Last night, I was invited by Xconomy to come to San Diego and talk about entrepreneurial communities at a private dinner that had about 25 entrepreneurs and investors that care deeply about the issue. It was a great group of people and a lively discussion to say the least.
Xconomy had asked that I share insights on what made Boulder really work, and to talk about Techstars and the effect that it’s had not only in Boulder, but also in NYC, Boston, and Seattle.
So, I rattled off 7 things to the dinner group to spur discussion:
- Richard Florida’s work on the Creative Class matters. Please read it. This is now table stakes.
- I talked about how the real up and coming communities are entrepreneur led. Everyone else’s job is to support the entrepreneurs who are leading. I referenced Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas as a great current example of this.
- We discussed the idea of a “high quality focal point.” – This is the notion that you need something in your community that engages everyone deeply across the spectrum of first time entrepreneurs, more experienced entrepreneurs, service providers, angels, venture capitalists, students, etc. They have to have something “real” to do together. Techstars provides this for the communities that we’re in. But it can be anything, as long as it drives real activity and energy together and it’s something that’s not shallow.
- We talked about Brad Feld’s notion of entrepreneurial density. If the best efforts of a town occur in a dense area, you will have more serendipity and excitement around startups a compact area. In Boulder, this is palpable.
- We talked about what Brad calls “fresh meat” – a constant inflow of new talent. Again, Techstars provides this. But so do universities. The best entrepreneurial communities seem to do this well.
- We talked about being vocal about your community. I told the folks from San Diego “I can’t hear you!”. Talk about this more, and let the world know about your successes. Again, this has to come from the entrepreneurs (and be amplified by the media).
- Finally, I said that a community needs visible entry points. Boulder’s new tech meetup and boulder.me web sites are great examples. I love the “ambassadors” part of Boulder.me. Look at the entrepreneurial leaders who have stuck their hand up to say “I’ll show you around here.” Amazing.
Towards the end of the dinner, I also discussed Brad Feld’s view that you have to take a 20 year view to building a sustainable entrepreneurial community. I then asked everyone at the table to raise their hand if they were an entrepreneur. These were the potential leaders in San Diego. I asked them to keep their hand up if they were still going to be here in 20 years. Most stayed up, but some went away quickly. Perhaps 8 of the 25 hands were still up. I said to the rest of the table who did not have their hands up, “Your only role is to help these people.”
The conversation then lasted for a few hours. And I expect that it will last for many more years. But I did get a sense that the people in that room could make a real difference, so I was glad I went. Thanks to Xconomy for the invitation. I know they’re going to write it up soon in much more detail, and I’ll blog that link here once I see it.
UPDATE: Here’s the Xconomy story on this -> http://www.xconomy.com/san-diego/2012/02/03/techstars-david-cohen-on-reviving-san-diegos-startup-culture/