By Brian Yining Wu | Startup Canada Campaign Team
The launch of Startup Canada Communities on May 2 represents a trailblazing approach to supporting entrepreneurs – from the ground up. Startup Canada Communities national network is the first time a country has attempted to scale the community model proposed by Boulder, Colorado entrepreneur and investor Brad Feld in his book “Startup Communities“.
“The Boulder Thesis”
The economic reality after the financial crisis of 2007-2009 has begun to dawn on government, industry and non-profit leaders: long-term growth and value creation can only be achieved through accelerating entrepreneurial activity. A startup community is the hotbed through which entrepreneurial activity and rapid economic growth becomes possible, built via the self-organization of entrepreneurs and their supporters around a common geographical area, a core group of leaders, a core set of values, and common operating principles.
Some cities and regions have become vibrant startup communities, and have been reaping the handsome rewards that come with it. On the contrary, other areas that lack such engines of growth are showing grave signs of decline as talent and capital go elsewhere. Feld’s model, drawn from his decades of experience as an entrepreneur and the leadership role he played in developing an impressive startup community in Boulder, Colorado, offers practical guidance on how to effectively build startup communities in other areas, starting from the grassroots level.
At the core of Feld’s model is what he calls “The Boulder Thesis”, which defines the core characteristics that must be present to unleash the power of a startup community:
- Entrepreneurs, and only entrepreneurs, should lead a startup communityYour leaders should all be entrepreneurs – you need to recruit other equally committed local entrepreneurs to share leadership of the community-building initiative. You will need the support of government, investors, universities, bigger businesses, professional service firms and the media, etc., but they should only take supporting roles – only entrepreneurs are fully aligned and vested with long-term incentives to see the effort through.
- The leaders must have a long-term commitment Any city or region can develop a dynamic, entrepreneurial core if it has the right ingredients. This process offers no quick fixes and few shortcuts. If you plan to help lead the effort, ask yourself several questions:
- Are you an entrepreneur in a high-growth business?
- Do you expect to live in your city for many years and take root there?
- Are you prepared to donate time, effort, ideas and money without knowing when or if you’ll receive anything in return?
- Are you willing to share success with anyone who wants to help out, and lead through creating real collaboration and consensus?
To attract the right people, you have to jump in for the right reasons and commit for one or two decades. The blueprint is simple; the execution however, is difficult – it requires courageous leaders who willingly place the interests of the community ahead of their own to make this happen.
- The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.Your startup community needs willing contributors – do everything you can to involve, include and connect people. Make a point to enthusiastically welcome new arrivals to the city; invite them to events and connect them to people they should connect with. Avoid exclusivity and allow people and ideas to move freely within the community. If you create the right kind of porous, hyper-connected and unstructured community, and over time, it will become larger, stronger and more sustainable than any community that is based on exclusivity.
- The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.To engage the entrepreneurs, stimulate connections among community members and maintain vibrancy of the ecosystem, you need to host value-creating activities that draw people together, all the time. There are many ways to host events – from informal meetings over coffee, office hours, pitch events, showcases, newsletters, challenges and competitions to annual conferences that attract thousands in attendance – all of these entrepreneur-focused events and activities energize the whole community.
As a long-time leader of the Boulder startup community, Feld draws extensively from his experience there to illustrate the startup community model in action. Over the past 40 years, Boulder has become one of America’s most dynamic small cities for new ventures. Boulder boasts a very high concentration of entrepreneurs per capita, and it has steadily built up a reputation for openness, social mobility, diversity and tolerance, with the following characteristics that directly mirror the Boulder Thesis:
Entrepreneurs lead the Boulder startup community – The community is blessed with successful and generous leaders who follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who gave rise to its entrepreneurial culture from the 1970s onward. They are busy entrepreneurs, yet they are willing to devote their scarce time to evangelizing, mentoring and organizing events.
The Boulder community leaders have a long-term commitment – These leaders work tirelessly year after year, and when senior leaders leave or retire, others take their place, and their colleagues welcome them.
The Boulder community is inclusive – People in Boulder believe in contributing with no expectation of return. The town embraces all newcomers, connects with them as they arrive and supports them. The culture is so strong that it naturally casts out those who don’t fit in – that is, those who aren’t open or who don’t contribute.
The Boulder community has an extensive array of events and activities that engage everyone in the startup scene – Community leaders offer regular “office hours” each month to sit down for a few minutes with anyone who wants to meet with them. Boulder’sNew Tech Meetup, a monthly gathering with presenters pitching new technologies, attracts hundreds of people each time and has become second only in size only to New York’s. The Open Coffee Club, hosted at Boulder’s largest coffee shop, allows community members to interact in an informal setting. In 2007, Boulder held the world’s first Startup Weekend, which enables people to brainstorm, get feedback, connect with others, compete and launch a startup in 54 hours. Startup Weekends and similar “Startup Weeks” and “Startup Summers” now take place around the world.
For all entrepreneurs seeking to help their communities thrive, and to policy makers, non-profit leaders, university administrators and anyone interested in the economic future of their community, Feld’s book is a must read. An excellent summary of the book by MakertingFirst.co.nz can be found here. In addition, the Kauffman Foundation has produced a great sketchbook videowhich explains the essential elements of the model in just three and half minutes.
Thx to: http://sachachua.com/blog/2012/10/sketchnotes-startup-communities-and-entrepreneurial-ecosystems/ (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada license.
On May 2, Startup Canada is launching its pilot network of 15 communities across the country, drawing lessons learned from Brad’s model and the success of the Boulder community. The cornerstone of a startup nation is poised to be laid – and we invite you to join us online for the launch day events to celebrate the beginning of amazing things to come.