Category: Startup Communities
I was at a dinner event last night in Denver where, predictably, coronavirus (which I’ve been trying to call Covid-19, but everyone seems to default back to coronavirus) came up.
I’ve tried to avoid being “that person” who has a strong opinion because so much is changing so quickly. Instead, I’ve tried to have a “clear opinion” based on what I currently know and how it’s impacting my world. I was particularly sensitized to this since, at a board meeting earlier in the day where it came up, someone asked me directly, “How do you think coronavirus will impact things?” A few minutes later I realized I was stuck in exactly the kind of rant that I was trying to avoid.
Over the past year, as Ian Hathaway and I worked on our upcoming book The Startup Community Way, I’ve thought a lot about complex systems. We based our conceptual framework on the theory of complex adaptive systems (which we’ve shorted to complex systems in the book for ease of reading) and it has been a really enjoyable intellectual rabbit hole to go down with Ian.
How Covid-19 is playing out is a classic example of a complex system. One of the key attributes that we discuss is contagion – both positive and negative. And, with Covid-19, we are seeing negative contagion at multiple different levels, most notably biological and economic. But, there are several others including one I’ll label hysteria.
Here’s an example. When a large technology company in a city shuts down its offices, cancels all travel, and insists everyone works remotely from home, other large technology companies around the world and other companies in the city pay attention to this. Suddenly, there is a conversation going on everywhere that is the equivalent of “should we do the same thing?” The emotional cadence of this conversation is high, so companies over-index on trying to figure out the right answer, where there isn’t really one given the nature of a complex system. Rational thinking generally aligns with “we’ll do whatever the CDC is suggesting we do”, but anyone who either doesn’t trust the government or authority figures won’t be satisfied with this. They will become more agitated (negative contagion on hysteria), which will generate more conversations and potential actions. Regardless of the actions, the cost of the conversations will be high, generate more uncertainty and agitation, and the negative contagion will continue.
I’m not suggesting that Covid-19 is no big deal. I’m not asserting that companies shouldn’t shut down offices or people shouldn’t work for home. Rather, I’m giving an example of negative contagion on a dimension (hysteria) that is appearing in complex systems that I’m involved in.
Intellectually, it’s fascinating. Emotionally, it’s challenging.
A Simple, a Complicated, and a Complex system walk into a bar.
Simple says to the bartender, “Can I have a drink?” The bartender gives Simple a glass of water.
Complicated says to the bartender, “Can I have a Rum Martinez?” The bartender does the following:
Complex says to the bartender, “Can I have a Startup Community?” The bartender escorts Complex to the spot behind the bar where the bartender was previously standing and says, “You now have all the tools to make your own drink.”
Ian and I are in Knoxville grinding through getting our draft of The Startup Community Way (now at 65,000 words) into shape. A core part of the construct of the book is the notion of a complex adaptive system which we are using as the framework for explaining the behavior of a startup community.
To understand how a startup community evolves, you have to understand how complex adaptive systems work. SCW (our TLA for the book The Startup Community Way, as compared to SC1, which is our TLA for the book Startup Communities) has two chapters on this (currently Chapter 5: The Science of Startup Communities and Chapter 6: Practical Implications of Complex Adaptive Systems).
But even before you get to this point, it’s important to understand the difference between Simple, Complicated, and Complex systems. As a starting point, I thought I’d try to describe them in simple language, rather than dig into the extended theory around them.
A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one, way to do it.
A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have multiple different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.
A Complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers.
When you toss in the word “adaptive”, you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.
Startup communities are complex adaptive systems. Ian and I have been wrestling that notion to the ground for a while (I credit him with coming up with the idea) and we are getting closer, even though the answer keeps changing as we learn more about it (see what I did there?)
Amy and I are in Knoxville, Tennessee all week. We are with Ian Hathaway (my co-author of an upcoming book titled The Startup Community Way) finishing up the draft of the book.
My plan was to end the week with the Knoxville Marathon on Sunday (marathon #26) but I had a crummy long run on Saturday in Boulder and woke up this morning with a cold. While it could merely be pre-race hypochondria, I feel lethargic enough to consider downgrading to the half marathon. Plus, my resting HR is 60, vs. my normal low 50s, so it’s another indicator that I’m worn out and need to take care of myself. So, we will see.
Recently, Ian and Richard Florida did a large study that culminated in an extensive report on the Rise of the Global Startup City. In addition to the report, there’s a website with a digital story and a lot of data to play around with.
If this is a topic you are interested in, it’s worth spending some time reading all the links.
I received a Silicon Flatirons email from Phil Weiser this morning in his role as Silicon Flatirons Founder and Executive Director. My partners and I, especially Jason Mendelson, have been very involved with Silicon Flatirons over the past decade. I have a chapter in Startup Communities that uses CU Boulder – and specifically Silicon Flatirons – as an example of a much better way than the traditional approach (circa 2012) for a university to engage with the startup community.
One of the key leaders in this activity is Brad Bernthal. While BradB has become a close friend over the years, I think that he doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves for his endless and tireless engagement in and across the activities of CU Boulder + the Boulder startup community. It made me extremely happy to see Phil’s email and I decided to reblog it because I think it does a great job of highlighting some of the specific things that a professor like BradB can do to impact the startup community from a role in a university.
BradB – thank you for everything you do. You are awesome. Phil’s note to the Silicon Flatirons community follows.
Silicon Flatirons continues to support a range of entrepreneurship activity. Just consider what we have done over the past month or so: Crash Courses on GDPR compliance and how startups can sell products to large enterprises; student attorneys helping area startups through the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic; a candid interview by Krista Marks with David Brown and David Cohen of Techstars (recording here); an intellectual feast in the entrepreneurship conference and academic workshop examining the concept of “#GiveFirst” (recording here); and tonight‘s kickoff for our New Venture Challenge Information Technology (IT) track.
Supporting entrepreneurs in our community is a central part of our mission. The person who leads this initiative is Brad Bernthal, our Entrepreneurship Initiative Director. After building up our leadership in this area, we formally established this initiative with Brad at the helm in 2008. It is hard to overstate Brad’s impact on campus and in the community over the last decade. In addition to events that convene entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, students, and academics to learn from one another, as well as Brad’s extraordinary commitment to mentoring, his scholarship merits notice and praise.
After seeing it firsthand, Brad was intrigued by the well-regarded entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boulder. How does it work? Why do people get involved? Why do people contribute without knowing what they might get in return? Brad’s scholarship has focused on this important aspect of our economy. Brad is currently studying finance instruments used in startup investment and has two forthcoming articles on this topic. Just prior to this, his published research focused on generalized exchange within investment accelerators, the first legal scholarship about how accelerators work.
In addition to leading the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic that aids the startup community, Brad co-teaches a venture capital course at Colorado Law, along with Jason Mendelson of Foundry Group. Brad and Jason are now in their tenth year of teaching the VC course, which attracts a cross-campus mix of JD, MBA, and engineering graduate students. The course is so valued that students established an endowed scholarship fund in Brad’s name and created a separate campus entrepreneurship gift in Jason’s honor.
Brad is one of the leaders of the CU Boulder campus-wide entrepreneurship and innovation effort. He continually strives to connect the university and surrounding startup community. He collaborated with others on campus to launch and drive the New Venture Challenge for nine years. They successfully handed over the reins to campus leadership last year, and Brad continues to support the effort through the IT track, which Silicon Flatirons hosts.
And when he’s not doing all of the above, he is, well, giving first. He averages close to 400 1-on-1 coffee meetings each year with those in their entrepreneurial journeys. He also serves as a Techstars mentor and is on the Colorado Venture Capital Authority Board, which oversees the State of Colorado’s venture capital fund.
Brad embodies the spirit of collaboration: giving to and supporting others. It’s a privilege to have him as a core member of the Silicon Flatirons team.
If you are a fan of Startup Communities, there’s a lot going on around new initiatives on this front.
Ian Hathaway and I are hard at work on a book called The Startup Community Way, which is modeled after Eric Ries’ evolution of The Lean Startup to his recent book The Startup Way. I’m a big fan and long-time friend of Eric’s so I hope he’s ok with our using the same conceptual labeling approach from the evolution of the Startup Communities concept to a much broader audience than just startup communities (Eric – if you aren’t, tell me and I’ll adjust …)
One of my approaches to writing a book is to blog a lot of early content and get reactions to it. It helps me frame my thinking, connects me with people who are interested in what I’m writing, and forces me to put out content in public that I have to work hard at, but in bite-sized chunks. Ian has bought into this idea so he and I have a steady stream of content for The Startup Community Way coming on the StartupRev website.
An example is a post we put up today titled Thoughts on the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund. If you have feedback for us (stuff you think we got wrong, or stuff you think we should reinforce, or any examples you’ve experienced directly) we’d love to hear from you either in the comments or by email.
Techstars is also hard at work on a bunch of stuff around ecosystem development (where communities and ecosystems are different things – Ian and I will have a post up on that soon.)
If this topic is interesting or important to you, either as a leader or a feeder in a startup community, or someone in government, academic, or a large company who is exploring or participating in innovation in a geographic ecosystem, give me a shout anytime!
The hyperbolic headlines are once again accompanying the articles about Silicon Valley. A Sunday NY Times article titled Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley kicks off what I expect is another wave of this. It references a recent Wired article titled Everyone Hates Silicon Valley, Except Its Imitators,
Go read them all and then tune back in here. I’ll wait.
Buried deep within the NYT article is an admission. “Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself” followed by an anecdote about Jim Clark moving to Florida during the dotcom era. Blink twice if you don’t know who Jim Clark is; blink once if you downloaded Netscape from an FTP site somewhere when it was still called Mosiac. And, blink three times if you realize that Netscape is now owned by Oath, which is a subsidiary of Verizon, which is headquartered in New York, and is the merger of Bell Atlantic (Philadelphia), NYNEX (New York), and GTE (which, awesomely, bought BBN, created GTE Internetworking, spun it off as Genuity after the Bell Atlantic merger, which was then acquired out of bankruptcy by Level 3 (Broomfield, Colorado – adjacent to Boulder) which is now owned by CenturyLink (Louisiana)). Blink four times if you are still here and followed all of that. Kind of entertaining that Netscape led us to Monroe, Louisiana.
Now, go read Ian Hathaway’s post titled Silicon Valley is Not Over. He nails it.
Dan Primack waded in with a tweet.
The “Silicon Valley VCs moving to the Midwest” story is a bit like your friend saying after a vacation to a tropical island: “I might just quit my job and live there forever.”
It’s not happening.
— Dan Primack (@danprimack) March 5, 2018
It’s worth clicking through and reading the comment thread. It’s delightful.
Silicon Valley is not over. Over 100 years since its notional inception, it’s a fascinating and amazing ecosystem. But it’s also not the only place you can create technology companies. I’m sitting in a hotel in New York and, according to a recent article from Bloomberg, New York Will Never Be Silicon Valley. And It’s Good With That.
The real story is that you can create startups, and thriving startup communities anywhere. Imagine the NYT article was titled “In a Moment of Introspection, Silicon Valley VCs Realize That There Are Tech Startups Outside of Silicon Valley.” Nah – that wouldn’t get as many clicks.