Don’t Just Build Companies, Build Ecosystems

3 simple but radical mindset shifts for doing business differently.

by Sabrina Konzok, December 2, 2021
doing business differently

We all know the claims by top consulting firms and economists: globalization and digitalization is leading to an increased competition for talent, resources and opportunities. Hearing horror scenarios in the vein of “survival of the fittest”, many CEOs and managers are lured into buying expensive recommendations for making their company stronger and survival-ready. I firmly believe that the key to success in the future truly lies in another way of doing business – a collaborative business approach. 

In fact, often, we fail to see how much easier cooperation has become due to to the Internet and online professional networks. Even more so, we fail to see how cooperation could be a path to make us more successful – together. The startup scene has already begun to understand that building Zebras (aka social enterprises) instead of Unicorns (privately held startups) creates more win-win scenarios and could be the more stable and impactful decision in the long-run. Social Enterprises are already choosing cooperation and collaboration over suppression. This results in companies that don’t just establish themselves as an entity, but build collaborative ecosystems. 

So how do we do that? How do we build business ecosystems that foster collaboration and synergy?

First of all, we have to unlearn our deep-rooted idea of the “good employee” being the one who doesn’t ask for help and is completely independent. This idea has been conditioned through our institutions, education and life in general, and hinders our ability to cooperate as Richart Sennet puts it in his book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, “In order to define a new way of doing business, we have to put down our elbows and reach out to others with open arms.” 

The key to success is not to stumble along and try to adapt who you are as a company in fear of losing out. On the contrary.

In order to deal with rapid changes and settings, staying true to your core skills and then uniting efforts with others by establishing strong ecosystems will do the trick.

Ecosystems are strong because they combine unique skill sets, products and expertise. 

My top three key takeaways from founding a social enterprise and building an ecosystem are: 

  1. Don’t focus on the “quick win”

Especially when founding a social business, the temptation is to jump at every opportunity you can get. My advice is to hold back. Many decisions can derail the goal and focus of your team. Stick with what feels right in the long-term. And if possible, consider grounding your purpose in your legal setup as we did with having the non-profit arm being the core and up to now only shareholder.

  1. Dare to lose a “win”

Don’t sell something you don’t believe your partner or client actually needs. Trust your gut and the power of the long-term joint success story. If you invest into partnerships and deliver true value, what you build will pay off more than a quick cheque. 

     3. Think “win-win”

You will have to be more open-minded and flexible when negotiating ways of working together with other organisations. Not every organisation has the same work style and you have to be okay with that. Diplomacy and team-work will go a long way as you work together to achieve a particular goal.  


Sabrina Konzok is Co-Managing Director and Co-Founder at Kiron Digital GmbH, a spin-off of Kiron gGmbH. She is a driver and innovator in EdTech and Social Innovation. Aiming to build future-proof and self-empowering systems, she builds a social innovation ecosystem for founders in Berlin as Chair of the Board of the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany. Before working in Berlin, she chaired an international network of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, combining 1.5 million members from 53 countries. She holds an M.Sc. in Conflict Resolution and Governance and has studied in Freiburg, Singapore, and Amsterdam.