University Economic Development Association

UEDA Funded by Lemelson Foundation to Look at Economic Development Ecosystems


Initiative will Help Members Use Design Thinking as a Tool for Strengthening Regional Ecosystems and Making them More Equitable

The Lemelson Foundation, founded “in 1992 with the vision of cultivating future generations of inventors to create a better world,” has provided funding to UEDA to explore strategies for strengthening regional ecosystems and making them more equitable. Lemelson is particularly interested in invention, innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystems and is also eager to hear from UEDA members about strategies for strengthening broader economic development ecosystems across UEDA’s pillars of Talent, Innovation, and Place.

This exploration, which began during the UEDA Digital Summit 2020, will continue through early 2021, at which time UEDA hopes to secure funding to launch an Ecosystems Design Network. The idea behind the Ecosystems Design Network, and behind the exploration taking place this fall, is that we can use the principles of design thinking to help strengthen and improve the economic development ecosystems that UEDA members are part of. Participants in the activities over the next couple of months will learn some of these principles and apply them to when engaging with regional partners. In early 2021, UEDA will provide Lemelson with ideas and strategies that institutions can employ as they play their own roles in regional economic development. This work will expand upon Lemelson’s own focus on ecosystems, including their report, Cultivating an Invention Ecosystem: Insights from Oregon.

In design thinking, solutions are developed through three phases—inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Designers and problem solvers use the inspiration stage to get insights about the people who are central to the topic of interest—in our case, that means all of the people and organizations that are part of economic development ecosystems. In the ideation stage, many possible solutions are explored and assessed. In the implementation stage, ideas are tested and refined and solutions are created.

UEDA members participating in this initiative will use design thinking to strengthen their ecosystems. First, participating institutions will get inspiration for their ecosystem design solutions by getting to know the people and organizations that are part of their economic development ecosystem, and also those that should be part of the ecosystem. Next, participants will move into ideation. In this stage, participants will take what’s been learned about ecosystem partners and come up with many ideas about ways to strengthen connections across the ecosystem, making the ecosystem stronger and more equitable. After exploring and assessing many ideas, ecosystems in the network will focus on solutions as they move into the implementation stage.

Following the initial session on Ecosystems Day at the Summit, participating ecosystems will come together again on October 20th and 27th to share insights about their ecosystems, to engage in ideation about strengthening connections across the ecosystem, and to develop strategies for making ecosystems more equitable. We will continue to update Intersection readers about these activities.

The effort is being led by Jim Woodell, UEDA’s vice president and owner and principal at Jim Woodell & Company. The steering committee for the project includes Tim Hindes, UEDA executive director; Margo Fliss, manager of strategic engagement at the Center for Economic Development, University of Alaska; and Matt Hebb, assistant vice-president, government relations and economic development at Dalhousie University.

Please email the steering committee at if you’d like more information.