get out. Discover new people and ideas.
- Start by asking, “What might be?”
- See the whole system. Everything connects.
- To make big changes, find small levers to pull.
- Trust each other. Help each other.
- Feel empowered to get things done.
- Design approaches that are entrepreneur-centric.
- Whenever possible, prototype and test rapidly.
- Make small bets to build diverse portfolios.
- Share mistakes so everyone can learn.
- Measure success by real-world evidence.
Victor Hwang is an entrepreneur, investor and author, most recently serving as vice president of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.