Don’t be Disappointed with your Startup Ecosystem. Change it!

Don’t be Disappointed with your Startup Ecosystem. Change it!

I had a great opportunity to speak at Startup Spokane last night. Thanks to Megan Hulsey @StartupSpokane and Brady Ryan @UWCoMotion Spokane’s office for the invitation.

One of the things I’ve noticed and it hasn’t changed since I was traveling as SVP of Programs at UP Global (Startup Weekend + Startup America) there is a lot of self-criticism from people of their home ecosystem. It manifests as people that are new to the city talking about their disappointment or folks that have been around it a while talking in a desperate tone about how much they need this.

They compare themselves to Boulder or Bend if there a smaller city – and to Seattle or San Francisco if they are a bigger city. They compare the best of those cities to the worst of their city. It’s strangely like how we look at our own lives, company or family on Facebook and compare to everyone else we’re friends with because we only see the good, no one talks or posts about the challenges.

Comparisons are only good in a useful way to learn the differences and take action, not in order to throw your hands up in defeat.

  • Compare to understand timelines – The Boulder Thesis was Brad Feld’s summary of how Boulder became a sustainable startup community – later to be included in the Startup Community book published in 2012
    • Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
    • The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
    • The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
    • The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
  • And the follow-up Kauffman Foundation Study
    • Entrepreneurship is a local phenomenon.
    • Entrepreneurs follow local entrepreneurs.
    • Local networks thicken over time.
    • Entrepreneurial demand is high for peer-based learning and networking.
    • Different programs reach different entrepreneurs.

“That’s great for you Dave, you’re in Seattle, where money grows on trees.” But that’s not true either and isn’t the way it was when I started my first company in 1997. We didn’t have a startup ecosystem, just a few people trying to figure it out. We didn’t launch the ecosystem, we didn’t own it. More people joined us and took up the mantle. It wasn’t organized, but it built momentum over time. Some people wanted to be recognized as the owners and builders and that didn’t work. The fact was that we stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before us as well.

You’re not starting it and it doesn’t end with you. You do get to contribute and like all long-term investments, you’ll see the result over time. What can you do?

  • Compare to learn best practice from other community leaders – one way to do that is to join Startup Champions Network you don’t have to start from scratch and do it on your own
  • Have a plan – test events – make sure you’re adding value
  • Make it free – or as close to free as possible
  • Get leaders together regularly and don’t forget to look back at the progress you’re gaining

Steve Blank did a great Hidden History of Silicon Valley, the reminder here is that if you could start over in 1971 with Government grants, nearly any major city could have become Silicon Valley. It takes time

Remember, this is a long game. I talk to founders looking for tech co-founders frequently. I encourage them to learn to code and the response is usually “but it might take 18-24 months.” The answer is yes, but you’ll have that skill for the rest of your professional life and it’s going to take you longer than that to grow your business anyway. Invest first – #GiveFirst.

Bill Gates famously said

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction. Bill Gates

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