A16Z Podcast on Startup Communities

Last week I participated in a podcast hosted by A16Z titled How Innovation Ecosystems Grow Around the Globe.


I got to talk with AnnaLee Saxenian, the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Innovation. Her book, Regional Advantage, had a huge impact from on my thinking around Startup Communities. From a 2010 blog post of mine about a bunch of books that I had read on a week off the grid.

Regional Advantage: A+: I’ve read bits of Annalee Saxenian’s seminal book about the differences between the evolution of Silicon Valley and Route 128, spent a tiny bit of time with Annalee at a Silicon Flatiron event, and have thought hard about this, but I had actually never read her book. It’s awesome – anyone that cares about how entrepreneurial communities work must read this.

The other guest was Chris Schroeder who recently wrote a book titled Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. I’m definitely going to spend more time with Chris in the future – he’s been spending a lot of time in the Middle East exploring entrepreneurship and has deep current experience and ideas that I’m interested in.

If you are interested in startup communities, I hope you will listen to this podcast. It’s one of the better ones I’ve done around the topic.

  • Rick

    One of the things that I’ve noticed when trying to start an entrepreneurial ecosystem in my area is that only a couple people wanted to be involved. Some said it was a good idea but most just didn’t ask to get involved. No offers of funding or time investment or any *action*.
    .
    To build an entrepreneurial ecosystem you MUST have a community that WANTS to be INVOLVED. Unlike a single start up that gets its vision and direction from the leader. A entrepreneurial ecosystem is built by many people getting involved.
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    That’s not to say a single person cannot teach enough for long enough to get people involved. But the fact is UNTIL others begin to get INVOLVED with action on their own accord then you DON’T have an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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    In other words if you say “Let’s start an ecosystem!” People need to say “Yes… Lets!” You cannot have people saying “Good idea I wait to see how it goes then if it starts looking good. I’ll join in.”
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    Again, in my opinion, if you talk about it long enough people might start to get involved. But that is the point when the ecosystem starts. Not while you have only one person talking.
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    Tell me your thoughts Brad.

    • I think communities vary from being so receptive to building an entrepreneurial support network, that they are naturally proactive about participating in and filling in the gaps to building it — to being very skeptical.

      The good thing is, if your community is very skeptical about it, there tend to be people who are frustrated about that skepticism, and I think they will come out of the woodwork as they start to see momentum being built by the initiators. Initiation could start as small as a Meetup group.

      From what I hear, this seems to be happening a bit right now in my hometown area of Albany, NY – some people are saying “finally!”, and they are getting amped up about it. But there remains a lot of work ahead.

    • You are correct about involvement. But, I also think there need to be some other things present. When we started in Chicago, we had a lot of the raw material. It just had to be combined, connected and put together. Previous attempts in Chicago had failed. They were mostly government lead. This latest attempt was lead by people not affiliated with anything. So far, it’s working and the ecosystem is growing. We have a ways to go, but there are things building here that are really fun.

      It’s not that it can’t be done in a place like Abilene, Kansas, but it certainly is tougher. I think Chattanooga, TN will be a very instructive place to watch. Their ecosystem is growing. It’s small, but it’s growing.

      • Rick

        What procedures do you follow to combine, connect and put together?
        .
        We have these things –
        Drawbacks:
        – Major heroin problem.
        – People working long hours because companies won’t hire extra employees so some who would be involved can’t be.
        – People working against efforts to change things.
        – People spreading disinformation about venture capital.
        – Bureaucratic mentality and “clickish” behavior.
        Advantages:
        – Many people who have nothing to do and would like to change that.
        – People who are interested but don’t know how to do a start up.
        – People who are trying to help but are not getting enough involvement to make continuing seem viable.
        – People who would rather see others fail so they can say “I told you so” mentality.
        – Resistance when trying to use public resources to generate involvement.

        • Rick

          *** Reposted *** cut and paste error.
          Drawbacks:
          – Major heroin problem.
          – People working long hours because companies won’t hire extra employees so some who would be involved can’t be.
          – People working against efforts to change things.
          – People spreading disinformation about venture capital.
          – Bureaucratic mentality and “clickish” behavior.
          – People who would rather see others fail so they can say “I told you so” mentality.
          – Resistance when trying to use public resources to generate involvement.
          Advantages:
          – Many people who have nothing to do and would like to change that.
          – People who are interested but don’t know how to do a start up.
          – People who are trying to help but are not getting enough involvement to make continuing seem viable.

          • We have heroin in Chicago, with some pretty bad drug violence in certain neighborhoods (thanks Nixon etc for the war on drugs) but that’s not in the startup communities where the startups thrive. Is your situation rural, or in a city where there is no avoiding heroin. Heroin will kill any community anywhere anytime.

            What you probably need is a person that was successful in startups to transplant into your community and become a leader. I don’t mean a handpicked person from the government or educational institution. I mean a full blown, I built a startup and exited person that has a passion for a particular place. In Chicago’s case, we have plenty.

          • Rick

            In this case the handpicked person is me. I handpicked myself. But I’ve not been involved with a start up ecosystem. All the start ups I’ve done have been self funded and self grown. All the start ups I’ve worked at I was in IT, specifically software development, in major city locations.
            .
            So that translates to my skills at building a start up ecosystem are very weak. Given I can’t get anyone from investors to consultants on board with a “Let’s do it attitude.” I’m thinking I would have to build from scratch.
            .
            I’ve tried two towns, yes these are more or less rural areas, and neither exhibit the characteristics I feel are needed to do an ecosystem in a timely manner. Also I met with another person who is trying to build a start up group in a neighboring town that I was considering as my next hope. But he said he can only get one or two people to attend the meetings.
            .
            I think I’m going to break my own rule and just find employment for now. I’m pacing the floor with boredom and when things go really slow like they are now with this ecosystem I can’t deal with it. I need fast paced action or I climb the walls.

          • No biggie if you are the person, and you have built companies, so that’s good too! Especially because you bootstrapped. If you are in a town with zero seed funding, knowing how to bootstrap is a key skill.

            Building the community at first might not be a full time job. It wasn’t in Chicago. You have to start small and grow tall. If it’s one or two meetings a month, start there. Just like advice you might give a person contemplating a startup, don’t quit your day job until the startup gets traction. Maybe getting a job would be good for you, as long as you can have one foot in the community.

          • Rick

            I agree. Thanks for the discussion.
            .
            I’ve learned from doing start ups that If the people don’t want something let it go or you could get trapped in a zombie company.
            .
            One thing. If start up ecosystems were still in infant stages, say 20 years ago, I would push harder. But people around the globe are familiar with this stuff and if they aren’t willing to “get active” then it’s not my place to force them.

          • When I started HPA in April of 2007, I had to persuade anyone I could find just to come to a meeting. On the flip side, I went to some extremely obscure meetups and met anyone I possibly could talk to in Chicago to find deal flow. It took a few years, but now neither of those things is a problem.