Mapping an ecosystem: The Enterprising Oxford Journey

15th May 2020

Lead institution:
The University of Oxford

Funded Project:
Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Mapping

In 2014, the University of Oxford developed a web portal called Enterprising Oxford (EO), which collates and curates entrepreneurial resources around people, places, programmes and pounds (funding), and disseminates that information via a website, a weekly newsletter, and social media.

The “Mapping an Ecosystem” workshop was devised in order to share the experience of University of Oxford in creating and maintaining maps of relevant entrepreneurship activities, resources and opportunities for members to access. In discussions with other members of the Aspect Entrepreneurship Community of Practice (ECoP), it was felt it would be useful understand the processes and if/how they could be implemented in other universities.

Leah Thompson, Senior Knowledge Exchange Officer, and lead for Enterprising Oxford, delivered a workshop in person (and online) for the Aspect ECoP in October 2019. As a result of the workshop, a proposal to audit each Aspect partner university in a similar fashion was developed and eventually funded. The audit will provide an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each university as it pertains to entrepreneurship in the social sciences, and provide the ECoP with a set of exemplars to feed into the funded workshop series.

Entrepreneurship at Oxford has always been bottom up. The phrase “Let a thousand flowers bloom” has always been mentioned when talking about entrepreneurship, but as a result, the ecosystem appeared fragmented, siloed and fluid.  Out of this disorganisation, the need for a “portal” was recognised, and a new website and programme was created in 2014 in the Maths, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) in the University. Initially EPSRC-IAA funded, the original purpose was to help DPhil students and early career researchers develop their enterprise skills and be more entrepreneurial in their career decisions.

Enterprising Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help promote, support and highlight entrepreneurial activities, resources and opportunities across Oxfordshire. We’re here to help students, staff and alumni connect with the people, places and opportunities they need to increase skills, develop ideas, or scale a business.  We work with not only our internal members, but also people across Oxfordshire wanting to start a business, or supporting those who do.

Over the past 5 years Enterprising Oxford has been developed to create as much of a full picture of entrepreneurship as possible. It is continually updated as new initiatives start and old ones disappear. In order to understand the ecosystem we need to know what is here, and be able to disseminate that information across the network – which is where journey mapping comes in and is so important.

Journey mapping explained

So what is journey mapping? A journey map is a representation of every experience or interaction your audience has or could have with you. As such, it is a multi-dimensional representation, and needs to be as accurate as possible.  We need this sort of mapping in order to explain how the ecosystem works; there are multiple inputs, and (almost) infinite outcomes, making the customer or audience pathways quite complex. The intelligence and impatience of the audience also needs to be taken into account.

So we map to know what’s going on; we map to share what’s going on; we map to be the go to person; and we map to influence without power. If you know what’s going on, at a level that no one else does, you become the authority and the go-to person or area for this information.

But it’s important to note that the journey is actually the last part of the engagement puzzle: you need to know who your audience is, what content you have or can provide, how much personalisation you can do, and what the logical flow is. Depending on the amount of content, and the audience you are supporting, these journey maps could be very complex indeed. So let’s break it down.

Key considerations

Who is this for? Knowing your audience (or who you want your audience to be) is key to ensuring you are creating something they will want and use. Create your Persona groups – stereotypical “people” who are your target audience(s) including users, visitors, “sharers”, influencers. For Enterprising Oxford we interviewed staff, graduate researchers, post-docs, student entrepreneurs, Oxford start-ups, faculty and supporters. Here is an example of an assumption and observation:

As a graduate research student I want to be able to find out information that demystifies entrepreneurship and enterprise and know what is happening across the University regarding entrepreneurship so that I can a) take advantage of programming to learn how to evaluate if my existing research projects can be turned into entrepreneurial ventures and b) find opportunities to work with existing entrepreneurial teams and ventures.

More interested in industry-led challenges for interdisciplinary collaboration. Only 1 was interested in entrepreneurship, the rest felt it was intimidating and irrelevant to them. Would look at very beginner courses that were practical and useful to them. Very limited knowledge of entrepreneurship; didn’t really know where to look. Would not Google it but would ask department leads.

We started off with our own assumptions about what these groups want, and then tested those assumptions by conducting focus group interviews and surveys. Language here is key; depending on the audience or persona, you may need to think more about which words you use.

What things should be mapped? Think about each persona and what they need. What geographical area do we need to cover? What internal and external resources and opportunities are there? What are the different stages and sectors needed to support the audience? A helpful way that we have used with Enterprising Oxford of framing the map is to think about the elements as part of Programmes | People | Places | Pounds.

Once you know who your audience is and what you need to map, you have to collate the information in a way which is efficient and maintainable. These sorts of exercises are often done as a one-off, which is a comprehensive snapshot which becomes out of date almost immediately. If they are not maintained, they are not very useful, and become more of a distraction as time passes.

The key inputs we used included setting up a Google calendar (adding events from Eventbrite, meetup, etc), doing basic desk research (googling “Oxford entrepreneurship”, searching and setting up social media, and of course, talking to colleagues! The main point here is consistency . . . update regularly to ensure that your information is as accurate as possible. The calendar has been the most valued piece of information, but the hardest one to maintain!

Once you have the information, you need to disseminate it. The key output mechanisms for Enterprising Oxford include our website, social media, a weekly newsletter (this has been key to becoming the authority!), maps and guides, and of course the personalised concierge service (1:1 guidance).  The more of these that you can employ, the better your knowledge and authority will be, but making sure you have some method of dissemination is essential.

Over the years we have used a number of tools to help with the mapping process, and often the simplest tools are the best! We still use Word/Excel for basic lists, and of course the Google calendar system (including a fancy import into the website). In addition, (flowchart), Mind42 (mind mapping) and Piktochart (infographics) have been very useful.

Some reflections…

In doing this, we have learned a number of valuable lessons:

  • Keep it up to date – or it is not worth much
  • Get it into the hands of users by any and all means possible – they will help inform you
  • Design new ways to display the journeys for an ever-changing audience
  • A hub is very useful – but does not need to be “the” hub
  • Share with colleagues and learn from other experiences

Leah Thompson

Senior Knowledge Exchange Officer, University of Oxford
Lead, Enterprising Oxford (

Link to: Enterprising Oxfordshire Map

Photo by Aksonsat Uanthoeng from Pexels

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