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I’m in San Francisco right now and then New York later this week. When I look at my schedule, and where I’m hanging out, I realize that even though I’m in two very big cities, I’m going to spending most of my time in a very small area.
When asked why Boulder is such a vibrant entrepreneurial community, I talk about a concept I call entrepreneurial density. Boulder is a small town – the city itself is only 100,000 people. Yet the number of entrepreneurs in Boulder is significant. And the number of people working for startups is off the charts. Start with the definition:
entrepreneurial density = ((# entrepreneurs + # people working for startups or high growth companies)) / adult population
My guess is that Boulder’s entrepreneurial density is one of the highest in the United States. I don’t have any empirical data to back this up – it’s a qualitative assessment based on my experience traveling around and investing in different parts of the US.
While population is one measure, I’ve also started thinking about geography as another. In the case of Boulder, the core of the entrepreneurial community is in downtown, which is a 10 x 4 block area. Even though downtown Boulder is small, it has different personalities (yes – we have an east side and a west side), yet you can walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. And, inevitably, when I walk across town I always bump into people I know.
The geography index matters even in places like New York. When I stay in New York, I generally stay within walking distance of Union Square. Sure, I end up in midtown or downtown occasionally, but most of my time is spent in a 20 x 8 block area. The bay area splits similarly – I’m in San Francisco within walking distance or a short drive of many of our bay area companies, but I’m on the other end of the planet from Palo Alto.
As I think more about entrepreneurial communities, I’m starting to expand my definition of entrepreneurial density to include by population and geography. This seems to matter a lot, even in very large entrepreneurial communities like New York and San Francisco.
I’m curious about experiences in other parts of the country, especially entrepreneurial communities that are growing or trying to reinvigorate themselves. How does entrepreneurial density (either geo or population) impact you?
I’m back home in Boulder about to head out for a long run in the mountains. As I was catching up on email from last week (not quite done yet) I was reflecting on the awesome week I had in New York. I had a couple of board meetings, spent a bunch of time at TechStars, gave some talks, had a pair of really fun late night dinners, had two strong runs (including one amazing one) along the east river, and stayed up until 1am drinking scotch with my partner Seth one night who was also in New York for a few days this week.
On Thursday night I gave a talk at NYU Startup Week. I followed Nate Westheimer, who runs the incredibly vibrant NY Tech Meetup. Nate led off by asserting that NY was the best place in the world to start a company and hypothesized that in the past year I had probably spent more time in NY than in the bay area. Since I track where I sleep every night (and have since 1/1/09), I was able to quickly answer this question going back 29 months.
And the winner is – New York – by seven days.
In the endless “where is the best place to start a company” argument, I think many of the ones on this list (Boulder, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle) are amazing places to create a company. They all have different strengths and weaknesses but reinforce my belief that many cities in the US can build long term durable entrepreneurial communities.
On Tuesday, I spent the day at TechStars New York. After spending Monday in Washington DC for the launch of the TechStars Network, it was really fun to spend the day and go deep with the first TechStars NY class.
By the time I got to NY on Monday night I was exhausted. My day started at 5am with email, followed by a run, a few conference calls, and then the big announcement at the White House. Several other meetings followed with a final event at the Case Foundation. David Cohen and I then hopped on a train, cranked on emails and interviews all the way to New York, and then I finished the night (after some more email) with a one hour lecture by Skype to a class of San Diego based students.
I usually have no trouble getting up at 5am, even when I’m tired, but on Tuesday I couldn’t pry my eyes open so after a few tries I just slept until I had to get up for my first call. By 10-ish I was at TechStars. I then spent 20 minutes with each company doing what I call the “top of mind drill.”
Having met with every TechStars company at least once, I’ve found that it’s not terribly useful for me to have the team members spend the 20+ minutes we have in our first meeting introducing themselves. I’m already familiar with the companies through the selection process and I just want to get into the mix with them. It’s week four so by now they’ve had tons of mentor meetings (my understanding is that at least 70 mentors have rolled through the TechStars NY offices at this point – thank you mentors!) So – I look for a quick under five minute introduction (“just explain what your business does and how it works”) and then spent the next fifteen minutes talking about whatever is top of mind.
I love the top of mind drill. It starts off with the simple question from me: “What’s on the top of your mind?” Some of the TechStars founders get it immediately and dive into a very specific issue that they are wrestling with. Others ramble around for a few minutes at which point I stop them and suggest they focus on what they think their biggest current issue is. They almost always get it the second time and we end up with ten solid minutes on one or two things that I can give them actionable feedback on.
I was planning to come back on Friday but I decided to detour to Miami Beach to spend the weekend in the sun with Amy. As a result, we cranked through all 11 companies during the day. I bought a purse on ToVieFor (don’t tell Amy – it’s a surprise), agreed to be an early alpha publisher for OnSwipe, and overall had a great time. I’m super psyched about all the teams I met – it feels like the TechStars New York program is very high quality and off to a great start.
We finished up with me giving a talk and doing some Q&A. Given that I had just been at the White House for the Startup America Partnership, we talked about that some. I gave my view of the overall cadence of the TechStars program now that the first month was coming to an end, and then I finished with a story about one of my biggest failures (Interliant) and some of the lessons that I learned from that experience.
I’m writing this from a plane Thursday night heading to Miami where I’m going to try to catch my breath after four deliciously intense days. You’ll hear about the other two – my whirlwind tour of Upstate New York – in a future post.