Over the past few years, the concept of social capital as applied to startup communities and ecosystems has emerged and become integral to the strategies and tactics formed to accelerate a region. Feld and Hathaway write in The Startup Community Way that “social capital . . . acts as a type of lubricant for idea sharing, collaboration, and connecting people”. One crucial element of social capital is its disposition and diffusion of trust.

But what happens if there is little to no lubricant or social capital or trust in a nascent or developing startup ecosystem? Can one create social capital or augment whatever social capital exists?

For the last year, I have been working in a nascent startup community and was both surprised and frustrated at the lack of trust among the handful of community leaders. Usually within the first 2-3 months, the local founders and I would be attached at the hip. But not here. I finally had to ask if they trusted me. The answer was no! That had never happened to me before.

This promising but nascent startup community had very little social capital to leverage.

Trust between founders and community leaders is the foundation from which entrepreneurial ecosystems are based. Trust helps members of the community access, assess and validate their ideas, their products, their applied technology, their marketing & sales techniques and their mindset of how to operate and grow a company. Trust at a fundamental level, also helps community members decide on the quality of resources, advice, and mentorship.

So trust creates social capital (over time) and social capital is then spread among current and future community members that then enables each member to make better decisions based on access to critical resources which results in better company performance.

Sounds like a plan to me. But how do we create or augment the trust in a startup community? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Show up. Every community has a set of meetups. Show Up and be consistent. It means a lot to the event organizers.
  2. Connect with your peers. Introduce yourself. I promise it won’t hurt at all. You will get something out of it and everyone will see that you are helping others.
  3. Engage regularly, not just when you need something. If you take a transactional approach everyone will see that and never trust that you are in it for the community.
  4. Ask questions with genuine curiosity for what they are working on. I learn so much from these conversations.
  5. Be vulnerable. Share what is important to you without a goal or objective. Share both your achievements and your challenges. You may know a lot about some things, but you don’t know everything about all things. This is trust builder #1.
  6. Introduce newcomers to members of your network. I do this daily. It signals both parties that I trust that they will create a meaningful connection. Or not – that is OK too. This very act is a representation of trust – if you can’t show it . . .
  7. Publicly represent what is good for founders and the community. What happens 1 on 1 is very important but showing the same thing publicly gets there much faster.

Many community builders want to rush quickly to stand up an innovation center, or a new venture seed fund. Those are important but would ultimately not reach their potential impact if there is not a healthy level of trust or social capital to exchange.

Interested to read more?  I just released my new book: Build The Fort – The Startup Community Builder’s Field Guide.