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As 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, Entrepreneurs. It’s part of a series they are doing titled The Next Silicon Valley. It 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.
Richard Florida continues to write amazing stuff about Startup Communities in The Atlantic Online. Two of his latest articles talk about entrepreneurial density and venture capital.
- High-Tech Challengers to Silicon Valley
- The Connection Between Venture Capital and Diverse, Dense Communities
For a long time I’ve suggested that an interesting measure of entrepreneurial density would be ((entrepreneurs + employees of startups) / total population). I asserted in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City that I thought Boulder had the highest entrepreneurial density in the world. I qualified this by staying I had no real empirical data – it was merely an assertion based on my experience.
Richard took this notion a step further in his article High-Tech Challengers to Silicon Valley and actually did some math. In it, he looked at Venture Capital financing (total dollars and number of deals) on a per-capital basis. Boulder came in third, behind “San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA” (what most of us think of as “Silicon Valley”) and “San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA” (what most of us think of as San Francisco.)
The comments are fascinating and generally miss the point. One in particular, called Richard unethical, although it was from “WithheldName” (also known as Anonymous Coward).
“It’s totally unfair to make Boulder separate from Denver. Combine Boulder and Denver. It’s called the Denver-Boulder Metropolitan Statistical Area for a reason. Was Cambridge separated from Boston? Of course not. The author was from Boulder. This data was slanted to Boulder. It was totally unethical.”
This particular person doesn’t understand that Boulder and Denver are separate startup communities. In contrast, Cambridge and Boston are one startup community, consisting of six startup neighborhoods (three in Cambridge, three in Boston, all within a 15 minute drive of each other, even in traffic.)
More importantly, the author of the article wasn’t from Boulder. I’m from Boulder. I didn’t write the article – Richard did. And – he was pretty clear about all of that, so our friend needs to rethink his definition of the word “unethical.”
That said, the more interesting study is by zip code, not by city or MSA. Mixing MSAs and cities creates a comparison that isn’t precise. And Richard acknowledges this:
“I’ll continue to track the evolving geography of start-ups and venture capital in future posts. Next week, I’ll look at the economic, demographic and social characteristics of metros that are associated with venture capital and start-up activity. In future posts, I’ll delve more deeply into all of this, using detailed data by area code and zip code level to tease out the changing geography of venture capital and start-up activity and its distribution across cities and suburban areas.”
I think the real magic in the analysis around entrepreneurial density will happen at the zip code level on a per capita basis. Look for 80302, 02139, and 10003 to show up high on the list along with some starting with 94xxx.
Startup Weekend and Startup America Partnership are joining forces to create UP Global. In addition to Startup Weekend, UP Global also runs Next, StartupDigest, and NYSE Big Startup. Marc Nager, the CEO of Startup Weekend, will be the CEO of Up Global. Steve Case, the chairman of Startup America Partnership, will be the chairman of Up Global.
I’m extremely psyched. I’ve been involved in both organizations since inception. The first Startup Weekend happened in Boulder in June 2007 and have been on the board for the past few years. I was at the White House for the launch of Startup America, which included launch of the privately funded Startup America Partnership. NCWIT and TechStars were founding members. I’m the co-chair of Startup Colorado. Many of the ideas in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City have been informed by my experience with both organizations, and they’ve each incorporated many of these ideas into what they are doing.
I’ve made many new entrepreneurial friends on this journey so far. I’ve been absolutely delighted and blown away by the leadership of Marc Nager and his team in the growth of Startup Weekend around the world. Scott Case and Steve Case, along with their team, have done an outstanding job at Startup America Partnership mobilizing broad startup community initiatives across the United States and elevating the understanding and importance of entrepreneurship at a national level. And the Kauffman Foundation – who I continue to have immense respect for – has been an incredibly strong supporter of both organizations.
UP Global is a logical next step in the creation of vibrant entrepreneurial communities around the world. I’m a huge believer in consolidating efforts in the non-profit between complementary organizations. This one was a natural and logical one and I’m excited about what’s coming up.
Handprint is working on some amazing 3D printing and editing technology. We had plenty of applications for the competition – many of them very interesting – but Handprint really captured our imagination.
As winners of the competition, they’ll get to live in the house rent free for a year. I’ll pay for Google Fiber and the house; they cover their own expenses. There are no strings attached – I don’t get any equity and there are no downstream obligations for them.
Google Fiber was installed last week so when they move in they’ll immediately have access to 1 gigibit Internet.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m doing this as an experiment around Startup Communities. I’m fascinated about what is going on in Kansas City around Google Fiber and rather than observe, I decided to participate.
Thanks to Ben Barreth for inspiring this project with his Homes for Hackers discussion with me when we met at Thinc Iowa. And thanks for Lesa Mitchell at Kauffman Foundation for all of her support. Both Ben and Lesa have done all the hard work on this project – I’m deeply appreciative of their help. Also, thanks to Scott Case of Startup America for helping judge the competition.
A huge congrats to the Handprint team which consists of Mike Demarais, Alexa Nguyen, Jack Franzen, and Derek Caneja. I look forward to getting to know you better over the next year. Welcome to the Fiberhood!
This article originally appeared online at Inc.com in an article titled Government Shouldn’t Be In The Accelerator Business. I talk more about this and lots of other topics in my recent book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
As a co-founder of TechStars, I’m a huge believer in the mentor-driven accelerator model. But I don’t think government should be funding these accelerators, nor do I think they need to.
A good accelerator can be run in any city in the world for $500,000. Entrepreneurs with a compelling track record and approach should be able to easily raise, or even provide this capital. As evidence of this, there are already hundreds of accelerators in the U.S., without government funding, being run as entrepreneurial ventures for profit by entrepreneurs.
When we started TechStars in 2006, the idea of an accelerator was brand new. We funded the first TechStars program in Boulder in 2007 with $230,000. There were four investors – me, TechStars CEO David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis. All four of us had been successful entrepreneurs and we decided to try TechStars as an experiment to help create more early stage start-ups in Boulder. We figured out the downside case was that we’d spend $230,000 and end up attracting 20 or so new, smart entrepreneurs to Boulder.
That first program went great and has already returned over two times our invested capital with several of the companies still having future value. We ran the second program in 2008, expanded to Boston in 2009, and adopted a funding strategy for each local program which we continue to use to this day. TechStars surpassed our wildest expectations and now runs over 10 programs a year for over 100 start-ups around the United States. We’ve begun expanding internationally with our first program running this summer in London. And there are many other accelerators around the world using the TechStars mentor-driven model that are members of the Global Accelerator Network.
All of this is privately funded. We’ve never taken a dollar of government funding, nor do we plan to.
While the amount of money required to run a program has increased from the original $230,000, it’s still well under $1,000,000 per program cycle. As a result, the amount of capital we need to raise to run a TechStars program is modest, and since we run it to make a financial return, it is actually an investment, rather than an expense. And, by being focused first on the financial return as well as playing a long-term game (we expect to be running TechStars accelerators for a long time), we are very thoughtful about how we allocate capital.
If entrepreneurs can’t figure out how to fund it, why should the government do it? That just seems like a situation where capital is going to be allocated poorly and the incentives won’t be tightly aligned.