Startup Communities Are Up To The Entrepreneurs

Startup CommunitiesAs I continue to talk about Startup Communities, I say over and over and over again that the leaders have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else – who I call the “feeders” (government, university, non-profits, big companies, VCs, angel investors) – have an important role, but the leaders must be entrepreneurs. Now – members of feeder organizations can play a leadership role, but in the absence of a critical mass of entrepreneurs, the startup community won’t ever develop into anything meaningful.

I was interviewed recently in MIT Technology Review in an article titled It’s Up to You, EntrepreneursIt’s part of a series they are doing titled The Next Silicon ValleyIt was a long interview by Antonio Regalado who boiled my rambling down into a bunch of coherent answers to specific questions.

For example, when he asked,  “What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?” I answered:

“Just do stuff. It’s kind of that simple. It’s literally entrepreneurs just starting to do things. If you’re in a city where there’s no clear startup community, the goal is not raise a bunch of money to fund a nonprofit, the goal is not get your government involved. The goal is start finding the other entrepreneurial leaders who are committed to being in your city over the next 20 years. Then, as a group, get very focused on knowing each other, working together, being inclusive of anyone else who wants to engage, doing things that help recruit people to that geography, and doing selfish stuff for your company that also drives your startup community.”

He got underneath some great key points about startup communities with his questions, which follow.

  • People talk about technology clusters. You talk about entrepreneurial communities. What’s the difference?
  • What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?
  • Let’s say you are the mayor. Would you rather bring Boeing to your city or have a startup scene?
  • You seem to think a top-down approach is pretty toxic.
  • What’s the evidence that startup communities can happen outside of traditional technology hubs?
  • In your book, you say entrepreneurs need to make a 20-year commitment to a place. Does anyone really think in those time scales?
  • How would you measure the success of a startup community?
  • In Kansas City you bought a house and handed it over to some programmers. What’s the idea?

If you want the answers, go read It’s Up to You, Entrepreneurs.

  • Ryan Smith

    We have encountered this problem in Shreveport, LA actually in contrast to New Orleans another city in the state taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them by feeders and the general climate. There has been a big push lately by “feeders” to try and bolster startup and entrepreneur communities in the city to take advantage of many of the tax breaks the state government has given for media and technology startups. However, there is not a big enough critical mass of entrepreneurs who are willing to engage these feeders, whether they be co-working spaces, lunch and learn opportunities, Angel/VCs, startup weekends, universities or agencies etc. It always seems like there is a “big push” and then the momentum dies down. So I agree, more work by entrepreneurs “just doing stuff” and becoming entrepreneurial leaders is one of the only ways to create a vibrant startup community.

    • Thanks for sharing your story Ryan. It’s funny to hear both sides. Clearly people are trying to help, it’s just about finding a model that works.

      And as with the modern plague of our ultraconnected globe, too often we assume that what works in one place will work in another. Startup communities are no different. Once we fully embrace that – and that entrepreneurs and communities that support them will look different in different places – not just “developing nations vs developed nations” but between cities and countries and continents, we’ll move beyond trying to recreate the environment that’s proven successful in the past and be able to build more stuff that matters.

      Be bold.

      • Ryan Smith

        Alexandra…thanks for your reply! I agree that startup communities will always be different and there is no model or mold that works every time. However, I think Brad has identified a key impetus for these communities and that is the entrepreneurs. It is these entrepreneurs that also make your statement true that each community is different, whether different countries or cities or states. It is because we are different and unique entrepreneurs that we can have such vibrant communities and start building things that matter.

        And of course I agree, we should always strive to be bold, be fearless, and do more!!

  • Chris Mack

    The flaw I’ve seen with aspiring startup communities (sample size of 1) is the focus on the game of startup instead of the challenge of building a business. The advice is bad, and focuses on pitches and investment dollars (even in a geographic region where investment dollars rarely go into technology). A startup community that focused on helping each other build businesses, and didn’t run the startup circus act would stand a far greater chance of building up a loyal community over the long-haul.

    • You need both. In the absence of focus on “startup”, not enough critical mass get created, nor do you get an appropriate startup culture. But you also need to focus on scaling up the companies that get past the startup phase.

      By definition, part of the goal of the startup community is for the entrepreneurs to help each other build businesses.

  • Amen

  • “I say over and over and over again.” Please keep repeating it, Brad. It doesn’t get well understood everywhere.

    Not only are the entrepreneurs essentially the Leaders, they are also the key Drivers. Other groups can’t be perceived to be taking co-leading or co-driving roles. It’s confusing if they do, because they don’t move the needle. Entrepreneurs & their companies do.

  • Martin Babinec

    Brad – Thoughtful and very on point post. Four years into my 20, I can certainly echo the real life journey measures up to expectations you’re setting. As you know from having been here in Upstate NY to help us (, we have raw ingredients that are spread out over several adjacent metro areas and slowly we’re finding ways to bridge gaps so that critical mass is not dependent on what resides in a single location. One theme showing promise is “increasing the number of quality collisions.” While we can’t control serendipity, just figuring out more and more ways to get the right people into the same room ends up starting relationships that produce outcomes you can’t plan for.

  • I was just thinking about today having been a breakthrough day on a few important personal and business fronts. And now I’m reading this, after having recently created the Founders Forum as a business building and accountability group for Dallas/Fort Worth area tech entrepreneurs. Thank you, Brad. I will be plugging this post, among others.

    We had a mantra where I came from, before I recognized my entrepreneurial blood. It was, “Just do work”. I agree with striking the right balance between “Playing startup” and “Working startup”; I also find that understanding diminishing returns, making the right decisions, and creating the right types of value in either aspect has an amplifying effect on effectiveness of both.

  • Very critical for feeders to know their role-especially early in the process. Otherwise they can easily dominate and overwhelm the process. It cannot be stated enough that there needs to be more than one entrepreneur. No “Superman” (or Wonder Woman). It’s too much pressure for one person to grow the community, and it’s putting too many chips on one number. People fail-what happens if the chosen one fails?

    In early stages, feeders should be facilitators and get the right stuff into the right hands so the community can be built.

  • This was exactly the feeling I got in Singapore after giving a talk at NUS. All the people I talked to were focused on what the government should be doing. At some point I asked the group around me, ok, so which of you want to be entrepreneurs? They all seemed to want to work in government to make the startup environment better. Somebody has to step up and actually be an entrepreneur at some point. It’s always going to be hard.

    • In Singapore, the government is always the focus. While a very vibrant financial scene can be had there, and great food, access to cheap clothes and good shopping, along with the best airport in the world-it’s still a benevolent dictator state. They also watch the internet usage closer than the NSA.

  • Yigal Abiri

    As long as an entrepreneur is in real entrepreneurship stage, he is not capable of sharing his attention with a different long demanding task. People in a survival mode are not involved in environmental issues for the same reason.

  • Savina Velkova

    Hi Brad, I thought your interview was insightful. I was wondering if you’ve considered the growing tech community (hub?) in East London – it does seem like a lot of the foundation was built by entrepreneurs but the government is putting forth a clear vision as well.

  • We are seeing similar problem here in Kyoto, Japan. After being inspired by your book, I’ve put together my thoughts on building startup community (& possibly startup accelerator) in my neighborhood. Hoping someday I’d be able to actually start building it.

    • Good stuff Kenshin – thx for sharing it.