Founders and entrepreneurs all use life-and-death language when discussing their startup, regardless of whether the company manufactures cricket-based protein waffles or handles billions of dollars in Medicare claims.

That use of life-or-death language is not surprising. If you are an entrepreneur, the failure of your business can feel like a death. But what if the success of your startup really did come with actual life-or-death stakes?

The leaders of a small city south of Seattle know what it means to face the pressure of growing a startup when actual lives are on the line.

The City of Edgewood, Washington, is not a startup. It is a newer city. The small community located thirty miles from Amazon (the OG Amazon, not HQ2) faced rapid population growth as the economic boom in the Pacific Northwest brought more and more residents to the Seattle-Tacoma area. Suddenly Edgewood (and other communities like it) had to rapidly transform from sleepy outposts to fully functioning cities.

A rapid transformation like that is sort of like running a tiny one-person bakery for a decade and a half, only to have Starbucks come along and place an order to stock their entire network of stores. It is not a bad problem to have, but you have to learn how to make a lot of cake pops--and they need to be ready by yesterday.

When faced with impossible pressure, the civic leadership of Edgewood started thinking like a startup.

1. They shared resources.

Chief Marketing Officers do not come cheap.

Neither does a Chief of Police.

Startups may hire a fractional CMO, contract with consultants, or simply make do, but cities cannot wing it when it comes to their chief law enforcement officer. To solve that problem, Edgewood contracted with Pierce County to have a Deputy Sheriff serve as the City's chief of police.

It is sort of like sharing a Chief Marketing Officer.

Except real lives are at stake.

2. They leveraged partnerships and technology.

Edgewood recently became one of 400 cities--and the only city in the state of Washington--to participate in a partnership with Amazon and Ring that allows police departments to request Ring footage from residents during specific time periods. The program is designed to give small police departments like Edgewood's additional tools and resources during an investigation.

Smart startups leverage relationships and technology to work smarter, expand their footprint, and achieve their mission.

So do smart communities.

3. They knew how important it is to educate potential funders about how they plan on using their investment.

Having the resources to partner with Pierce County, expand the police department, and protect its own citizens required Edgewood City Council to approve a tax increase.

And, like a fortune cookie never said, people love new taxes.

The increase required the Edgewood City Council, Mayor's office, and city staff to communicate the ROI to city residents. The result was overwhelming approval, despite prior voter rejection of the same increase.

"I have been an entrepreneur for my entire life before becoming Mayor of Edgewood," said Mayor Daryl Eidinger. "Like all entrepreneurs, one of my roles is to find good people with an entrepreneurial mindset. In fact, we built an entire team that views their job that way. Sometimes, as an entrepreneur, you need to educate your investors and customers. In our city, residents play both roles. I am proud that voters in this community are willing to listen and buy in to our vision."

The hard line between the public and private sectors in the United States is, to a certain extent, false. Both government and business are mechanisms to organize groups of people toward achieving a defined mission.

Both require innovation.

Both require vision and a willingness to take risks.

And sometimes, both require their leaders to think like a startup.

Published on: Oct 21, 2019
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