As an entrepreneur, you probably have more than enough to keep you busy. Whether you’re a successful founder with several companies under your belt or getting ready to launch your first startup, there will always be fires to put out.
However, despite your hectic schedule, you should always make time to not only build your own company, but build the community that surrounds your company. As you’ll see in this blog post, developing your local startup ecosystem is not as hard as it seems, and also yields a multitude of benefits for you and your startup.
Do you want to build your local startup ecosystem? Become a Founder Institute Director today!
Why You Should Strengthen Your Local Startup Ecosystem
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Before you set out to bolster your local startup ecosystem, it’s important to evaluate your own personal reasons for doing so. Helping out your entrepreneurial community can lead to a multitude of benefits for you and your company, and beyond.
Entrepreneurship Will Save the Economy
In the Forbes article, “Six Lessons for Building Startup Communities From the Founders of 1 Million Cups”, Nate Olson and Cameron Cushman of the Kauffman Foundation state that new companies, not large ones, are the real job creators in a given economy. By lending a helping hand to your fellow entrepreneurs, you are also helping to stimulate the regional economy.
It’s rewarding to expose politicians, bankers, lawyers and others to their local startups, a world many never knew existed… Traditional community ‘leaders’ are beginning to understand what entrepreneurs have known for a long time – supporting startup communities is key to economic growth.
It Pays to Pay it Forward
When launching your own startup, you’ve undoubtedly endured your fair share of hardship and failure. However, by taking a more active role in the startup community and listening engaging with local startups, you can greatly expand your own knowledge of the trials and tribulations of building a tech company.
According to Joel Gascoigne in his blog post, “Why I'm helping startup founders”:
There’s simply no way I can experience first-hand what’s involved with all the different types of startups, marketing approaches or technical challenges, even if I build many different startups throughout my career. Whilst it’s never the same to hear about someone else’s learning than to go through it yourself, by meeting other founders you can be exposed to much more and multiply your experience and knowledge.
It’s an Easy Way to Establish Your Support System
Even if you are a seasoned entrepreneur with numerous successful startups on your resume, don’t forget that you couldn’t have gotten where you are today without help. Another benefit of participating in your entrepreneurial community is that you can meet with other founders that can help advance you and your company in the future.
Here’s what Gascoigne has to say on the matter:
Meeting lots of founders also gives me a fantastic group of people to call on whenever I have a challenge. I might meet an awesome Android developer who needs to chat about struggles of creating a startup such as validating their idea or gaining traction. If I’m having challenges with Android development, I can easily hit them up for help.
Map Out Your Startup Ecosystem
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The first step to building your startup ecosystem is to become acquainted with all of the entrepreneurial activity happening around you. While this may require research, you’ll be able to chart your next steps much more effectively.
This is going to be very important for the sake of knowing your area, and how to work with it to create startup successes. It will also play a key role in building your network so you can organize the ecosystem in a way that is lucrative for startups.
Mapping out your startup ecosystem is also a key step in properly laying out the infrastructure in your area. If your infrastructure is not properly laid out, you are setting your ecosystem up for failure.
Sergio Escobar, key ecosystem leader in Montreal and Founder Institute Director, remembers the early days of Montreal’s startup ecosystem where he attempted to build the ecosystem without properly laying the infrastructure.
Sadly, the incubator program was not very successful and we had to shut down. Frank & Oak, an online clothing shop for men, was the only successful startup coming out of that experience. The problem with the incubator was the issue of not establishing a solid startup infrastructure or pipeline prior to its launch in the community.
That exact reason is why it’s crucial for you to map your startup community out. It’s the first step to laying a solid, and lasting infrastructure.
We have an open source process for this, called the Startup Ecosystem Canvas, where you can work with the support of your community and the Founder Institute to accurately map your community. Follow these steps to get started:
Identify active technology- and entrepreneurship-related meetup groups.
Pinpoint entrepreneurship organizations like the Founder Institute, Startup Weekend, tech conferences, etc. that are currently running programs in your city.
Find out who the angel investors and VC’s are in your area, if any.
Discover local journalists and news outlets that cover startup-related subjects in your area.
Track successful startups currently functioning in your area.
List technology related colleges, universities, and other education institutions operating in your area.
Network with Like-Minded People
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It is no surprise that environment plays an important role on one’s success. This is the reason why aspiring actors move to Hollywood, or why fashion designers opt to live in New York. Similarly, those who want to be successful entrepreneurs flock to areas that increase chances of prosperity. So, what happens to the millions who can’t migrate to Silicon Valley? According to MIT Technology Review, centers for innovation are growing worldwide in areas like Bangalore, Beijing, Skolkovo, and London. In fact, not being in proximity to Silicon Valley allows other hopeful entrepreneurs to eliminate the need to move, and gives them the opportunity to create their own equally successful startup ecosystems.
Below are some key reasons to grow a startup network in your area:
Shared Problems, Shared Solutions
If you’re looking for a network that shares the same vision and goals, chances are you’re not alone. Entrepreneurs understand that people who provide support are a priceless resource. By supporting each other, solutions to problems are discovered more efficiently. In the words of Andrew Carnegie:
Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.
Accessibility Allows Growth
Building a network also means finding a common place to gather. Borys Musielak, a Mentor of the Warsaw Founder Institute realized his area didn’t have a center for entrepreneurs to converge when over 100 entrepreneurs from all over the country unexpectedly showed up to his housewarming party. His old fashioned house suddenly became a site for founders to flock and develop their ideas.
Succeed and Fail Together
Being surrounded by those who are trying to achieve their dreams means you will get a first hand look into both their accomplishments and mistakes. Rather than learning lessons the hard way, you can gain in-depth knowledge from observation.
Your Network is Just as Important as Net Worth
For Musielak, the growth of one's network also meant the growth of one's success. Since many promising entrepreneurs and new innovative ideas were present at the monthly meetings, foreign investors began attending as well. People who are in pursuit of success attract others on the same path. Put simply by Henry Ford:
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
Click here to read more about Borys Musielak and the startup mansion.
Reach Out to Your Local Government
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Many entrepreneurs question the role of their local government in their startup ecosystem. Does government impact entrepreneurs in a positive way by fueling creativity, or does it hinder the innovation of startups by offering too many barriers of entry? As a startup ecosystem builder, your role is to create processes that build meaningful and prosperous relationships with local government agencies. In an Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization article titled, “How State Agencies Are Helping Entrepreneurs,” Casey Short describes the benefits state governments provide to entrepreneurs:
Their legislation focuses on everything from research and development to funding for startups to professional support to the government’s involvement in the process.
There are plenty of valuable resources local governments can provide to small businesses, including guidance on filling out business taxes or advice on applying for business licenses. Many government agencies offer coaching/training programs for entrepreneurs at incubation centers to foster collaborative work environments. In addition, government agencies provide financial initiatives - such as grants, awards, and tax credits - to fund founders throughout their entire entrepreneurial journey.
The amount of influence a government does or does not give itself in the world of technology-based economic development has a large impact on the methods and strategies that a startup should use.
The primary responsibilities of these government agencies is to support growth in industry sectors and increase employment creation within each of their communities. Ultimately, government agencies construct sustainable pipelines for economic development. As a startup ecosystem developer, you should strive to establish strategic partnerships with local government agencies, as they provide the foundation for entrepreneurship in their local communities.
Host Industry Events
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To become a startup ecosystem leader, one must get comfortable with running industry events. When you occupy the position of a host or hostess, you establish yourself as an expert within the startup culture. By bringing authoritative business leaders together, you become a trusted source and important link that unites your community.
Note that consistency is key. The more events you attend or run, the more people you’ll bring into your network. When you load your network with numerous entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and business experts, you create a collaborative circle that can transform into a powerful business force. The co-founder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard Shaw once quoted,
If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
Collaboration between entrepreneurs is critical for innovation. When brilliant minds come together, technical skills are exchanged and networks are expanded. Whether you host a large conference or coffee shop Meetup, business events help new founders obtain mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs. By sharing knowledge within a community, more startups have the opportunity to access capital, ultimately reaching success. In a recent study conducted by the Kauffman Foundation, it is stated that:
While the ways startup and experienced entrepreneurs met may seem random, the experienced mentors had specific network ‘circles.’
If your startup community lacks the necessary resources and connections it needs to create flourishing businesses, use the list below to help you get started with running impactful industry events:
Define your event: Assess why you want to host an event. What’s the subject matter? Do you want to spark a discussion? Are you ready to mentor and teach new founders? Do you simply want to expand your network with a mixer? Define goals for your event that either better the community or connect key players.
Decide where it will be held and along with the agenda. Depending on the type of event you plan to host, ensure the venue matches with the agenda. Whether you choose a coffee shop or co-working space, determine how many people you want to invite and what the agenda will entail. If you invite speakers, will they need a projector or computer to give a PowerPoint presentation? Match your event goals with the first draft of your agenda to choose a location.
Evaluate your current network and expand. Who is in your business circle as of now? Can they help? Are they interested in the subject matter of your event? Invite and employ your current network. If it’s a huge event, use applications like Thunderclap to spread the word by tapping into your friend’s social media accounts. Your friends can help market your event, assist with production, or at least attend. You should also be on the look out for possible speakers who may owe you a favor.
Utilize online event invitation software. Use applications like Meetup.com and Eventbrite to collect information from your guests. The Eventbrite app even lets you check-in attendees on the day of the event. Make sure you keep track of the lists you accumulate so that you easily reach out to your network for the next affair.
Create a killer agenda and final draft.. Create an agenda that will help you reach your goals. Employ icebreakers, snacks, activities, breaks, and talks that will keep people's attention from start to finish. Make sure your attendees get the information and resources that were promised upon invitation.
Execute and examine if goals were met. Did you get as many people as you intended to host? Did people leave great reviews on your Meetup account? Analyze the good and bad moments of the event so you know where to optimize next time around.