Every government entity today is wondering how they can best help accelerate the startup activities in their local area. In fact, we get asked that question just about every day here at Techstars. Building or growing your startup ecosystem is a difficult proposition with many moving parts that do not necessarily come together as you might expect.
Great startup ecosystems have a connective tissue that binds everyone together in a common cause - create high-growth companies.
What role can local government play in developing or augmenting that connective tissue? It can be as simple as hiring a local "connector" to make connections every hour of every day. I saw this firsthand in my adoptive metro of Raleigh/Durham over the last 8 years. Derrick Minor served as the Chief evangelist (my title) for the city of Raleigh, NC. Over the last 6 years, Derrick connected candidates for hire to founders, founders to investors, investors to companies, companies to potential customers and every combination of those that you can imagine. In Malcolm Gladwell parlance - he was a community super connector.
My partner, Brad Feld, outlined the notion of leaders and feeders in his book, Startup Communities" Building an Entreprenurial Ecosystem in Your City. His thesis is that the local entreprenuers have to serve as leaders and the rest of us are feeders to their entreprneurial needs. I support that basic tenant, however with a few twists.
First, there are many roles that feeders can take to be supportive. Our only ask as a feeder is to put your day-job agenda to the side and sign up for the greater mission of the startup community. Remember, our role is to serve entrepreneurs and not ourselves or our organization. Successful entrepreneurs and their companies should be the shared outcome and to that end to support our organizations mission. Local government can easily find a Derrick Minor to support that task and role.
The second twist is that in an under-developed ecosystem, where there seems to be more entrepreneurial support organizations than actual entrepreneurs, it is incumbent on the feeders to first uncover local founders and bring them out of their garages and basements. They are there - trust me. You just have not given them any reason to show up. This activity feels like a leader and to a great extent it is. Promise them a voice and a seat at the table and they will come out and they will stay. But you have to find them and serve them and again, local government can be supportive by identifying someone to simply connect these founders to the resources they need.