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Dec 2 2016 by

What Can Startup Communities Do for Rural America?

Matt Helt, the director of Startup Week at Techstars has a great post up titled What Can Startup Communities Do for Rural America? I encourage you to read the whole post, but I’ll except a specific section about startup communities and rural America.

“First, it gives people the inspiration to develop the idea they’ve been working on in the back of their mind. It shows them there’s a path forward, and if done properly, can lead to real opportunity. All it takes is access to the internet. The internet has created a true egalitarian system that gives entrepreneurs access to customers anywhere in the world.

Second, startup communities share best practices and mentorship. Through shared learning, startup founders are much more likely to succeed and avoid the pitfalls others have experienced.

Third, communities that have strong startup ecosystems retain talent and attract outside investment. These dollars stay in the community and lead to business growth, which ultimately leads to job creation. The more businesses that are started, the more people are employed. (For examples, see the resources at the end of this post.)

The last point I’d like to make about startup ecosystems is that it requires the community to embrace radical inclusion. This means anyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur is welcome to take part. There can be no exclusion based on gender, race or socioeconomic status. All are welcome to take a seat at the table.”

If you are interested in engaging, reach out to me anytime and I’ll connect you up with the right folks.

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Dec 8 2013 by

Startup Communities – Lessons Learned

This is a guest post by Jeff Keen, the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan. The post originally appeared on Accelerate Okanagan’s website.

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I just returned from the Startup Phenomenon conference in Boulder where I had the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and meet some new amazing people from around the globe.

We talked about everything startup community from culture, entrepreneurs, events, finance, corporations, and governments to networking models and measuring success.  Brad Feld and Jim Collins provided some incredible insight on how to take our startup communities from “Good to Great”.  The conversation was inspirational and ended far too soon.  I would like to keep the conversation going through this blog and encourage you to chime in with your thoughts, learnings & suggestions from your startup community.

To kick off the conversation, let’s start with a review of Brad Feld’s four pillars for building a successful startup community and how our own experiences relate to these concepts.

The first of Feld’s four pillars is that for a startup community to be sustainable over time it must led by entrepreneurs.  Many other organizations can play key roles in the startup community but they cannot be the leaders.

The challenge for many startup communities at the early stage of development is identifying and engaging with successful entrepreneurs.  This was the case for our community.  Here are a few lessons we learned along the way that can help engage entrepreneurs in your community:

  1. Hold events and activities that are appealing to entrepreneurs.  Events should be fun, casual and provide an environment for entrepreneurs to connect with community members without having to worry about being constantly pitched or inundated with requests for their time.  I would suggest that morning coffee meetups are a great way to begin the engagement process with entrepreneurs in your community.  One event that has proven to be very successful in our community is Startup Drinks, a monthly event that is hosted at various tech companies around town that regularly attract a full house of attendees representing a great cross-section of community members .  The venue is free, beer is donated by a local micro brewery and the networking is off the charts!
  2. Be consistent and patient.  If possible, community events should happen at the same time on the same day of the week, and preferably at the same location.  When entrepreneurs become comfortable attending community events and activities, they will attend on a more regular basis and invite the friends to join them – familiarity breeds comfort and this will eventually lead to more engagement.  One event that follows this pattern in our community is “Entrepreneurs Unplugged” which happens on the first Monday of every month at the Streaming Cafe at 6pm.  Entrepreneurs Unplugged provides a venue for local entrepreneurs to talk about their journey, share their successes and failures and inspire the next generation of creative, innovative, entrepreneurial thought leaders in our community.
  3. Identify and engage “rock star” entrepreneurs.  These are people who are recognized in the community for having significant success as an entrepreneur.   Our startup community gained significant momentum when the three most successful technology entrepreneurs became more outwardly facing and accessible in the community.  Although active behind the scenes for several years, this heightened level of engagement added a new level of credibility and “cool factor” to community events and activities.  These three leaders are now hosting coffee meetups, community building activities and are deeply involved in supporting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise initiatives.
  4. Identify and support volunteer, community driven organizations with a shared vision of supporting startups and entrepreneurship.  As a partially government funded organization our first foray into delivering community events and activities were done behind the Accelerate Okanagan brand.  What we found over time is that it was much more effective to identify likeminded community organizations and support their event and activity efforts.  We did this by providing venues, speakers, registration services and refreshments but took a back seat and remained behind the scenes.  Also, it should not have been a surprise to find out that entrepreneurs were active in many of these grassroots community organizations.
Brad Feld and Jim Collins
Brad Feld and Jim Collins

In his book “Startup Communties” Feld talks about the difference between leaders (entrepreneurs) and feeders (everyone else) including government, academia, service providers, venture capital, mentors etc. and that feeders play a key role but cannot be leaders.  One very interesting anecdote raised at the  conference, and supported by Feld,  was that individuals from feeder organizations can take on a leadership role in the community if they act as individuals and not representatives of the feeder organizations.  The key is they must share the “give before you get” philosophy.   I would support this notion and state that our community is very fortunate to have several individuals from feeder organizations who willingly volunteer their time and expertise to support entrepreneurs and are regular participants in startup community events and activities.

I would also recommend not underestimating the power of the grass roots volunteer organizations in your community and the leadership role they can play in fostering a vibrant startup ecosystem.  We are extremely fortunate to have organizations in our community like OKDG (Okanagan Developer Group), DO (Digital Okanagan) and OYP (Okanagan Young Professionals) that are behind several startup community events and activities like Startup Weekend, Okanagan Startup Week, TEDx Kelowna, Startup Drinks and several weekly meetups.  Amazing volunteers delivering incredible events!

I would love to hear from you and learn more about how you are engaging with leaders in your community and some of the lessons you have learned along the way.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Jeff Keen, CEO Accelerate Okanagan.

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Jeff has 25 years of experience in the technology industry, having held executive level management and leadership roles in technology organizations in both the public and private sector. Prior to joining Accelerate Okanagan, Jeff’s roles included technology entrepreneur, founder, and executive in both early-stage and high-growth technology companies. Jeff is an Honors graduate from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and is currently leading the amazing team at Accelerate Okanagan (www.accelerateokanagan.com).

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Aug 13 2013 by

Teaching Entrepreneurship To Undergrads

Guest Post By David Williams – Explorateur Ventures, Ltd – (CEO)

Explorateur Ventures

We are a few weeks away from the autumn 2013 semester at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Lee Business School , which will mark my fifth year of part-time/adjunct teaching Entrepreneurship to undergraduates. In autumn 2012 I also co-taught an Entrepreneurship-related course at the Boyd School of Law  with local attorney Josh Westerman. This year Boyd is re-calibrating its curriculum to include more business/entrepreneurship course offerings. While our course is not offered this academic year, we look forward to further course offerings at Boyd, which could include a prerequisite to our course.

There will be three courses in LBS this autumn:

  • FIN345, Managing New Venture Funding – a finance course which takes a holistic view of finance within a venture, throughout its life cycle; in its fifth year
  • BGES430, International Entrepreneurship – a management course which is part of the Global Entrepreneurship Experience Program; in its third year
  • FIN480, Entrepreneurial Finance – a re-launched finance elective course which will principally focus on valuation and negotiation; first year after a three-year hiatus

While all three present a different perspective on entrepreneurship, they present real-world material integral to entrepreneurship education.

As standard procedure we do not use textbook(s) in these courses (caveat – BGES430 does use a supplemental text written by Professor Robert Hisrich at Thunderbird’s MBA Program). Instead the curricula are curated largely from case studies from top global MBA programs, such as Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Darden, Ivey, IMD and others. Ergo, although these courses are indeed undergraduate, they have a “MBA lite” bent and students are pushed to operate at a quasi-graduate level. In addition to these case studies, we have been grateful for a wide variety of guest speakers who have participated in our courses, from the local, national and international business community, from countries as far away as Finland, Japan and China. Their contributions add rich content and bolster the real-world emphasis to which we adhere.

While textbooks per se are avoided, we have used from time to time supplemental readings and books, such as Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. This semester, we are pleased to include in all three courses Brad Feld’s Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City text, which allows us to continue to stress in the respective last class sessions the importance of building, collaborating and leading the evolution of our startup ecosystem. What good are basic tools taught in the courses if there is no community to support the execution and usage of these tools?

The inclusion of Brad’s book this autumn arrives at an interesting time for us. For the past five years, we have ended the courses with a case study on Austin, Texas and how they methodically created from the 1980s their ecosystem environment to what it is today.

Ironically, I am myself a University of Texas McCombs MBA graduate, and a significant amount of that Harvard Business School case research takes place during my time there in the mid- to late-1990s. A personal interest/experience in the content as well as an important pedagogical message. Comparing Austin with Las Vegas has been fairly intuitive for me; both cities and states had to emerge from dire economic straits, with Texas’ emphasis in oil and gas and real estate, while Las Vegas and Nevada heavily concentrated in gaming and real estate. Due to technological advancements over the past thirty-plus years, I would anticipate that Las Vegas’ ecosystem will evolve at a more accelerated pace than the time it took Austin to develop its unique startup culture.

Coincidentally, this next week will mark the first-ever South by Southwest event outside of Austin, with the SxSW V2V conference held in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Hotel , as well as related events at community venues such as Startup Weekend at the Switch InNEVation Center, an event at the renovated Gold Spike downtown hosted by Tech Cocktail, and other activities. It is therefore timely for us to move from a single data-point ecosystem reference to what things can be done generally, to more focus on sustained growth of our community. We look forward to leveraging lessons learned and suggestions made from Brad and the Boulder, Colorado community in course group projects.

Attached below are the attendant syllabi for each of the above-mentioned courses; please refer to those for specific course details and curricula.

BGES430 Syllabus 13 1.0

FIN345 autumn 13 syllabus 1.0

FIN480 autumn 13 syllabus 1.0

You may also want to follow our Twitter feed (@socraticstartup) to follow course content and guest-speaker participation as we move through the semester, and a Facebook page of the same name. The FB page is only open to current/former students and guest speakers for course/curriculum reasons; however those interested in our activities certainly may follow our posts and information on that open page.


David C Williams is Adjunct Faculty member at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he teaches Entrepreneurship courses focused on finance, management and law. He is also CEO of Explorateur Ventures, Ltd, an international consultancy that advises startups and growth companies. In addition to being an active member in the #vegastech community in Las Vegas, he has lived, worked and travelled abroad in South America, Europe and Africa. He can be reached via dcw@explorateurventures.com or on Twitter @explorateurven.

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Mar 11 2013 by

I’ve Been A Bad Feeder

Guest Post By Jesse AndersonNNSDG – (Founder)

Jesse Anderson LogoI run a software developers group in Reno, NV called Northern Nevada Software Developers Group. Within the contexts of Startup Communities, our group acts as a feeder, but unfortunately we haven’t been as welcoming to entrepreneurs as we should have been.  Conversely, some of our guest entrepreneurs haven’t been as good at consuming our material as they could have been.  What follows are some observations and pointers to help make industry groups better feeders and entrepreneurs better users of such resources.

We get a wide range of entrepreneurs that attend our meetings.  Unfortunately the vast majority of these entrepreneurs only attend one meeting. During that meeting, they make a feverish pitch for their newly minted company which typically motivates one or two developers to get more information, but many pitches often result in no interest at all.

I didn’t quite know how to put this issue into words until I read Startup Communities.  The mantra of “give before you get” really applies to our situation and having entrepreneurs blow in and out after one session certainly doesn’t have any “give” to it.  In the group members’ and my view, most of entrepreneurs are only showing up to get a few warm bodies on a project.  They aren’t there to learn something or foster any sense of community. Meanwhile, I’m spending time, effort and money to engender a sense of community for developers and I want entrepreneurs to be a part of our ecosystem.

This pattern of “get before giving” has led me to be less accommodating to the entrepreneurs at our meetings.  In most situations I’ll allow them to do a short pitch, but I’m often not very encouraging of their ventures and am generally quite standoffish.  Over time this behavior stifled entrepreneurial interest and the experience has taught me that I need to be much more inclusive and welcoming to the entrepreneurs that attend our meetings, no matter their intentions.

I started inviting entrepreneurs to speak to our group in the hopes that it would help inspire more entrepreneurship both within the group and the community, but our meetings haven’t been well attended.  I think this bears out Startup Communities’ point that there are entrepreneurs, and then there’s everyone else.  I’ve come to understand that our role as a feeder is to encourage entrepreneurship and the commingling of professionals with entrepreneurs seeking talent.

My perception of the startup ecosystem has of course been colored by my own experiences.  Having been one of the first full-time employees of a local startup I know the trials and tribulations of working at a young company.  Long story short, the company failed and the experience didn’t exactly motivate me to want to join another early stage startup.  Since then I’ve often dissuaded others from joining startups in the hopes of saving them from having to experience the same end result. I’d like to believe that I’m protecting the group members, but I’ve learned that I need to let everyone make their own choices. The fact is, their individual startup experiences will ultimately differ greatly from my own.  So, if a group member wants to hear my stories, I’ll open up and tell them, but I’ve ceased trying to actively persuade them.

Expecting startups to fail is a failure on my part and is a perception I need to change.  It’s not easy to walk away from a failure you’re a part of and for a long time I was embarrassed about my own startup failure. Young startups fail all the time, many of them for reasons that are impossible to overcome, but in my case I felt I should have and could have done something about it. Becoming comfortable with the the natural life-cycle of the startup ecosystem is something I need to work on and attending various events like startup wakes, open coffee clubs and hackathons will hopefully put me on the right track.

Industry groups are an important part of the feeder ecosystem.  As a group, we can add a lot of value to our startup community, but in order to do so it’s vital that we check our preconceived notions at the door or we’ll never be the best feeders.

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Apr 4 2012 by

Troy, NY – Uncle Sam’s Original Home

When I lived in Boston in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I got to know John Miller through Young Entrepreneurs Organization. We were both in the Boston chapter and in the same forum group. It was a powerful time in both of our lives as we were each running our first company at the time. Now, 20+ years later, we are each deeply involved in creating a startup community where we live. John’s spending his time these days in Troy and his story of what’s happening there right now follows.

Troy, NY is beginning its renaissance; a great city of the past uniquely poised for the future. It has grand architecture befitting one of the richest cities in the country in its heyday. Uncle Sam is ‘the’ iconic symbol of American patriotism and is a Troy native. Troy is home to historic schools such as RPI. Many movies have been filmed here due to the architecture. Troy is one of the beautiful cities along the Hudson River. Where else can you see bald eagles flying around from your office window.

You can feel the energy in the air. Something exceptional is happening here. It is not just the revitalized downtown and a booming tech and gaming industry that make this area on the Hudson river ready for its second coming. It is individuals and local companies at the center of this rally. Yes it is home to top gaming companies including Vicarious Visions, 1st Playables and Agora Games. What else makes this special? It is the massive grassroots support for growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem. When someone in the community needs help the others are there. Dozens of people and companies are giving freely of their time and resources to make Startup Weekend and GrandSlam Alley a success. Both these efforts are something the whole community is rallying around.

GrandSlam Alley is a business accelerator in the heart of downtown Troy run by full time entrepreneurs and business people. We have the focused goal of growing prosperous businesses, creating jobs and making this area the gaming capital of the world. We are just opening our doors and we have already seen dozens of local companies interested in becoming part of GrandSlam Alley. We won’t let companies settle in for the long haul – we help you set milestones that will either prove out your business model quickly or shut you down and out you go. Move forward or fail fast and try something else. We hope to find the next Zynga – but our core goal is to grow small companies into thriving businesses that contribute to the local ecosystem. We are confident that we can do this repeatedly with the continued support of our business community as well as the local Government agencies. Local universities and accelerators as well as the upstate venture funds have all shown a keen interest in working together to foster upstate entrepreneurship.

The Capital District is just a short and beautiful train ride from NY City. It is a great place to raise children and have a balanced family life. The cost of just about everything is less up here than in ‘the city’. We have growing Nano and Biotech industries and excellent universities that feed them including Albany State, Sienna, Skidmore, Russell Sage, Union, and RPI. We will never be Silicon Valley but we can and will grow successful companies and build out a great entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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