Client Case: The Kauffman Foundation

Innovation Ecosystem Engagement


  • The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (EMKF) is among the largest private foundations in the U.S. EMKF’s vision is to foster a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens in their communities by advancing education and entrepreneurship.
  • The Entrepreneurship department of EMKF advances entrepreneurship education and training and promotes startup-friendly policies, each on a national scale. Kauffman FastTrac, a significant program of this department, is a global provider of educational courses that equip aspiring and existing entrepreneurs.


  • Develop and test innovative methods for engaging stakeholders of different types in conference settings: 1) In conjunction with plenary keynote addresses to hundreds of participants; and 2) in smaller breakout sessions that may have 30-50 participants.
  • Balance the perception of Kauffman as an “ivory tower” that publishes research and opinion with that of an active convener and facilitator of entire innovation ecosystems – from telling to engaging.
  • Within the tests of new engagement methods, gather meaningful perceptions, feedback and suggestions from two very different types of audiences: 1) entrepreneur support organizations for women and veterans; and 2) entrepreneur support organizations based at universities.


  • An internal team from different departments was formed to learn facilitation and event design skills that would be needed for developing and implementing improved stakeholder engagement.
  • Over a four part process the team co-designed and rehearsed how to engage conference attendees in breakout configuration of 2-hours. This design was tested at a live conference in Milwaukee, WI, attended by leaders of entrepreneur support organizations for women and veterans.
  • The second major test was conducted at Rochester University, New York, at the 2016 Global Consortium of Entrepreneur Centers attended by over 400 delegates. Inside the time-slot for a typical keynote, Victor Hwang, VP of Entrepreneurship, presented key concepts, then the entire audience was engaged in a process that generated hundreds of ideas that were organized by two questions in each of seven tracks. Those inputs were then sorted, synthesized and analyzed by 50 participants in a breakout session the same day.



  • Summary documents of the trainings and design sessions that created the approach.
  • Summary and analysis of stakeholder engagement data generated at live conference engagements.

·       To support staff learning and develop a consistent vocabulary across EMKF, Rainforest Strategies published a Facilitation and Design-Thinking Primer. The Primer included all the key concepts, models, and frameworks being used in the design and facilitation of sessions across the enterprise, and in particular the stakeholder engagements.

  • Re-usable stakeholder engagement event/process designs including all necessary handouts, templates, and facilitator guides.


  • Designed and tested two types of stakeholder engagement pilot programs that were subsequently run successfully at two conferences.
  • Improved internal capacity for facilitating collaboration and effecting design-thinking with an emphasis on collaborative events.
  • Reinforced innovation culture by transferring the frameworks, tools, techniques, and skills for in-house self-directed innovation activities and engagement.


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