You don’t have to be located in Silicon Valley to take part in a great startup community. Conventional wisdom told entrepreneurs it was necessary to live in one of the central hubs if you wanted your business to thrive. This is especially true for entrepreneurs with newborn tech businesses they want to see grow up big and strong.
If you’re motivated enough to start your own business and create something great from a simple idea, then you’re certainly motivated enough to jumpstart a local startup community. After all, a great startup community can grow anywhere — from the buzzing streets of New York City to sleepy rural Iowa.
“Everywhere I look I’m amazed at the companies I find in really unexpected places,” says Nate Olson, a specialist in entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and co-founder of 1MillionCups. “I’ve grown to expect to find amazing startups in every community I travel to.”
Why worry about a startup community?
You might be thinking to yourself, “Who cares about a startup community? As an entrepreneur, I’m a lone wolf!” Of course you can strike out on your own if you want, but remember, even wolves run in packs.
Good startup communities offer mentorship, advice, and the wisdom of those who have gone before. Great communities are more than just networking events, they’re places where you can learn, grow, and make genuine connections to other business leaders.
“A startup community is really the soil that will feed your startup with the nutrients you can’t provide on your own. Sometimes this looks like advice, a hug when you’re in need, or just random acts of encouragement,” Nate says. “A startup community allows an entrepreneur to go way further than they ever could on their own.”
Entrepreneurs, Start Your Startup Community Engines!
So you’re sold on the importance of community for your startup. Now how do you turn your small town into a big opportunity for entrepreneurship?
Take the first step. According to Nate, you can’t start a community until you know and understand the entrepreneurs in your area. Get to know your fellow business leaders and understand what they’re working on. The community needs to offer real value to entrepreneurs, and you can only do that if you truly understand your community, it’s needs and values.
“What kind of community you join is very important,” says Gediminas “Lucas” Sukys, co-founder of StarterPad. “One community can give you lot of benefits, while another can just burn your time.”
Jumpstart your community, then focus on organic growth. A little shot to the arm might be just what the doctor ordered to get your community moving. Here are two great examples:
There’s No Place Like Home: Kansas City showed commitment to fostering an entrepreneurial environment by dubbing itself “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.” This sent a big message to Kansas City business leaders and outsiders of the importance the city was placing on startup development.
Rolling the Dice in Reno: The city of Reno, Nevada rolled the dice and showed their faith by calling on their entrepreneurs to rebrand the city. The Biggest Little City campaign turned startup success stories into a stronger community where new businesses can flourish.
“I will say that organic growth is the most sustainable,” Nate says. “A boost in attention every once in a while is great, but organic programs and real relationships will make your startup community more sustainable.”
Get everyone involved. Great startup communities are inclusive and there should be no top-down hierarchy in your startup community. You need to lower the barriers for entry so entrepreneurs feel comfortable joining and contributing.
By taking input and putting people’s talents to good use you can avoid the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when starting up communities (more on that later) and really take advantage of the talent pool at your disposal. As Nate points out, there’s no president of a startup community.
Think outside the networking box. Sure, networking events are great but your startup community needs more than rubbing elbows to survive. In his book Startup Communities, author Brad Feld recommends hackathons, startup weekends, and accelerator programs. Your startup community should offer more than just social networking, it should also offer real opportunities for those who contribute to your community.
Get online and start connecting. Sometimes it’s just easier to build an online community than a physical one, especially if you hail from a very out-of-the-way locale.
“A lot of entrepreneurs are living in places where it is hard to attend startup events or find new connections. Also, some CEOs are introverts, so for them it’s harder to make connections,” says Lucas. “Online startup communities are a perfect place for such entrepreneurs to find like-minded people, ask questions, or raise their motivation by exchanging ideas with other entrepreneurs.”
Avoid the biggest mistake
The road to startup community failure is paved with good intentions. The biggest mistake made by those looking to create a new startup community is trying to do it all. After all, the whole point of a startup community is to branch out, ask for help, and crowdsource answers.
“It is highly important to prioritize your tasks,” Lucas notes.
Entrepreneurs who try to take on too much responsibility will find their startup community and their own work suffering.
“Entrepreneurs, don’t try to do everything,” Nate advises. “Pick one area to dedicate your time and talents, and do it really well while still running a successful business.”
Turning your city or small-town into a thriving startup community might seem impossible, but it can be done with some hard work and dedication. If you can turn an idea into a business, you can certainly build a startup community to be proud of.
What are some ways you can build your startup community regardless of location? Share in the comments!