Brad Feld on Startup Communities

One of the most persistent debates in the tech world is about the best place to start a startup. Brad Feld’s Startup Communities starts with a different question. It’s not a book about ‘where is best?’ but rather ‘how do you make any place better for startups?’.

He calls his theory ‘the Boulder thesis’ based on the startup community he knows best (I’m looking forward to visiting in a few weeks time) and identifies four features of a successful approach:

  • The community should be led by entrepreneurs (although other players need to be involved)
  • Those founders have to take a long term view (20+ years)
  • The community has to be inclusive
  • It needs to have a continuous stream of activities to engage people (and not just conferences)
This short animated sketch from the Kauffman Foundation is a good introduction to the ideas, but you should also read the book because it’s pretty good. I’m biased however because it’s basically about what we’ve been doing for the last five years with Social Innovation Camp and Bethnal Green Ventures. We’ve had a slightly different twist because we’ve been trying to build a startup community with a particular focus – using tech to solve social problems – but a lot of what Brad writes rings true.

The section that I thought was most interesting was about the role of the various events and programmes in Boulder. These range from OpenCoffee through to the Tech Meetup and Startup Weekend and then, perhaps most importantly, the Techstars accelerator programme.

Without belittling how hard it is to get these things happening, it made me realise the power of the accelerator model as a convenor and focal point for a startup community. An accelerator programme costs roughly the same as a medium sized conference but because it’s much more practical and engaging than most events. It made me realise I haven’t been to a really good conference for years but I have learned a lot through more practical events like hack days and accelerators.

If the trend continues and the good programmes keep getting better and learning as they go, I think we could see thousands more ‘startup communities’ focusing on lots of different sectors in lots of different places, whether it’s in food or technology, in the global south or north. That’s a pretty exciting prospect is one of the few realistic ideas I’ve heard for creating significant numbers of new jobs.

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