How Pizza Might Have More Community Impact Than A $20M Building

Building an innovation ecosystem is front and center for most forward-thinking communities and community leaders today.  Regardless of whether you are budding entrepreneur who has passion for your startup community or you are an economic development executive charged with diversifying your city, creating, augmenting or growing your innovation community is front-page news.

Innovation ecosystems strategies come in a variety of forms.  But many times, the seemingly obvious steps are not so productive and yield no community impact.

But, with that mission comes many strategies for success. I have been a community builder for about 10 years and now spend full-time helping other community leaders around the world through Techstars – the world’s largest network that helps entrepreneurs succeed.

Some leaders take a top-down approach as a fundamental strategy.  One of the go-to tools in this thinking is the development (or retrofit) of a space for innovation enthusiasts to work, convene, and generally serve as a destination for community members. Typically, there is a financial sponsor (government, real estate developer, a cadre of successful entrepreneurs) who end up subsidizing the up front and even ongoing costs to operate the facility.

We many times call this a “field of dreams” strategy with the idea that “if we build it they will come” (pop-culture movie reference). The “build it” is the new coworking space, building or innovation park.  The “they” are the entrepreneurs.

Though a single space where entrepreneurs congregate is a critical element to the innovation ecosystem, it alone cannot serve as the catalyst for long-term growth.  There are no silver bullets to growing an innovation ecosystem.

Let me offer you a better alternative that will have a more sustainable, long-term impact and save you a ton of time and money.

The best communities connect people in simple, effortless ways.  Entrepreneurs are fickle; we don’t like to be sold to and we don’t have time for agenda’s outside of growing our company and maybe some left over energy to help our community.  We live with the belief that time is our most crucial asset.

So, do you want to connect entrepreneurs and provide an informal setting to inspire more entrepreneurs?  Why don’t you buy pizza and beer once a month at a place that everyone feels welcome?  My experiences say that this will have a considerable bigger and long-term impact to your innovation community then the fancy building (the details of that story for another day).

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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