Today, Amy and I are announcing a matching gift from our Anchor Point Foundation to the Startland News’ Give A Start donor campaign. We will match any contributions from this point forward, up to $25,000.
Since 2015, Startland News has helped Kansas City entrepreneurs shout their triumphs from the rooftops — a critical piece of storytelling as the local startup community evolves beyond good ideas written on napkins to the home of powerhouse startups and nine-figure exits.
Startland News is part of Startland, formerly the Kansas City Startup Foundation, and is a community-building 501(c)3 nonprofit activating a thriving and inclusive culture of innovation in Kansas City through stories, experiences, and talent.
A thriving startup community also explores its failures, the ongoing challenges plaguing entrepreneurs, and how innovators not only can learn from them but also accelerate past the roadblocks to success. Startland News has been unafraid to identify and confront these issues and grow along with its ecosystem. When the nonprofit newsroom recognized the economic and racial inequity represented in its coverage of mainstream entrepreneurs, it expanded the scope of stories to include more innovators from outside the world of high-growth, high-tech startups and actively opened its platform for the voices of diverse risk-takers, creatives, makers, and small businesses.
While the Covid crisis has been eating up the headlines in 2020, nearly half of the year’s more than 360 Startland News stories have featured underserved or underestimated entrepreneurs — all while the digital publication continues to focus on the city’s latest tech and startup developments.
Equity in startup communities will be a concern for years to come. Still, the solution begins with tangible action to increase access to entrepreneurship and the support and resources that abound in a healthy ecosystem.
In The Startup Community Way, Ian and I discuss storytelling as a factor that helps shape outcomes and included a sidebar on the Startland News story as an example for other startup communities worldwide. Pairing storytelling with diversity only makes that rooftop shouting more clear and compelling.
While I no longer have a house in Kansas City, I have a deep affection for the city, as it has played an important role in my own entrepreneurial journey, starting with a major software project in the early 1990s for a client of Feld Technologies and accelerating with monthly trips in 1994 to work with The Kauffman Foundation on various projects.
Like many non-profit (and for-profit) organizations, 2020 has been a challenging year. Join me in helping Startland News give a start to more innovators in the Kansas City area.
My new book with Ian Hathaway, The Startup Community Way, is officially out. When I saw the Kindle download first thing this morning, I felt a moment of unbridled joy.
Writing a book is extremely hard. I’ve now written seven of them, all about startups and entrepreneurship. My next one, which I’ve been working on for a year with Dave Jilk (my first business partner), combined entrepreneurship and philosophy. Well, Dave’s been working on it a lot more than I have – I’ve been the slacker in this particular effort. But now that The Startup Community Way is out, and the 2nd Edition of Startup Communities is also out, I’m hopeful that my writing energy will shift to the book I’m working on with Dave.
Some of the inspiration for The Startup Community Way came from Eric Ries. I met Eric in 2007 or so and he’s another example, like Tim Ferriss, of a “good friend and colleague” from a distance. We’ve only physically been in the same space a few times, but I’ve learned an enormous amount from Eric, feel emotionally close to him, and have a deep respect for the work he does.
When Ian and I were struggling with the title for this book, batting around silly things like The Next Generation, my eyes landed on Eric’s book The Startup Way on one of my infinite piles of books. This was his sequel to The Lean Startup, which created the phrase “lean startup” and the lean startup movement.
This was analogous to what happened with Startup Communities. Prior to the first edition, released in 2012, the phrase “startup communities” didn’t exist. The book kicked off a new concept, which is now pervasive throughout the world.
I asked Ian what he thought of The Startup Community Way as a title, partly as an homage to Eric. Ian’s first response was “I like it, but will Eric go for it.” I sent Eric a note and he quickly responded that not only was he supportive of it, he loved it.
At the beginning of 2020, I sent Eric a copy of the draft and asked him if he’d write the Foreword. Again, he quickly responded that he would and cranked out a draft of a foreword that, other than a little editing, we included. He did an outstanding job of connecting the lean startup and startup communities to complex systems. And, he was incredibly generous with his thoughts out linkages and impact between our work.
In 2020, startup communities, which once appeared on the landscape of business (as well as the literal landscape) like so many rare animals, are long past the point of being uncommon or even unusual. As you’ll read in the many compelling stories of progress that follow, they’re coming together everywhere now, both in this country and around the globe, filled with energy and potential and the desire to look ahead to the kind of future we all want for our society. This is a critically important development. Quite simply: We need entrepreneurs and their ideas to keep our society moving forward, not just economically but equitably. The nurturing of startups, which is amplified by magnitudes when they share in a community of organizations and people, is the best way to make sure we achieve that goal.
That startup communities exist in such abundance is thanks, in large part, to Brad Feld. Every startup is unique, unpredictable, and unstable, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be managed for success, provided it’s the right kind of management. The same is true of every startup community. That’s the subject of Brad’s book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. It lays out clear practices and principles for managing the bottom-up (versus top-down) structure of startup communities, which, because they’re built on networks of trust rather than layers of control, can’t be maintained in the same way that public goods and economic development were in the past. Rather than a rigid, hierarchical set of rules and processes, they thrive on a responsive, flexible method of working that uses validated learning to make decisions with minimal error. Like entrepreneurs, startup community builders can’t rely on hunches or assumptions; they need to get out there, gather data, and see what’s happening for themselves. Only then can they bring together diverse, engaged organizations that draw on each other’s energy and experience and are led by committed, long-term–oriented entrepreneurs. By detailing a system that was hiding in plain sight, like so many methods used by entrepreneurs, Brad made it available to anyone worldwide who wants to bring innovation and growth to their city or town.
All of which is why, now that we’ve reached the next phase of startup community development, there’s no one better than Brad to address its central issue: what happens (or doesn’t) when startup communities co-exist with other, more traditionally hierarchical institutions that, as much as they’d like to work with their innovative neighbors, can’t break free of their old rules and management styles? And how can we ensure that all of these players work together with respect for each other’s strengths, and with clarity, to maximize their positive effect on the world around us? Brad’s answer, once again, is to clearly lay out the methods and tools that can affect this change. He and his co-author, Ian Hathaway, have combined deep experience with rigorous, intensive research and analysis to create a framework for this necessary path forward.
Every entrepreneur continues to iterate on their original product, and Brad is no exception. This book, The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, isn’t just a follow up to Startup Communities; it’s a refinement of those initial ideas—as well as an expansion of them. It encompasses the increasingly common and often complex relationships and interdependencies between startup communities and legacy institutions including universities and government (both local and federal) and corporations, culture, media, place, and finance. By situating startup communities within this larger system of networks, Brad and Ian shine light not only on the interconnectedness between them, but their connections to the larger community and society as a whole. The Startup Community Way zooms out to look at the big picture even as it provides a close, highly detailed look at each of the actors, factors, and conditions that can combine to create a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. It also examines some of the mistakes that are routinely made, like trying to apply linear thinking to the distinctly dynamic, networked relationships in startup communities, and trying to control them rather than let them operate freely within thoughtful parameters. All of this is presented with the sole goal of helping to forge deeper connections between often disparate parts so that they can better work together toward a common purpose.
I feel a deep kinship with Brad, whose work echoes in many ways the development of my own thinking about entrepreneurship and its uses. I began with the methodology for building successful individual startups in The Lean Startup and moved on in The Startup Way to applying those same lessons at scale to bring entrepreneurial management to large organizations, corporations, government, and nonprofits. I share Brad’s faith that the entrepreneurial mindset is crucial not just for improving our present day-to-day lives but also for ushering our world into the future as we apply it to all kinds of organizations, systems, and goals, including those involving policy.
One revision Brad has made since the publication of Startup Communities resonates with me in particular: Where he previously called for startup communities to operate on a simple 20-year timeline, he’s changed that to a “20 years from today” timeline. The work of innovation is continuous, and thinking truly long-term is crucial in order to reap its true benefits. What I mean by long-term thinking is an ongoing, honest, and comprehensive consideration of what we want our companies to look like—and our country and our world—for upcoming generations. In order to have the future we strive for, one in which opportunity and assets are fairly distributed, thoughtful management and care for the planet and all of the people who live on it with us is central, and we need to look beyond the right now to the realization of all the promise of the work that’s already been done. This book is a perfect entry point for doing just that.
Eric Ries Author
The Lean Startup
Today, I participated in the Juneteeneth 4.0 Celebration that was hosted by OHUB, ThePlug, and Living Cities and led by Rodney Sampson. In addition to being part of a panel, I made several commitments as part of the #RacialEquityEcosystemPledge. Here’s the fact sheet released by OHUB today.
I’ve agreed to:
The entire event is below. There’s a lot of awesome stuff in it.
In addition to the awesomeness, I made a mistake. Right after I spoke, I got a text from a White friend who is an entrepreneur I’ve invested in who watched the event live.
I immediately sent Rodney an email under the heading “I apologize for the microaggression.”
Apparently in my closing comments I said that you were “articulate” (I wasn’t aware that I used the word.) While I hadn’t seen this NY Times article I know that “articulate” is viewed as a microaggression.
So, regardless of whether it was intended, or you heard it, or anything else, I want to simply apologize.
You are incredible. You inspire me.
Rodney quickly responded:
Thanks for this. Tell your friend they are right. Apology accepted. However, in this case, I know that you meant “vocal in my leadership”. 🙂
We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m up for it.
When I make a mistake, I try to own it, apologize, and learn from it. I’m far from perfect here, but Rodney’s response, by acknowledging my mistaking, quickly accepting my apology, and getting back to work with me motivates me even more to work with him!
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.
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 participated in a one hour Crowdcast yesterday with Techstars and 43 North about How to Build a Successful Startup Ecosystem in your City. Some of the thoughts from my upcoming book The Startup Community Way are in the hour, along with a bunch of things Techstars is doing around this initiative.powered by Crowdcast
If you are in a city somewhere in the world working on developing your Startup Community and are interested in learning about the new Techstars Startup Ecosystem Development product, drop me an email.
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!
I had dinner with Ian Hathaway a few weeks ago when I was in London. It was a delight to see him in person. While we’ve been collaborating on Startup Communities 2 (which we are now calling The Startup Community Way), which will come out at the “end-of-the-year-ish,” having dinner was a delight and reminded me how much I like him.
A few months ago he wrote a post on Waterloo, and activity in Canada in general, titled The North Star. It’s a good post worth reading but reminded me of a concept that we are weaving into The Startup Community Way.
There is an increasing number of “binary star” startup communities. If you aren’t familiar with binary stars, they are a system of two stars in which one star revolves around the other or both revolve around a common center.
Boulder and Denver is a canonical example of this, where each city has developed a strong startup community, but the relationship between the two makes each stronger as they grow and develop.
Other examples that I’m familiar with that jump out at me include:
If you know of other binary star startup communities, especially if you are a participant in one, leave a note in the comments.