As we celebrate our Independence Day today, I am thinking about the essential requirement for individual freedom when operating as an entrepreneur and the need to have a strong community connection. These are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary forces that when combined create powerful synergy.

Great entrepreneurs (and frankly innovation as a concept) shine when their skillset and mindset are centered on creative autonomy, flexible work environments and unilateral decision making. 

Great communities (and frankly the regional innovation potential) shine when there’s an abundance of knowledge sharing, connection opportunities, and a culture of inspiration & ideation.

For the most part, great founders emanate from great ecosystems and great ecosystems inspire great founders.

Silicon Valley held the sole position through the 80’s, 90’s as any new entrepreneur worth their salt migrated to start their company. Did the valley create great founders? Yes, of course. Did great founders make for a great ecosystem? That too would be yes. But where did one start and the other follow? It is the classic circular argument.

The takeaway for me, and the work I have done over the last 15 years is to find a way for both to exist at the same time. Ecosystem math. Too many times we tend to oversimplify thinking to an either / or task.

Here are two examples of operating in the spirit of “both”:

  • Never judging an idea as a community member. Give lots of room for disruptive ideas. Support founders (in a big way) to think big. Publicly help others in the community help even the crazy founders.
  • Encourage individuals to contribute their knowledge to the community. Encourage every founder to hold open office hours for anyone who wants 15 or 20 minutes to connect and share. Reciprocity or #givefirst is an incredible community asset when applied at scale.

Ultimately, the room to operate with independence within startup communities should not lead to isolation. By embracing both individual freedoms and the power of a connected community, entrepreneurs can achieve greater heights, contributing to a more resilient and innovative ecosystem.