Leaders and Feeders – Part Deux?

I want for the Triangle what Brad Feld has wanted and achieved for Boulder.  I am confident that I am trying my best with TSF, the Big Top Job Fair, this blog which started as a community-led publication, and the variety of meetups, conferences, open office hours and university engagements that I get involved in.  (In fact, when Brad was here a year ago, he wondered where we fell off the tracks a few years back as RTP was one of the top 5 areas in the country at one time.)

Back to his core thesis.  Great startup communities:

  • Are grown from the ground up
  • Are entrepreneur led
  • Are inclusive
  • Find organic ways to address the needs of today’s founders.

I would posit that in the past our community began to blend leaders and feeders creating an environment that did not adequately address what was needed by entrepreneurs.  It was not intentional and had the best interests in mind, but . . .  Eventually, the entrepreneurs retreated to their bedrooms or shared workspaces.  And then decisions were made on how to support entrepreneurs without an entrepreneur in the room.

You see we don’t want to be sold anything (accounting, legal, hosting services, real estate) when we gather.  We want help finding customers, investors and employees.

We don’t want to be part of an agenda about bringing jobs to our area.  We want to create new jobs as part of our company’s growth strategy.

Bottom line – we are not interested in finding ways for me to help your support organization find ways to help me.  If I had a dollar every time I heard someone ask “if you have any ideas on how to improve x, just let me know and I will see what I can do”, I would enjoy a great vacation at the beach.

Recognizing that leaders call out what is needed and even seed programs themselves that address those needs is step one.  Ask them. Listen to them.  Then go figure out a way to support that need.  Simple. Pick up the ball and go.

Step two is the hard part for many.  If you are not an entrepreneur, you are a feeder.  By definition you support entrepreneurs.  You do not own anything.  You support entrepreneurs and their ideas.  You do not create committees to bring “innovation” to town.  Again, you ask the entrepreneurs what they need and then help them get it.

There are some awesome feeders in our community including the Durham Chamber with their programs including the SMoffice and the Durham Stampede and the American Underground.  HQ Raleigh with their weekly programming, Triangle Entrepreneur Week and Startup Weekend are all great feeder examples.

I remain both bullish and proud of how far we have come in the last 3-4 years, but let me remind you that this is a 10-20 year journey and there is much left to do.

A few priorities include:

  • building better education programs at the high school, collegiate and experienced adult level for basic entrepreneurship as well as specific areas including software development and digital marketing,
  • identifying and collaborating on critical issues that cross micro city/county geographies so that we can leverage a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” opportunity,
  • creating significantly bolder regional and national awareness for the Triangle, RTP AND our micro communities.

We are still looking for people to lead these efforts and I call out again to you – find a community need that you have passion for and let us know how we can help you make this happen.

Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. One of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory (35 investments across 7 cohorts), founder and MC of the Big Top Reverse Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities. Currently EIR @ Techstars with Brad Feld ~ Startup Communities, to help community leaders around the world grow their startup community.

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