Not every tech startup enjoys the luxury of launching in Silicon Valley — or Silicon Alley, or Austin, Texas, or another high-tech hotspot.
What’s the solution?
Instead of waiting for someone to offer a helping hand, or packing up the U-Haul and moving across the counryy, try taking the entrepreneurial approach and turning your home town into a high-tech startup community.
Brad Feld author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, says it can be done.
Feld, who has over 20 years of experience as both an entrepreneur and an early-stage investor, is a co-founder of tech accelerator TechStars and knows whereof he speaks. He bases his book on the lessons he’s learned from 20 years in the vibrant startup community of Boulder, Colorado.
Too often, though, cities trying to build high-tech startup communities make one or more key mistakes that keep their plans from reaching fruition. According to Feld, here are the six common problems that afflict — but don’t have to squelch — startup communities:
1. The Patriarch Problem: Is your city’s startup infrastructure ruled by “old white guys”? If your ability to get funding depends on who you know, where you went to school and where you’ve worked, your city might be suffering from the Patriarch Problem. If funding is based solely on what you do, congratulations – you’re in a vibrant startup community. Getting beyond the patriarch problem is tough (in the worst case, you’ve got to wait for people to die), but can be done if enough leaders of the startup community decide they’re going to ignore the patriarchs and just keep doing what they’re doing.
2. Capital Shortage: If you’re complaining about the shortage of local capital in your city, Feld’s got news for you: Entrepreneurs everywhere — yes, even in Silicon Valley — are complaining just as loudly about the same thing. “Let it go,” advises Feld. Instead, just keep doing what you’re doing, and if you do it well enough, you’ll attract capital from around the country.
3. We’re From The Government, We’re Here To Help: While Feld acknowledges that government can provide some help in constructing and supporting startup communities, entrepreneurs who rely too heavily on government will go nowhere fast. “Government moves at a much slower pace than entrepreneurs,” Feld warns. Just keep doing what you’re doing — don’t wait for Uncle Sam.
4. Do I Know You? A startup community that’s suspicious of newcomers is likely to die on the vine. “In Boulder, when someone new shows up in town, the entrepreneurs swarm them… to make the person feel welcome,” Feld writes. In contrast, if your city makes newbies “earn their way into the hierarchy,” you’re basically creating your own Patriarch Problem.
5. Feeders Trying To Be Leaders: Feld identifies government, universities and venture capitalists as “feeders” who can help support an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The problem occurs when feeders try to be “leaders” and take charge of entrepreneurial growth. A successful entrepreneurial ecosystem must be led by entrepreneurs themselves, says Feld, who cautions that when feeders try to take charge of entrepreneurial growth, they typically slow it down with committees, initiatives and other photo ops that create a lot of noise but do nothing — essentially the antithesis of entrepreneurial behavior.
6. Risk Aversion: Are you afraid of putting your time and effort into growing your own startup community — especially when you’re busy creating your own startup, too? You can’t create a startup environment without taking risks, says Feld. His advice: Jump right in and try stuff, but always set a time limit. If your effort doesn’t work out in that time frame, try something else. Trying — and even failing — without fear is a hallmark of a vibrant startup community.
See a common thread here? “Just start doing stuff and keep doing it” is Feld’s entrepreneurial mantra. Startup Communities clearly conveys the contagious sense of energy, enthusiasm and possibility that’s at the heart of the most successful startup communities.