Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld

Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City” is a must-read for anyone involved, or has an interest in building their local startup community. This includes entrepreneurs, business leaders, public officials, academics, and other active participants in the community.

The book discusses several problems seen in the early days of development of various startup communities worldwide. From oligarchs acting as gatekeepers or custodians of the community, to members of the community expecting too much to be done for them by their governments; and from complaining about lack of access to risk capital, to entities attempting to control the community in their well-meaning efforts to build it. Indeed, these problems are not unique to a specific region or community, and reading this, you probably can relate to some in our local context in Palestine.

Brad points out that the structure of government and certain organizations, as well as the culture they propagate is hierarchical. This is completely opposite to how vibrant startup communities operate. Startup communities are based on a network paradigm where there is no single authority, no single point of entry, and where all nodes in the network actively connect and collaborate. He further asserts that entrepreneurial communities that depend on hierarchies (like governments, etc.) will ultimately fail.

At the heart Brad’s book is the Boulder Thesis – a framework based on the Boulder experience, which captures the four key components that drive a vibrant startup community: lead by entrepreneurs, long-term commitment, inclusiveness, and deep engagement at all levels of the community. In addition to these principles, certain underlying fundamentals are critical to building a startup community. These include the proliferation of a “give before you get” philosophy, a strong sense of community and collaboration, a culture of risk-taking, and a high concentration of entrepreneurs and employees working for high-growth startups on a city-level proximity (“Entrepreneurial Density”).

I’ll summarize some of the points in the book on leadership by entrepreneurs, and on engaging the community.

The role entrepreneurs play in building a startup community cannot be underestimated. Without their involvement, nothing happens, and nothing is sustained on the long term. Just as entrepreneurs lead their own startups, they are the ones who are best equipped to lead the building of their startup communities. Entrepreneurs will step up to the plate, take initiative, continually try new things, improve or fail fast, and engage the community with a long-term view to producing significant forward progress. Such entrepreneurs become leaders because they are doers. They are inclusive, mentorship driven, and don’t play a zero-sum game. Pragmatic executers, regardless of their failures or success, only 5 or 6 of such high-impact individuals in a small community are enough to have critical mass to get things moving. Examples of this are abound, and Brad discusses these in the book.

Engaging the community through regular activities and events is an important component of the startup community. These must “engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.” Separately, each event varies in effectiveness and traction. But taken together, these events become foundational to the development and growth of a vibrant startup community. Brad makes an important distinction between two event categories. In the first category are events that engage members of the community mostly as spectators. These include panel discussions, receptions, open houses, entrepreneurial awards events, seminars, and the like. In the second category are events that engage members of the community as participants with specific goals and tangible entrepreneurial activities. Examples of these are hackathons, Startup Weekends, founder clubs, etc. While the types of events in the first category are about teaching or highlighting entrepreneurship, those in the second category are about doing it.

Mark Solon of Highway 12 Ventures in Boise, Idaho has been active in the Boulder community since the early days of TechStars. Quoted in Brad’s book, I find his description of what happened in Boulder most telling and inspiring:

The biggest observation I can offer from having a front row seat to seeing Boulder becoming one for the hottest startup markets in the US over the last decade is that there was no strategic plan. Government had little to do with it and there were no committees wading in bureaucratic quicksand wasting hundreds of hours of people’s time strategizing about how to create more startups. Boulder caught fire because of a few dozen entrepreneurs believed in their hearts that a rising tide lifts all boats and they derived great pleasure from helping make that happen.

So how can you contribute to building a startup community in Ramallah (I’ll blog about why Ramallah later)? No strategy or grand plan will answer this. The way to do it is to get involved and start contributing. Here are a few action items to get started with:

  1. Read Brad Feld’s “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
  2. If not already here, pick up your life (or work) and move it to Ramallah
  3. Plug into the community, engage and find out how to contribute. Don’t know how? Just ask.
  4. Give (time, effort, knowledge, money, etc.) before you get, and when you get, be sure to pay it forward.

Here’s a list of some regular events & activities (in no particular order) that you should consider joining:

If none of these works for you, then that’s a great reason for you start a new activity/event to help build the startup community. Here are a few mentioned in Brad’s book taking place in the Boulder community, and elsewhere:

Currently, I’m involved (in various capacities) in Startup Weekends, ROCC, and Reyadi. I will soon also be launching Office Hours and a startup mentorship network (more on these later).

  • Another great review and I like the practical advice for Palestinian entrepreneurs. The book is definitely a must read!

    • Thanks for your comment, Abdallah. Always happy to hear feedback.

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