Are you a government leader asking yourself this question?
Every government entity today is wondering how they can best help accelerate the startup activities in their local area. In fact, I get asked that question just about every day here at the fort. Building or growing your startup ecosystem is a difficult proposition with many moving parts that do not necessarily come together as you might expect.
Great startup ecosystems have a connective tissue that binds everyone together in a common cause – create high-growth companies.
What role can local government play in developing or augmenting that connective tissue? It can be as simple as hiring a local “connector” to make connections every hour of every day. I saw this firsthand in my adoptive metro of Raleigh/Durham over the last 6 years. Derrick Minor served as the Chief evangelist (my title) for the city of Raleigh, NC. Over a 6 year period, Derrick connected candidates for hire to founders, founders to investors, investors to companies, companies to potential customers and every combination of those that you can imagine. In Malcolm Gladwell parlance – he was a community super connector.
My partner, Brad Feld, outlined the notion of Leaders & Feeders in his book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. His thesis is that the local entrepreneurs have to serve as leaders and the rest of us are feeders to their entrepreneurial needs. I support that basic tenent, however with a few small twists.
First, there are many roles that feeders can take to be supportive. Our only ask as a feeder is to put your day-job agenda to the side and sign up for the greater mission of the startup community. Remember, our role is to serve entrepreneurs and not ourselves or our organization. Successful entrepreneurs and their companies should be the shared outcome and to that end to support our organizations mission. Local government can easily find a Derrick Minor to support that task and role.
The second twist is that in an under-developed ecosystem, where there seems to be more entrepreneurial support organizations than actual entrepreneurs, it is incumbent on the feeders to first uncover local founders and bring them out of their garages and basements. They are there – trust me. You just have not given them any reason to show up. This activity feels like a leader and to a great extent it is. Promise them a voice and a seat at the table and they will come out and they will stay. But you have to find them and serve them and again, local government can be supportive by identifying someone to simply connect these founders to the resources they need.
Thanks for sharing, Chris. This stood out the most for me “where there seems to be more entrepreneurial support organizations than actual entrepreneurs, it is incumbent on the feeders to first uncover local founders and bring them out of their garages and basements…” Government, community and/or economic development organizations should certainly resource the function of the connector. The work that brings the function to the fore is where challenges exist in most communities that are lacking enough startup activity. Culture shifts need to happen. The mindsets of traditional ways of doing things need to be inspired to change. One way to achieve that type of cultural transformation that I’ve seen work is to invest, long term, in impactful awareness campaigns. Communities whose people understand how important a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem is to their collective well-being naturally influence leaders to act.
As a member of Durham County Government, I have also felt–for many reasons–that local governments can be a “super-connector” whether it is entrepreneurial, non-profit, or others. You articulated this very well and I will be forwarding this to the organization as a proven way to step up engagement and support with our community. We are experiencing many progressive changes in the County and am excited about these opportunities.
Government could be a simple SPONSOR to give $5,000 to $25,000 per year to support the entrepreneur support org. So many independent orgs have died during recessions when some private sponsors have cut backs.
Charlotte, Triad, Asheville all closed entrepreneur support orgs in North Carolina during recessions.
Entrepreneur development is not a “NICE to have” as part of economic development in a plan for a region. Growing future employers is a MUST.
While government programs get in trouble when they pick winners and losers in funding programs for startups, sponsor support for an entrepreneur support org is a smart investment.
Hi Chris, I work for a public library system in MD and we are focusing on education and engaging with teens who have entrepreneurial ideas and providing them with speakers from the local Club guest speakers from various startups/industries and instructors will introduce entrepreneurial skills necessary to develop, maintain and grow nontraditional STEAM careers in digital entertainment, entrepreneurship, and communications. Although we are only an allied agency to the local county government, I thought it worth considering what libraries could do in this space.
Everyone has a role to play in a startup community. As a library, you can simply be a convener of people (it is free space), you can be a connector (through programs like the one you are operating), and you can provide mentoring (as it appears that you are doing). Thanks for playing a role!!
and good to hear from you . . .
Agreed with your point that there needs to be a driving force in bringing the ecosystem together. Super Connectors, like Gladwell and Minor are great, but not scalable. 1-2 people per ecosystem trying to play matchmaker can only go so far. The other problem being that either the Super Connector or startup ecosystem champion have to know of one another to know who to connect them to.
Feeders are able and willing to help, the challenge for them is that it’s just not easy for them to do so. Most tenured business professionals won’t go out of there way to find the people to mentor / advise / support — if it was brought to them, aligned with their experience and expertise, it’s a home run.