Last week, Amazon announced that Northern Virginia and New York City would be the two locations chosen to house their new HQ offices. The news was met with mixed emotions by many in the startup world.
With a shortlist of 20 cities across the U.S., including many thriving and emerging startup hubs in the Heartland, there was excitement that Amazon may set up shop and further boost the economy in these locations. While New York City and the Washington, D.C., area will certainly benefit and thrive from Amazon's decision, the cities won't have any trouble bringing in ~20,000 Amazon workers who will soon flood these cities -- and that's the issue.
I wonder if the transformative potential that was dangled in front of the remaining 18 cities has left them wondering what to do next. After the news broke, AOL co-founder Steve Case urged these cities to view this decision "not as the end, but as a new beginning."
Case has asked these cities, and the coalitions they formed to bid for Amazon's HQ2, to re-purpose their plans, money and resources to instead strengthen their home-grown startup sector locally.
I'm literally in the business of building startup communities across the globe -- Techstars functions on the belief that entrepreneurs can build and thrive anywhere. There are so many existing activities that serve entrepreneurs from hackathons and startup weekends to investment accelerators and corporate innovation workshops. Every one of these locally supported programs could further expand the startup potential in these cities, where the next Amazon could be grown.
A couple things have to happen first. If you live in any city that Amazon didn't choose, here are two simple things you should do:
While it would have been great to bring another top tech company (and the talent they attract) to cities like Denver, Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh/Durham and Toronto, these tech scenes are already thriving. What about the grassroots efforts in the other 200-plus cities?
It's also exciting to see entrepreneurial ecosystems grow locally and create great local companies, but it takes a concerted collaborative effort to create community momentum. Now, more than ever, every community actor needs to band together.
One place to start is by reading Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City written by Brad Feld. The book provides actionable advice, the most important of which (in my opinion) is that a movement to unite must be entrepreneur-led. In other words, assemble a group of entrepreneurs and get their input and help in what to do.
By coming together as a startup community, and pushing the local government to further invest, you'll build alliances with local decision-makers. As a result, you'll build stronger connections amongst yourselves.
2. Give back
Your local startup community may be heavily focused on one vertical. Many of Detroit's startups, for example, focus on mobility. Most cities have multiple companies competing for the same market share.
While healthy competition is good, you need to find ways to give back to the whole startup community that make the ecosystem stronger -- even if that means helping your competitors. You could refer previous employees to other startups. You could share some of those precious resources your company holds close to the vest.
At Techstars we lead with "#givefirst" -- to give without the expectation of getting anything in return. An example of this is when we open sourced the Techstars playbook and taught others how to create accelerators through the creation of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), which we founded. Some might have thought of that as competitive, but we thought of it as #givefirst.
It really does take the whole community to make a flourishing ecosystem. Only then will these cities start to see their own Amazons sprouting out of the hard work they've put into their communities.