Creating Startup Communities Everywhere
The following is a guest commentary for CNBC.com.
As Global Entrepreneurship Week continues, entrepreneurship is in the air and it's everywhere. As our world and society continues to rapidly evolve and change, entrepreneurs and innovation are at the core of it. And creating startup communities, in every city in the world, is an essential part of this evolution.
In 2010, when I started thinking about what had happened in Boulder, Colo., to make it one of the most visible and powerful startup communities in the world, I began with the premise that you could create a startup community in any city. During the past 45 days I've been in Boise, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Des Moines, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Lexington, and Louisville meeting with entrepreneurs, seeing what they are up to, and exploring how to create vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems in these cities.
This experience, along with the response to my recently published book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, supports my view that a thriving startup community can be created anywhere.
Most net new job creation comes from young, entrepreneurial companies. The age of a hierarchical society stemming from the industrial revolution is over, as we aggressively shift into a network society that is a product of the post-information era. And startups, and entrepreneurs, are at the core of this reinvention of the way we work and live.
Building a vibrant and sustainable startup community is not easy and takes a long time. I believe there are four fundamental principles, which I call the Boulder Thesis. They are:
1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
While there are many participants in startup communities, including government, university, investors, service providers, and large companies, the startup community must be led by entrepreneurs. Not every entrepreneur needs to be a leader, but there must be a critical mass of them or the nothing significant will be sustained.
These entrepreneurs must have a long term commitment — at least 20 years. Startups take a long time to build, and it follows that startup communities do as well. There are no quick solutions here — if you are focused on "How are we doing as a startup a community?" in a year, you are focusing on the wrong thing. Go on a 20 year journey — dedicate yourself to creating something amazing where you live.
The startup community has to be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in any way. Welcome newcomers with open arms. Let new leaders emerge — there is no "president" of a startup community — no one can control it. Use a "give before you get" approach, where you contribute energy and resources to the startup community, without a clear expectation in advance of what you are going to get back.
Think of the power of a network instead of a hierarchical organization, and encourage more and more nodes on the network. Sure, there will occasionally be bad actors in a startup community, but as the network grows, the organism will reject or reform the bad actors. And you'll be pleasantly surprised that you get much more out of the startup community then you put in.
Fundamentally, every city was once a startup. There was a reason that people decided to put a stake in the ground and start each city on this planet. Each city has unique characteristics and strengths, which I refer to as "natural resources," and they go well beyond the physical natural resources that were the motivation for the creation of many cities. So the essence of "startups" is in the fabric of the formation of every city. Build on this and help create an amazing startup community wherever you live.