Brad Feld

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Entrepreneurs vs. VCs

Mar 18, 2009

I caught the tail end of SXSWi (showed up yesterday and gave a speech sponsored by the Canadian Consulate) and am hanging around today for some night time music entertainment as the music part of SXSW. It’s pretty cool to watch Austin shift from “nerds” (the SXSWi gang) to “hipsters” (the SXSW music gang); while the music scene is not my thing (I’m a nerd), it’s highly entertaining to observe this species in action.

On Monday night I co-hosted a meeting at the Governor’s Mansion in Denver with a group of about 20 significant Colorado entrepreneurs (and a few academics, government people, the Governor and State CIO, one other VC, and two CxO’s of a large Denver-based “ICT” company).  The discussion was around ICT in Colorado and our local entrepreneurial ecosystem.  I’ve long believed that the entrepreneurs are the motive force behind all entrepreneurial ecosystems – not the VCs, the other service providers, the government, or anyone else.  It might be a tautology (e.g. “entrepreneurs drive the entrepreneurial ecosystem”) but I regularly hear people – including very smart and experienced ones – assert other things such as overstating the importance of the presence of VCs to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

My experience with TechStars has given me a set of great insights into the notions of entrepreneurial communities and how they develop, evolve, and sustain themselves.  I’m heading over to Capital Factory this afternoon to talk to the guys there about what they are doing (a similar type of seed stage mentoring program that is running their first year in Austin this summer).  When wandering around SXSW yesterday, I saw floods of techies and entrepreneurs – nary a VC in sight.

When I think about who I spend most of my time with, it’s entrepreneurs.  When I think about who really drives innovation, it’s entrepreneurs.  When I think about the core of any entrepreneurial community (or ecosystem, or whatever you want to call it), it’s entrepreneurs.  When I think about the history (and future) of innovation in the US, it’s all about entrepreneurs.

Last fall I read Spencer Ante’s fantastic book Creative Capital: Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital.  It’s been bouncing around in my mind as I ponder my view of the role of the VC in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially as all the noise has started circulating again about the inevitable change / re-invention of the VC industry. 

VC’s play a role in all of this, but it’s one that I regularly feel is dramatically overstated, misrepresented (including by many VCs) and misunderstood.  We provide different resources and value than lawyers, accountants, investment bankers, and PR and marketing firms, but we are still simply one of the inputs into the entrepreneur ecosystem.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this as I continue to think out loud on my blog about the dynamics of “entrepreneurial communities.”  As always, feel free to challenge me about anything as I play around with these ideas in public.