Wilson: The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs

Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures has an extraordinary post up titled The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs. Fred was part of the first cycle of the NYC startup community in the 1990’s and has played a key role in the development of evolution of it, while not limiting himself to only participating in startups in NYC. As a result, he’s got broad perspective about startup communities and the post he writes is right on the money. The conversation in his comments are great – go participate over there if you have comments.

This weekend finds NYC in between Internet Week (which I largely missed because of my London trip) and Disrupt NYC (which I will be at on and off this coming week). So the development of NYC as a startup hub is very much on my mind. And so I thought I’d post about the development of startup hubs.

This theory, which I like the call The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs, is not new and I certainly didn’t come up with it. But I think it is important for everyone to understand and so I’m going to blog about it.

If you study Silicon Valley, what you see is something that looks like a forest where trees grow tall, produce seeds that drop and start new trees, and eventually the older trees mature and stop growing or worse, die of disease and rot, but the new trees grow up even taller and stronger.

In my mental model of Silicon Valley, the first “tree” was Fairchild Semiconductor (founded in 1957) which begat Intel (founded 1968) which begat Apple (1976) and Oracle (1977), which begat Sun (1982), Silicon Graphics (1981), and Cisco (1984) which begat Siebel (1993) and Netscape (1994), which begat Yahoo! (1995) and eBay (1995), which begat Google (1998) and PayPal (1998), which begat YouTube (2005), Facebook (2004), and LinkedIn (2003) which begat Twitter (2006) and Zynga (2007), which begat Square (2010), Dropbox (2008), and many more.

If I left out important foundational companies of this mental model, please forgive me. That was not meant to be a comprehensive history. It was meant to illustrate how this evolutionary scenario plays out over time.

If you drill down a bit deeper, you see that the founders, investors and early employees generate a tremendous amount of wealth from these big successes. The later employees don’t make as much wealth but they do learn a ton and make enough money that they don’t need to work for someone else and so they strike out on their own and are often funded by the folks who made the big money in the prior startup. That’s how the seed drops from the tree and starts a new tree growing. This continues on and on and on.

If you look at that history of silicon valley, you see that in the forty year history (since Intel’s formation), there have been close to ten cycles of maturation and new company formation, and those cycles are getting shorter and the number of important foundational companies that are formed each cycle are increasing.

That makes total sense since this darwinian evolutionary model is non linear. One company begets two and those two companies beget four, and so on and so forth. Of course there are exogenous factors that also play out, like technology changes, financial market cycles, and the availability and cost of talent, and they impact how fast the startup hub economy expands.

This darwinian evolutionary model of startup hub development is not limited to silicon valley. We have seen it play out in other places, most notably Boston, and increasingly in NYC. It is also playing out in markets like Boulder Colorado and Austin Texas and many other parts of the US and many parts of the world.

When I look at a startup hub, I like to figure out what the “Fairchild Semiconductor” of that market was and when it got started. That tells me how far along the development cycle that startup hub is. In NYC, that was Doubleclick which was founded in 1996, the same year as my first venture capital firm, Flatiron Partners, which was founded on two premises, that the Internet would be big and that NYC would be an important locus of Internet innovation. We did not invest in Doubleclick (sadly) but we did invest in a lot of interesting Internet companies in NYC in the late 90s.

So NYC’s startub ecosystem is 16 years old now. And we are two cycles in. The companies that are getting started and funded right now in NYC are akin to the Apple/Oracle stage of silicon valley. If you want to push, you could suggest that we are three cycles in now and the companies that are getting funded right now are akin to the Sun/Silicon Graphics/Cisco era. That might be right.

But in any case, NYC’s tech sector is not anywhere close in terms of fertility to silicon valley. It will be there in another 25 to 30 years. And silicon valley will be even further along.

Unless, of course, something else happens.

The technological revolution that preceded the digital revolution was autos and airplanes. They were invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the first commercial startups emerged in the first decade of the 20th century.  The auto/airplane revolution played out until the 1960s/1970s. That suggests that a technology revolution lasts around 75 years.

The transistor was invented in the late 1940s and by 1958 we had commercial startups working on the technology. So if this revolution is anything like the last, the next big thing will be invented any day now and within a decade or two we will be on to the next technology revolution.

And in that case, all bets are off. Silicon Valley could become the next Detroit and who knows what will be the next Silicon Valley.

But of course, all of this is conjecture. History doesn’t repeat itself. But it does rhyme. That comes from Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). One of my favorite people ever.


Princeton, NJ: The Tigers of Entrepreneurship

Muneeb Ali, a CS PhD student at Princeton, and I went back and forth on email recently about personal productivity. We eventually started talking about startup communities and he mentioned he’s a member of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. I asked if he’s put together a short overview of what’s going on at Princeton around startups these days – it follows. 

If you catch the 09:01am train from Penn Station New York, you can reach Princeton in 68 minutes. More and more people involved in the thriving startup ecosystem of NYC have started making that trip. Once you reach Princeton, amongst the gothic architecture you’ll not only hear a chatter about liberal arts and politics, but will find a strong computer science, mathematics, and engineering culture as well. Most of this engineering talent used to go to Wall St or big tech companies like Google or Microsoft after graduation. However, recently there is an increased interest in starting or joining startups. Princeton doesn’t have a business school and entrepreneurship is viewed more as a way of contributing to economic growth and for taking a leadership role in society rather than a way of making money. In this post, we’re going to talk about what the startup ecosystem currently looks like in the small university town of Princeton, and what direction is it taking.

Small college towns are an interesting data point in startup communities. Young, motivated students bring a lot of energy to the community, experienced faculty members are there to provide mentorship, and potential cofounders can be found in random hallways in college dorms. Princeton is no different, only that it’s easier for students here to believe that they can change the world as they get easy access to people who, well, have changed the world. The startup ecosystem at Princeton can be divided into a) undergrad education and initiatives, b) faculty research and graduate students, and c) the community around Princeton town. Out of the three, the undergrads are the most enthusiastic so we’ll cover them first.

Interest in entrepreneurship and engineering is increasing every year amongst undergrads as indicated by the increasing sizes of computer science classes every year in general (in some courses by 3x!) and by the inreasing interest in entrepreneurship courses in particular. At Princeton, most university initiatives to promote entrepreneurship are managed by the Keller Center. These activities range from offering courses like High-Tech Entrepreneurship by Ed Zschau (the course that Tim Ferriss took and famously talks about in 4-Hour Work Week), to offering internship programs and organizing talks. Apart from university initiatives student-run grass root initiatives are also very popular on campus. Be it a 60 seconds pitch competition like Princeton Pitch or taking students on TigerTreks for visiting startups and entrepreneurs, you can trust the Princeton Eclub for making it happen. The Eclub is almost entirely run by undergrads and graduate students are largely absent from the scene (which is why we’ll cover them with faculty and research). The two most visible events organized by the Eclub are the TigerLaunch competition (similar to MIT 100K, but smaller) and the recent East Coast Startup Summit. It’s interesting to see that some past winners of the TigerLaunch competition, like Artsy and Memrise, took their winning ideas and transformed them into venture-backed startups. Now such companies serve as role models for the next batch of young Princeton entrepreneurs.

Interest in entrepreneurship is not just limited to undergrads, but the faculty and grad students also commercialize their research every now and then. Some recent examples are Data Domain (cloud backups company by Prof. Kai Li and acquired by EMC for $2.1 billion dollars), and CoBlitz (content delivery service by Prof. Vivek Pai and others and acquired by Verivue). Also, sometimes PhD research of grad students also gets commercialized by them as in the case of Ge Wang with Smule. University channels and policies for commercializing research seem to work, but much like any regulatory body there is obviously need for improvement as pointed out by some students.

The community around Princeton town is small, but the beautiful scenery, easy access to university resources, and small commute from NYC is attracting a few startups to be based out of Princeton e.g., Princeton Power Systems. A recent great development is a startup incubator, called TigerLabs, that will be accepting its first batch this summer. Princeton alumni are also fairly active in promoting entrepreneurship and hold an annual conference with the alumni homecoming. There are also local initiatives like the Tigers Meetup in NYC that are beginning to promote entrepreneurship in different cities. At this point these efforts may seem small and it might be hard to see Princeton as the Palo Alto of the Greater New York startup scene, but that might slowly change in the coming years.


Manchester, NH – How To Build A Startup Ecosystem In A Small City

Kyle York had a great post up on his blog a few weeks ago titled How To Build A Startup Ecosystem In A Small City. In it, he describes what’s going on in Manchester, New Hampshire, how it’s being led by entrepreneurs, what their motivations are, and what they are doing. It’s inspirational and shows what can be done in a city of 110,000 people. I asked if I could repost it verbatim and he said yes – here it is!

When talking about our individual and collective efforts to create a startup ecosystem in Manchester, NH, our leadership consistently hears, “That’s great, but c’mon. What’s in it for Dyn?”

To answer this question, you must first understand our roots. Co-founders Jeremy Hitchcock (CEO) and Tom Daly (CTO) were both brought up in the greater Manchester area and attended Manchester high schools. I actually met Jeremy in the halls of our middle school in the neighboring town of Bedford, way back in the mid 90’s.

Gray Chynoweth (COO) grew up 20 minutes north in Canterbury and breathes the state motto of “Live Free or Die”, while Josh Delisle (VP of Worldwide Sales) touts Amherst as his hometown. Joe Raczka (VP of Finance) is a Bedford alum, just like Jeremy and I. Matt Toy (VP of Client Services) hails from New London.

Cory von Wallenstein (CPO)? Well, he finally bought in and moved here two years ago from Massachusetts to join the movement. Like Cory, nearly every Dyn employee has bought in to the NH way of life and has their own unique story to tell.

For me, I grew up the middle child in a family of five sons. My parents worked their asses off and still own and operate a localsporting goods and screen printing business. They taught me everything I needed to know about business and community from a very early age (like trust and commitment) and have never wavered from that.

I went to college at Bentley in Waltham, MA, moved to California for a few years and was lured back home after being recruited by Jeremy. New Hampshire has a certain pride to it, a connection and pull for people who grew up and/or live(d) here.

It’s hard for outsiders to understand. It can be hard for us to explain.

Many people know of NH because they vacation here, but we have long been recognized as being a great place to live and raise a family and is often designated a small business oriented state. We couldn’t agree more, but with one difference.

I always say that entrepreneurs of yesterday opened up sporting goods stores (like my folks), pizza parlors, jewelry businesses and flower shops, while entrepreneurs of today do the same — just online in a global marketplace with a global audience.

The entire startup mentality is based around this “stick it to the man” attitude, but we simply have the Internet (ex: a domain name thanks to the best managed DNS company on the planet) as our home address, not Main Street in a traditional brick and mortar location that requires foot traffic to stay alive.

We are at the center of the business landscape of the state and we always challenge ourselves to be the next Boulder, CO, or Austin, TX, when it comes to startup hubs. Here’s what a local publication said about our quest.

Our parents set the foundation for us to care about community, to care about the local economy and to realize our ability to leave an impact in creating jobs, creating wealth and creating relevance in the process. We could run our business anywhere, but we choose to do it here. In Manchester, we aren’t just another tech company in the crowd and want to leave a legacy for our kids and grandkids.

Yes, it’s idealistic. Yes, it’s naive. Yes, it’s bold dreaming. But I actually think that’s the great inspiration for it all.

With our involvement in organizations like (see DynCares) the abi Innovation HubNH High Technology Council,TechHampshireStayWorkPlayNHSNHUThe Community College System of NHNH Catholic Charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters NHUS FirstFamilies in Transition and the Manchester Young Professionals Network and in startup advising/boards/investment/founding like TrendslideMosaicIncutioRuustrCarrier Pigeonsalesonrails1band 1brandand more, we’re just now scratching the surface. Dyn is our launching pad and it’s engrained in our culture and brand.

So back to the question of “What’s in it for Dyn?”.  Isn’t it obvious?

We grew up here. We love it here, especially the work/life balance you can create. We believe in the NH advantage when it comes to limited taxes, no traffic, low crime, affordable housing, good schools and access to lakes, beaches, mountains and Boston. Heck, people even tweet about it with the hashtags #MHT #NH. (Okay, maybe we started that, but still.)

It truly is all about the people. We promise long-term opportunity to everyone we recruit and hire at Dyn. By creating an innovation and technology ecosystem in NH, we’re creating a foundation to be able to prove it long-term. At Dyn, we’ve established a wonderful foundation to build upon. So, when people ask us again, “What’s in it for Dyn?,” we’ll simply share this blog post.

If you have interest in starting or moving your company to NH, please contact Jamie Coughlin, CEO at the abi Innovation Hub or drop us a line. I’m also easy to find right here in New Hampshire if I’m not globetrotting the world telling the story of why we love NH so damn much.


Cincinnati – An Entrepreneurial Community Built Around Brands

This week is Ohio week on Startup Communities. Yesterday we talked about Cleveland, today we are talking about Cincinnati. David Knox, the co-founder of The Brandery and Chief Marketing Officer of Rockfish Interactive weighs in with his thoughts on Cincinnati’s use of one of its natural resources – the “brand” – in the development of its startup community. In addition to talking about a key natural resource of the community, he also describes how the Cincinnati startup community is leveraging feeders such as the business community and the local university.

Dave starts off with a quote from Dave McClure, which while I don’t agree with, is nicely provocative: “And to be honest, design and marketing aren’t just EQUALLY important as engineering… designers, product managers & [technical, analytical] marketers are usually WAY MORE IMPORTANT than coders.” – Dave McClure of 500 Startups

In the business world, Cincinnati is best known as a “Brand Town”.  As the global headquarters for Procter & Gamble, Brand Management was literally invented in Cincinnati, a town that is also home to fellow Fortune 100 companies Kroger and Macy’s.   In fact, 9 Fortune 500 companies call Cincinnati home, resulting in the second highest per capita number of Fortune 500 headquarters in the U.S.

This concentration of major companies has created a business ecosystem that revolves design and marketing.  Cincinnati is filled with graphic designers, market researchers, advertising agencies and analytical marketers who have helped the region emerge as a global hub for branding and design.

Over the last few years, start-ups in Cincinnati have begun to recognize that this expertise in consumer marketing is one of the region’s most valuable natural resources.  Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community is rallying around this natural resource, applying the region’s strength in design and marketing to bring their startup brands to life.

At the center of this movement is The Brandery (applications for the 2012 program are open), which is showing the power of startup accelerators to catalyze a community around a natural resource. Before The Brandery was launched in 2010, Cincinnati’s startup community was struggling to find common ground.    The region had seen success in life sciences with startups such as AssureRX, as well some traction in information technology and advanced materials.  But these industries did not create a critical mass of entrepreneurial density in the startup community.

Enter The Brandery, which in fewer than 2 years has started to gain national attention for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community by focusing on Consumer Marketing, the natural resource of the region.  The result of this focus is that The Brandery has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Startup Accelerators in the US, invited to be a charter member of the Global Accelerator Network, and attracted over a dozen new startups to the region.

The Brandery has achieved this success by placing entrepreneurs as the leaders, yet leveraging feeders to support the growth.  The most important of these feeders have been the business community and local universities, both of which have played a significant role in supporting The Brandery:

Business Community as a Feeder:  The thematic focus of The Brandery on Consumer Marketing is largely due to the region’s concentration of talent in this area.  Cincinnati is not a town that is bursting with engineers, but it does have one of the most remarkable pools of designers and marketers in the country (if not the world).  Startups at The Brandery are able to tap into this talent pool for world-class mentorship, as well as potential hires.  Additionally, the startups are able to leverage mentors from companies such as Google, Get Satisfaction, and Facebook that regularly visit Cincinnati to call on marketers at P&G and Kroger.  Additionally, startups at The Brandery also benefit from unique service providers such as marketing and design agencies like LPK, Landor, Rockfish, Possible Worldwide and Empower that donate their services to startups in the program.  And finally, startups are able to leverage the business community of Cincinnati as early customers, gaining access to significant marketing dollars from brands in CPG, Food and Beverage, and Retail.

Local Universities as a Feeder:  According to Entrepreneur Magazine, the Cincinnati region is home to three of the top 25 schools for undergraduate education in entrepreneurship (Miami University, Xavier University and University of Dayton).  Additionally, the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) is consistently ranked in the top tier of international design schools.    As a result, Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community has a tremendous feeder for startup talent from the local universities.

Through programs such as The Brandery, Cincinnati is creating an entrepreneurial community that is built around brands and the region’s natural resource of design and marketing.


Cleveland’s Entrepreneurial Renaissance

I love that many of the emails I am getting include the phrase “entrepreneurial renaissance” in the title. Renaissance is such a powerful phrase – a brief trip to wikipedia helps us realize why it rings so true in this context.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Though the invention of printing sped the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe. As a cultural movement, it encompassed innovative flowering of Latin and vernacular literatures, beginning with the 14th-century resurgence of learning based on classical sources, which contemporaries credited to Petrarch, the development of linear perspective and other techniques of rendering a more natural reality in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. In politics the Renaissance contributed the development of the conventions of diplomacy, and in science an increased reliance on observation that would flower later in the Scientific Revolution beginning in the 17th century. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term “Renaissance man“.

Deb Mills-Scofield took up the challenge and wrote me a thoughtful note of the things driving the entrepreneurial renaissance in Cleveland (and – more broadly – the Northeast Ohio area). It follows:

Northeast Ohio (NEO), from the Akron/Canton area south to Cleveland North and from Youngstown east to Lorain County West has become a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship.   It’s the Polymer/Hi-Tech Valley.   So how has this happened? It’s taken a few years – starting with early growth about 8 years ago to more rapid innovation and startups today.  These are just a few of the factors that have contributed to this.

  • Universities – such as Univ of Akron & Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) – investment in tech transfer; Kent State known globally for its leadership in fashion design.
  • Disruptive innovation in higher education for the masses through the efforts of community colleges like Lorain County Community Collegewhich increase access to education and training for skilled labor, liberal arts and high-tech:
  • World class medical research and innovation global leaders like The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Summa Health System which spin out medical device and diagnostic equipment and protocol startups as well as bringing in millions of dollars in research grants.  Combined with increased investment sources (below), NEO is now one of the top bio-tech VC investment locations in the USA;
  • Increased seed, angel and early-stage funding sources – both private and local to state-level public sources.  While there were just a couple of sources 7 years ago, there are many sources today including some VCs from other parts of the USA who have opened offices here.
  • Entrepreneurship is ‘place-based’ and NEO has a growing, eclectic, inter-generational community that is building and attracting startups, including an increasing number of serial entrepreneurs which means more and more companies being created with more experienced people who have learned from failure and success and apply that to each new venture (a virtuous spiral)
  • Rapidly growing IT/Design/New Media/Social Media sector with young, passionate, terrific people who are helping make Cleveland and the region and cool, fun, artistic, musical, foodie hot spot.  In fact, companies in these sectors are growing so rapidly they are having trouble hiring enough people.
  • Thriving Arts sector – visual arts, performing arts, music, etc.  Cleveland has one of the world’s best orchestras, one of the nation’s few free art museums and the soon to be opened new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art.  It is also home to one of the top conservatories in the US, Oberlin College Conservatory that is doing innovative work not just in music,     but also in the business of music and in using music to increase academic achievement in underserved K-12 education locations. The Cleveland Institute of Art is a major global player in industrial design.  In addition, the East 4th street restaurant scene has great music (and food and shopping).  Galleries, bands, gathering places are popping up all over the region.  These attract all kinds of creative and innovative people from very diverse backgrounds.  As Richard Florida has said over and over, the Creative class needs the arts!
  • Foodie Haven – Cleveland has become one of the nation’s Foodie hotspots as well.  A restaurant review for the New York Times recently wrote about how surprised and delighted she was with the great food in Cleveland.  Our local chef, Michael Symon, put Cleveland on the map when he became an Iron Chef.  There is every type of ethnic cuisine in every type of venue and ambiance.  A recent visitor to the city remarked on the terrific food and the use of locally grown produce.  In fact, the internationally renowned over 100-year-old West Side Market has been chosen to host the 8th International Public Markets Conference in 2012.
  • The North Coast is a neat place to live – downtown occupancy rates are over 95%, the lake is a great place to enjoy the warm season, including a new boat house for the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of the most visited in the US, amazing parks (e.g., The Emerald Necklace), paths and history.
  • History of entrepreneurship and innovation – let’s not forget that Cleveland has a strong history of innovation and entrepreneurship over the past 150 years.  While the elements that fostered that economic engine had dimmed, they were not extinguished and are coming alive, being built upon and learned from.

While you won’t read about much of this in the local Cleveland press, there is something almost daily in the national on-line/off-line press.  Cleveland’s growth stems from its heritage, its diversity of people, education institutions, arts, sciences, skills and recreation. Innovation comes from all these areas – in themselves and in combination bringing new viewpoints, new customers, new markets and new needs. All of these are why Cleveland and NE Ohio has become a great place to start a business and a life.


Entrepreneurial Attitudes In Kansas City

I’ve gotten many emails about how startup communities grow and develop completely separately from Silicon Valley. Following is an overview of what’s driving the Kansas City startup community right now, written by Herb Sih, the co-founder and managing partner of Think Big Partners.

The founders of Think Big Partners toured the startup scene in Silicon Valley before they launched their Midwest business incubator and startup accelerator.  And although the Think Big team uncovered helpful tips during a tour of the Valley (like the impact of coworking spaces, the need for local funders and the importance of a tech culture), they seemed to learn one lesson that was much more impactful after returning back to their home of Kansas City:  You don’t need to be like Silicon Valley in order to get Silicon Valley-esque results.

And that’s where Think Big Partners started.  They asked themselves, “How can we make a Silicon Valley impact with our own Midwestern roots?  How can we make a dent in the startup and tech worlds in our own city, on our own watch?”  The team answered these questions by developing one of Kansas City’s first coworking spaces, which has been the second home to over 50 entrepreneurs and their startup companies.  Think Big Partners also developed a business incubator and startup accelerator model that has helped to launch and grow some of the most successful Midwestern businesses today.  With collaboration from other Kansas City entrepreneurial superstars such as the Kauffman Foundation, KCSourceLink, Kansas PIPELINE, the University of Kansas City-Missouri Bloch School and others, Think Big Partners helped to make entrepreneurial success one of the city’s main focuses.

And Think Big Partners’ launch was timed just right.  Because soon after the launch of TBP, Kansas City (and the Midwest for that matter) underwent an immense entrepreneurial transformation.

Since the launch of Think Big Partners, entrepreneurship seemed to explode in and around the Kansas City area.  Startup companies such as Zaarly, Dwolla and LiveOn have flourished in the Midwest.  There has been so much startup success that the Midwestern region has become known as Silicon Prairie.

But it isn’t Silicon Valley that has defined the terms for Silicon Prairie.  The Silicon Prairie area is an entrepreneurial movement in its own right.  For instance, Silicon Prairie has become the home of the nation’s first Google 1-Gigabit Fiber Network, has been named the IT hub by The Wall Street Journal and is gradually becoming known as The City of Entrepreneurs.  This has all been on Silicon Prairie’s watch—not Silicon Valley’s.

But how has this entire region grown its startup scene without help from Silicon Valley?  The answer is obvious: with entrepreneurial attitudes.  Silicon Prairie is all about collaboration.  At one moment, you’ll see that H&R Block has rejuvenated its entrepreneurial mentorship program and the next, you’ll find that The Kauffman Foundation has invested in Kansas PIPELINE initiatives.  In one instant, you will learn about Think Big Partners’ Gigabit Challenge business plan competition and the next, you’ll see five new coworking spaces pop up around the Midwest.  Everyone is working on entrepreneurship together—making the Midwest one of the nation’s up-and-coming entrepreneurial hubs to date (we like to also call this “coopetition”—where competitors end up cooperating together instead of competing against each other.  This is one of the main reasons that Kansas City and the Midwest have become so entrepreneurial.)

It’s not about having a Silicon Valley attitude—it’s about having an entrepreneurial attitude.  It’s about partnering with other organizations in and around your area.  It’s about thinking big with entrepreneurs that sit next to you in your coworking space.  It’s about collaboarting with tech gurus, social media wizards and community leaders at cool business events.  It’s the people that make a community an entrepreneurial one—not the location—and it’s up to you to contribute.


Troy, NY – Uncle Sam’s Original Home

When I lived in Boston in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I got to know John Miller through Young Entrepreneurs Organization. We were both in the Boston chapter and in the same forum group. It was a powerful time in both of our lives as we were each running our first company at the time. Now, 20+ years later, we are each deeply involved in creating a startup community where we live. John’s spending his time these days in Troy and his story of what’s happening there right now follows.

Troy, NY is beginning its renaissance; a great city of the past uniquely poised for the future. It has grand architecture befitting one of the richest cities in the country in its heyday. Uncle Sam is ‘the’ iconic symbol of American patriotism and is a Troy native. Troy is home to historic schools such as RPI. Many movies have been filmed here due to the architecture. Troy is one of the beautiful cities along the Hudson River. Where else can you see bald eagles flying around from your office window.

You can feel the energy in the air. Something exceptional is happening here. It is not just the revitalized downtown and a booming tech and gaming industry that make this area on the Hudson river ready for its second coming. It is individuals and local companies at the center of this rally. Yes it is home to top gaming companies including Vicarious Visions, 1st Playables and Agora Games. What else makes this special? It is the massive grassroots support for growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem. When someone in the community needs help the others are there. Dozens of people and companies are giving freely of their time and resources to make Startup Weekend and GrandSlam Alley a success. Both these efforts are something the whole community is rallying around.

GrandSlam Alley is a business accelerator in the heart of downtown Troy run by full time entrepreneurs and business people. We have the focused goal of growing prosperous businesses, creating jobs and making this area the gaming capital of the world. We are just opening our doors and we have already seen dozens of local companies interested in becoming part of GrandSlam Alley. We won’t let companies settle in for the long haul – we help you set milestones that will either prove out your business model quickly or shut you down and out you go. Move forward or fail fast and try something else. We hope to find the next Zynga – but our core goal is to grow small companies into thriving businesses that contribute to the local ecosystem. We are confident that we can do this repeatedly with the continued support of our business community as well as the local Government agencies. Local universities and accelerators as well as the upstate venture funds have all shown a keen interest in working together to foster upstate entrepreneurship.

The Capital District is just a short and beautiful train ride from NY City. It is a great place to raise children and have a balanced family life. The cost of just about everything is less up here than in ‘the city’. We have growing Nano and Biotech industries and excellent universities that feed them including Albany State, Sienna, Skidmore, Russell Sage, Union, and RPI. We will never be Silicon Valley but we can and will grow successful companies and build out a great entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building

I’ve gotten to know Zakaria Shaikh through his work at Startup Michigan. I thought his post on his Thoughts on Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building was great and it is reposted here with his permission.

It’s not every weekend that I have the opportunity to be surrounded by entrepreneurs working on transformational ideas in the city of Detroit. Last Saturday, I was invited to judge Detroit Harmonie‘s Get Funded Challenge, a social entrepreneur pitch event with entrepreneurs competing for $50,000 in funding. I have judged a number of university-, corporate-, and state-sponsored business plan competitions and pitches over the years, but this pitch event was distinctly different. This was certainly one of those “you had to be there to feel it” events. Here are my thoughts on the parallels between what I thought DH did right and its application to entrepreneurial community building in Michigan.

As a background, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the lack of a robust statewide, entrepreneurial community in Michigan– primarily the need and how to go about developing one. I noticed many aspects of the Get Funded Challenge that illustrated key, but often overlooked, points to consider in developing a stronger entrepreneurial community.

1. The DH Board did a phenomenal job in engaging a great breadth of stakeholders in Detroit. A representative from the White House’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities was present. The Mayor’s chief of staff kicked-off the event. Detroit-based corporations were engaged as sponsors or as participants. Small- and medium-sized businesses were in attendance. (Ann Arbor-based Zingermans had a great cheese-tasting table there– If you were trying to get to the table, I apologize. I was the one holding up the traffic there, and asking the Zingermans’ rep questions about the cheeses and tasting each one.) There were many students from colleges and universities present. And a diverse group of entrepreneurs were also there- engaged, networking, exchanging ideas about startups and community projects, and just having a good time.

Detroit Harmonie engaged with all stakeholders in Detroit. I bet not everyone understood the organization’s vision from the website, press releases, or executive summary and just showed up for the celebration (more on this below), but I am willing to bet that by the end of the night, after experiencing the pitch event, great food, diverse people, and live music, everyone understood clearly what DH was about, what makes its activities critical to Detroit’s revitalization, and five reasons (five pitches) to support DH.

So, engagement with all stakeholders is critical. If some don’t get it, there’s nothing like some food and entertainment in a great venue to put on some “show and tell”. There are many storied, Michigan-based corporations and family foundations— has the startup community (and I put myself in this boat) engaged with them sufficiently to help them understand what Michigan’s startup universe looks like, its community and economic impact, its challenges, and the types of resources needed to support these job creators? If you are passionate about this, send me a note and I will put you in touch with a kickass group of entrepreneurs heading this project.

2. Another great aspect of the event was its premise. It was very simple, at least in the way that I interpreted it: let’s come together to celebrate entrepreneurs who are making things happen in the city. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something like that? Think about the city-, county-, or state-wide impact Michigan startups are creating everyday. Did a company close a large financing round, expand its facility, and start hiring people? Did a company exit and its alum are now out there investing in or starting up new ventures? We have many such  examples in Michigan. All these activities translate into quantifiable community and economic impact worthy of a celebration. So, pick a reason and celebrate. Repeat.

3. If you are not an entrepreneur (universities, EDCs, incubators, accelerators, VCs, law firms, corporations), listen up. Put entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat. DH’s founders and over half its board are entrepreneurs who are committed to Michigan, community-minded, visionary, and working everyday to build a robust community. There is no substitute for this sort of leadership. If you are a public or private organization that is serious about nurturing a statewide entrepreneurial community and making Michigan a go-to place for entrepreneurship, then go find the visionary, community-minded entrepreneurial leaders (and there are quite a few around the state) and ask them how you can help. And then help them. Have them lead and get out of the way.

This post is way longer that I expected. But hopefully the point is abundantly clear: to nurture a statewide entrepreneurial community, all strata and stakeholders of the city/county/state must be engaged –very few people will turn down food, entertainment, and a great cause; make the intersection of the strata/stakeholders an opportunity to celebrate something– in other words, make it a fun event that appeals to the human element in all of us and not just another boring meeting; and develop/support entrepreneur-led community-building efforts- there is no substitute for it.


FinServe Tech Angels in St. Louis, MO

I’ve been getting lots of emails from readers of this blog and Feld Thoughts about my Startup Communities book effort with stories of their own. For now, I’m going to keep posting them (with permission of the authors) as I explore a way to open this site up so people can self-publish their own stories. In the mean time, please keep them coming – they are enormously helpful as I continue to work through both the book and my theory about how Startup Communities work. In addition, it’s great exposure for your startup community and some of the comment threads have been outstanding (please weigh in if you have thoughts and/or are doing similar things in your startup community.)

Today’s post is from Kyle Welborn, the founder and executive director of FinServe Tech Angels in St. Louis, MO.

I want to start by saying that I am not yet a leader in my city’s entrepreneurial community, but I am trying to be. I left a day job in September of last year to launch a new angel group in St. Louis, MO. In building this new angel group, I am trying to capitalize on St. Louis’ strengths. I think it is much harder and more expensive to build entrepreneurial capacity from scratch than it is to focus on an area where my community already has some domain expertise. In St. Louis, we have a large cluster of people who know the financial services industry. According to our chamber of commerce, 84,000 St. Louis residents work in the financial services sector. In fact, two of the three professional sports stadiums in the city are named after large financial services companies headquartered here, the Edward Jones Dome and the Scottrade Center.

My belief is that entrepreneurs ultimately decide where to locate their business based on three things: where do their customers live, where can they hire great talent, and where can they raise capital. No region has all three of those elements for every business industry out there. However, I believe St. Louis has the customers and talent necessary for financial services technology entrepreneurs to succeed. I decided to start building an industry focused angel group to fill in the missing capital void for these start-ups. It is way too early to know if this idea will work or not. My group is only up to 10 members, and to date, we have not yet made an investment. However, I have gotten people to join, built a Board of Directors, and we are in due diligence on several companies.
There are several other cities trying to improve the start-up eco-system by focusing on their strengths as well. Cincinnati is leveraging Proctor and Gamble in running an accelerator program called the Brandery specifically focused on consumer products companies. Rock Island, Illinois is tapping into John Deere to help their entrepreneurs find new uses for old patents. Not every city is going to be Silicon Valley or Boulder. However, every community has something that its city’s big corporations are good at, and focusing on these strengths seems like the right way to start building a successful start-up community.

Action in Ann Arbor, MI

Late last year, my partner Jason Mendelson and I took a trip to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. Jason is an alum, I was merely an interloper. We each had an awesome time and wrote two posts about it – Entrepreneurship in Ann Arbor, Michigan and College Is Like A Sandbox.

Yesterday, our good friend Roger Ehrenberg, also a Michigan alum wrote a post titled Thoughts from Ann Arbor. He covered a bunch of stuff we saw, but also found a few new interesting things.

Regardless, it’s pretty clear that Ann Arbor is working hard at building out a robust startup community around the base of the University of Michigan. I’ve always had a mental model that Ann Arbor is a cool college town that had a lot of similarities to Boulder. It’s fun to see it really come alive on the startup front. And I loved the punch line from Roger’s post:

“While I’ll deal with my view of the next generation of data scientists in a subsequent post, I am incredibly interested in helping to build a dedicated program towards this end at Michigan. All the pieces are there. It just requires some cross-departmental cooperation in order to bring it to life. This is one of my missions for my alma mater: help to pull together a data science program that empowers student/practitioners to solve tomorrow’s problems today. It can be done. It must be done. It will be done.”

Can you name a few famous University of Michigan entrepreneurial alumni? I can. Some might surprise you.


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